This morning my two year old daughter demanded “Beet-bic (Weet-bix)! Beet-bic here!” as she tapped on her highchair tray. Before I could respond with my usual line “Be patient please. Your Weetbix is coming.” She yelled “Patient…patient!” nodding furiously in the hope this new word would make her Weetbix come faster. Shocked at such sophisticated language use (and quietly beaming with pride), I placed the Weetbix in front of my little genius. Well OK, genius? Slight exaggeration but she is certainly a little sponge soaking up every word she hears!
“Patience – one’s ability to wait for something they want” – is a very tricky concept to learn. Something that two year olds seem to be shocking at grasping but very good at teaching to their unsuspecting parents.
While behavioural concepts like manners seem to take forever to learn, vocabulary travels along at a great rate of knots.
We know every child develops at their own pace, however many parents underestimate the power they possess over their child’s language development.
What you say, when you say it, and how you say it matters!
According to research, parents on average respond to only 50-60% of a child’s vocalisations but if they responded to 80% then language development would improve.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you respond to greater than 80% of your child’s vocalisations then learning can actually decline. This is certainly a tricky one for parents to balance! Do you want to be a good language model for your child? Here are 4 ways that will most certainly enrich your child’s language development:
BE SPECIFIC WITH YOUR CHAT
This became apparent to me when my daughter began to overuse the phrase “Whassat?” as she pointed to the garden with eyebrows raised. I realised that every time I asked the question “What’s that?”, I was ‘talking’ to her but not providing her with any meaningful words. I now respond to her puzzled look (when she hears a sound) by actually interpreting for her and saying “I can hear that noisy bird too.”
So providing interpretations for their communication attempts and avoiding words ‘like’, ‘it’, ‘thing’, ‘that’ and ‘this’ will help to support strong language skills.
Never Underestimate Your Ankle Biter
Why do you think swear jars were created? Be careful what language you expose your child to as you will certainly hear it back again! On the flip side, this ‘parroting’ can work in your favour and you can expose your child to more sophisticated vocabulary, through book language or just using the occasional ‘adult word’ (e.g., patient) in conversation with them.
What words has your child used so far that have blown your mind?
Repeat! Repeat! Repeat!
I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again….repetition is key! Children need repeated exposure to words to learn them and feel confident to use them in appropriate contexts. This repetition also needs to be highlighted in your tone by stressing the new or target word and saying it slowly and clearly. “Look the doll is tired. Put the tired doll to bed. Oh she’s yawning she’s so tired.” And yes you will sound like a broken record!
Variety is the spice of life
Parents are very good at naming things but will often forget that the English language is made up of a variety of word classes not just nouns. Remember word classes from school? Nouns (e.g., dog, owner), adjectives (e.g., spotty), verbs (e.g. barks), adverbs (e.g. incessantly), prepositions (e.g. behind) and determiners (e.g. the). Try saying a sentence with all nouns (naming words) – “Bird tree garden bird” (all nouns) – pretty tricky and pretty limiting hey?! Compare this statement to “Fly away noisy bird!”
So if you want to help your child move from single words to word combinations or even short sentences, teach them something other than nouns.
Our final note on early language learning is that it is all redundant if it is not provided in meaningful environments. So play with your child and follow their interests….this is where the juicy learning occurs and your little sponge will soak up your every word!
Thanks for hearing our call,
Your Little Birdies xx