Do the language dance

Dad reading to a little boy

Unaltered image. Jinglejammer, Flickr. CC license.

Wouldn’t it be reassuring if we could see into our child’s future? To see them as a well-adjusted, content, healthy teenager who is making the most of their academic and social opportunities in high school, could make our parenting job just a little easier.

But there isn’t a crystal ball for that, just some significant research.

Which of these factors contribute most to the future school achievement of our children: income, IQ, school, where we live, genetic code? Actually, none of them. Instead, our children’s achievement in school is determined by the number of words parents say to them between birth and 3 years of age.

Research shows that by the age 3, some children heard a total of 13 million words while others heard a total of 45 million words. (Words from a TV, computer or iPad don’t count.) The more communication our babies have with us, even before they can talk, the better their language development will be. Language development is the beginning of literacy (reading, writing and communicating). A strong literacy foundation is the key to school success.

Children who heard 45 million words didn’t only hear directions such as “Eat your peas,” or “Don’t stand on the furniture.” Their parents also talked to them when they didn’t have to; this is called the language dance.

More talk is good, but not just any talk will make your child smarter. To positively impact our children’s language development, we must engage them in the language dance. One way to do this is with books. Yes, this includes reading them, but it is mostly by talking with our children about the books we are reading.

Language dance tips

Going beyond the text is one of the best ways to engage in the language dance. When reading books with your child, pay attention to what he is pointing to or looking at, then say something about it. Some ideas for comments are:

  • Name a character or item: “The little boy’s name is Jack.”
  • Describe the character: “Jack looks excited,” or “Jack’s mommy is working really hard.”
  • Describe the item: “That ball is round and rolls on the ground,” or “The white clouds in the sky are fluffy.”
  • Connect to your child’s life: “You have a colorful ball too. Look, here’s your ball.”

Remember, the language dance supports language development and, ultimately, literacy. So while we may not actually be able to see into our children’s future, one sure way to create a good one is by building the components of a solid literacy foundation. Your children will thank you.

– Stacey Sharpe Mollison, Simply Smart Kids, Co-Founder

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