Many of us know the stress of preparing a child for Kindergarten: How soon is too soon? What if he doesn’t know how to write his name? How far should she be able to count? Does he need to know capital letters or lowercase, or both? Letter sounds or just letter names? CVC words? How many sight words?
It’s truly overwhelming. (Though, if you’re already there I will tell you to just relax. I promise. Your child will be FINE.)
But what if I told you that from the moment your child is born there is one thing you can do to ensure that your child will be more ready for Kindergarten? The NUMBER ONE factor in Kindergarten readiness across all measures: social, emotional, academic. Are you ready?
Talk. To. Your. Child.
I could give you some statistics. Like how children in poverty have heard roughly thirty million fewer words than middle class children by the time they are three. Or how the number of words a child has heard by age three is able to predict how they will do on tests in third Grade. But rather than bore you with statistics, what if I share what I have seen over the past ten years of working with young children, ages 1-6, and give you a to-do list of invaluable ways to say ALL THE WORDS to your little one.
Children who hear more words benefit from the following:
A much broader vocabulary.
Better conversation skills.
Advanced listening skills.
Greater confidence in speaking and interacting in relationships.
The ability to ask and answer questions.
An increased interest in reading, stories, conversations, and learning.
Ability to handle conflict with less physical contact.
Listening comprehension and subsequent ability to follow directions.
Better social awareness.
The ability to learn and remember new words more quickly.
Quicker grasp of phonemic awareness
I could go on and on. The studies could go on and on. The point is, talking to your child and talking with your child makes a significant impact in your relationship, in their school success, and on into adulthood!
Convinced yet? Well, you’re in luck because talking is free and you can start anytime! Here are several ways to build up that word bank in your baby’s growing brain:
Set aside the baby talk
There is a time for baby talk, but make sure you and your loved ones are also incorporating frequent ‘adult’ conversation with your little one. Talk them through everything you are doing. Describe what they are seeing. Ask them questions. Have (healthy) conversations in front of them. The more descriptive your language, the more words they are hearing! For example, “Look at the snow!” can become, “Look at the beautiful, white snow. It is so cold and soft. Doesn’t it feel chilly on your fingers? It is freezing! My nose is freezing cold! Snow is magically fluffy and bright. The brightness makes my eyes squeeze shut and my nose wrinkle…like this!” Talk. Talk. Talk.
Read to them
Not sure what to say? No problem! There are billions of authors out there who have literally written down words for you to share with your child. From board books to billboards, when you are at a loss for words, let someone else say them for you. The usual recommendation is 10-20 minutes of reading per day, but hey…who’s counting. Don’t have books at home? PLEASE sign your kiddos up for the free Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and get a Library Card! Library resources are unlimited, completely free, and can be enjoyed for a lifetime.
Fun Facts: Did you know that rhyming is a critical first step in learning to read? Did you know that learning to turn a page the right direction in a book helps with sequencing and math skills? Did you know that if you read with excitement, intonation, and inflection they will one day copy you when they are reading in their fourth grade Language Arts class? (I MIGHT know this from experience.)
Talk WITH them
When your child begins talking, asking questions won’t be far off. What a great opportunity to practice building conversation skills! Ask them questions and then patiently let them practice formulating an answer. Model conversation by answering their questions with a complete sentence, then toss in a follow-up question! This might sound simple, but you would be surprised how many young people don’t know how to have a conversation because they are literally not invited into real conversations at home.
Ditch the screens (sort of)
I know. I know. We hear this all the time, but really…screens should fill only a very small percentage of the words that your baby hears before Kindergarten. Social and conversational vocabulary with a real human being will always be the first choice for maximum brain development. That being said, we all know that toddler who is whipping out words like “animal adaptation” thanks to an invigorating episode of Wild Kratts! If screens must be a way to build in vocabulary, choose shows that are going to add to those millions of words. And why not use them to fill in the gaps in your own vocabulary! Don’t know much about nature and animals? Send them to Wild Kratts or Octonauts. Not sure how to build social and emotional vocabulary? Daniel Tiger will ALWAYS be the best resource for putting words to our feelings.
Use your imagination
The sky is the limit and your child’s future is the stars. They have literally only been on this planet for a few months, which means not only are you their mommy and their teacher, you are also their tour guide! Tell them about EVERYTHING! Talk to them while you walk through the grocery store. Sing to them while they swing. Make up rhymes about bath time and teeth time and bed time and potty time. Point out amazing things in the world and watch their minds fill with awe and wonder.