Talking to Children: A Gift that Keeps on Giving

The holidays and all the gift-giving they entail are quickly approaching. Did you know that one of the best gifts you can give a pre-reader is absolutely free? This holiday season, consider giving the gift of talk.

GiftTalking is one of the five practices to promote early literacy recommended by the Association for Library Service to Children and the Public Library Association. Talking to the children in your life is a great way to introduce them to new vocabulary and how the world works. It is also a terrific way of introducing children to stories, cause, and effect; when you talk to your child about your day, you usually start at the beginning and progress through your day in order, mirroring the way stories have beginnings and endings.

The number of words a child hears before the age of five directly correlates to future reading and school success. Give the children in your life a boost by talking to them as much as possible. Here are some age-appropriate tips:

  • Talking to babies: You can talk to babies about pretty much anything; children this age benefit by hearing the different sounds that make up words as opposed to understanding the actual meanings of the words. If you’re unsure where to start in talking to a baby, consider those Mother Goose and nonsense rhymes from your own childhood–these silly verses feature many interesting sounds that will capture a baby’s attention. Cuddling with babies while you talk also promotes bonding even before the child begins to recognize words. Keep in mind that the first word most children do learn to recognize is their own name; make a point of calling children by name as much as possible.
  • Talking to toddlers: Give names to things when talking to toddlers. Point out colors whenever you can; name the items you put in your cart at the grocery store and the items in rooms at your home. Talk to a toddler while you do your holiday cooking; a toddler in a high chair is in a perfect position to watch and listen as you talk about measuring, stirring, and tasting. Point out all of the interesting things that you see around you, like twinkling lights, shiny ribbons, and cold snow. This is the age at which children start to recognize that words correspond with real things, and when you name the items they can see you are giving them the building blocks for understanding the world.
  • Talking to preschoolers: By around age three, children should have a basic vocabulary for the things in the world around them. Now it is time to talk about the “hows” and “whys” of the world. Instead of just naming the foods you put in your grocery cart, talk about what you plan to do with those foods at home. Talk about how a red light means “stop” and a green light means “go.” Explain what your family does during the holidays, and then talk about why. Preschoolers have a reputation for always asking “why?”; satisfy their natural curiosity with real answers, and your talking will help them make connections about how the world works.

Remember that talking to children helps them develop the skills necessary to learn to read and to succeed later in life. Talk to children all year round.

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