Throughout childhood, children are confronted with several different things to learn. One of these acquisitions is language. From birth, through cries and screams, babies demonstrate their desire to communicate. Progressively, words and grammar rules are registered so that eventually, children become able to comfortably communicate through speech. However, this step is not easily accomplished. A few obstacles can be met along the way and certain children will require greater efforts. In this document, you will find useful information which will help you accompany children in their language development.
A little theory...
In order to better understand the whole language development process, I suggest comparing it to a tall staircase. To reach the top, children must climb one step at a time. They need our help to support and encourage them to reach the top yet, they must climb on their own. It is especially important to respect each child's rhythm as well as the fact that certain children require a longer period of time to climb each step.
A few difficulties are possible along the way. A child may have to spend more time on a specific step. This may indicate a language difficulty or delay.
A few definitions...
Language difficulties and language delays are very distinct. Language difficulties may refer, among other things, to stuttering and dysphasia. As for language delays, children follow normal language development but require a longer period of time for each step. Children with delays, if not caused by an illness or handicap can, in most cases, catch up. Since I am not a specialist in the matter, I will not get into precise definitions. Instead, I will provide a few tricks which can support children and make the learning process easier.
Caregivers play an important role in screening eventual problems related to language. This is true for the following reasons:
- They spend several hours with children and observe many different situations in which children must use their knowledge of language and social abilities.
- Parents get used to their children's language and this makes it more difficult for them to identify whether it is accurate or not.
The role of caregivers is therefore to closely observe children and the various daily situations they are involved in. It is possible that after taking note of children's language use, certain interrogations will surface. It is the caregiver's responsibility to inform parents of her observations and make suggestions if they are requested or if parents are open to receiving help. Caregivers should, at all times, refer to a speech therapist for help.
Here a few things you may observe and questions you may ask yourself which could indicate outside help is necessary:
- Does the child hear well? Does the child respond when his name is called out? Does the child react to sudden, loud noises?
- Does the child establish eye contact when speaking to someone?
- Request an expert opinion when a child, 2 years old and over, communicates using gestures only.
- A delay of several months can be cause for worry.
The practical side...
Children's environment, physical or human, greatly influences their actions and learning. Here are a few suggestions which will help you stimulate children language-wise.
Tips and tricks for area setup
- Identify, with illustrations and words, as much material in your daycare as possible (for example: toy bins, cupboard contents, material found on shelves, etc.). This simple trick will help children acquire new words and associate them to the objects they use daily.
- Use word flashcards from the educatall club.
- Illustrate children's daily routine along with the words which identify each portion of the day.
- Create a wall which may be used solely to display songs and picture clue stories. Be sure to use two distinct spaces. Select songs and stories related to each theme you discuss. Several songs can be found in the educatall club. Often, they are accompanied by illustrations and picture clue stories.
(Open word flashcards - Area setup)
(Open Tools - Visual routine)
Material which can be used or made
- Make a wide variety of books available for children in your reading area and rotate them regularly. Choose colorful, attractive books which contain more illustrations than words. Children must want to look at them regularly. Select subjects which will interest them and make regular checks for broken and damaged books. Children will be less inclined to use them if they are not in good condition.
- Create your own picture book: Cut out interesting, colorful pictures from magazines. Glue them on heavy cardboard. Insert them in "Ziploc" bags. You can use different formats. Join the bags together, sewing the ends with the opening together. You can also create a picture book using real photos or coloring pages.
- When learning new words, it is easier for a child to associate it to a sound or illustration. I suggest using a sound bingo game. Simply use illustrations and record the sounds associated to them or imitate them when you are playing. There are two different ways to use this game:
- Use large illustrations and lay them on the table. When children hear a sound, they must point to the corresponding picture.
- Print one card per child. Give children small objects which can be used as markers. When children hear a sound, they look at their card and place a marker on the corresponding illustration if it is on their card.
(Open sound bingo)
- When a child is having difficulties, it is important to intervene in order to increase his self-esteem and reduce frustrations he may accumulate. Adapt activities to his capacities. Avoid comparing the child to others and regularly provide words of encouragement.
- Use activities, songs, books, and educational material which tap in to the child's interests. Encourage him to talk about subjects which interest him. It is always easier to talk about things we particularly like or enjoy.
- Children respond to what they see around them. You must be sure to be a good model at all times. Use adequate and precise language as well as exact terms. To ease comprehension, speak slowly and use simple sentences, with few words. It is easier for children if words are pronounced well.
- Accompany your sentences and instructions with gestures.
- Encourage conversation by using open questions with responses involving the use of several words.
- Avoid using great auditory and visual stimulation when providing explanations and during circle time.
- Alternate between activities involving a high level of comprehension and those requiring little comprehension.
- For children with difficulty making specific sounds or pronouncing a certain letter, accentuate the sound when you speak. Avoid informing him of what you are doing and overly exaggerating.
- Make silly faces to reinforce facial muscles. Have a contest!
- Practice singing exercises, just like professional singers!
- Help children develop their phonological awareness through songs and rhymes containing rhyming words, funny words, words beginning with the same sound...
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