Supporting Language Development at Home
Your child's brain during the ages of 3-6 years has a special sensitivity to learning language. That means that, yes, they really are interested in learning to speak well, read and write. Instead of relying on worksheets or a specific language learning program while they are home from school, it's best to encourage and support them to learn with what they have available at home already- all the objects in their home environment, their outdoor environment, craft supplies, their parents! The most important thing in the next months is not keeping up, step-by-step, with a prescribed curriculum, but keeping kids engaged with learning and the idea of learning.
Here are some suggestions for helping these natural tendencies flourish at home:
Spoken language is the foundation for all language learning. Children are in an incredibly absorbent stage for vocabulary. Keeping this in mind I suggest:
Talk with clear and precise language. Use as exact “difficult” words as you can. Often, adults dumb down language when talking to children when given the powers of childhood they should be doing quite the opposite. Make an effort to talk precisely, for example, “for pouring out the pancake batter we need the sauce ladle”.
Tell true stories. Children of this age love stories about real things around them. It can be stories about when you were young, or stories about objects around your house, or something interesting that you saw or learned about yourself.
Listen to your children. This one counts double. Children will not learn to speak well unless they feel that what they have to say is of value to others. With all that's going on these days, a reminder to pause, look at your child in the eyes when they are speaking, better yet met them at eye level, and respond fully to what they are saying. They sometimes need extra time to express what they want to say, don't assume you know already what they are getting at.
Writing and reading should ideally be offered to little children as a means for communicating. It is a tool for human interaction, not just some random exercise that they are made to do.
For children who cannot yet write on paper:
Sound out words. Playing games of sounding out words like “I spy something that's a ppp lll aaa nnn ttt, do you know what it is?” or “I'm thinking of an animal that's a ccc rrr ooo ccc ooo ddd aa yy oo ll” Helping them become aware of the sounds that make up words is half of the work of learning to write.
Work to do with the hands. Any work that your child can do with their hands, helping with cooking, folding clothes, sorting silverware, spooning beads into a bowl, using a screwdriver, literally ANY work for the hands (but especially things that require dexterity of fingers) is helpful for the development of coordination of the hands for writing.
For children who can spell phonetically on paper:
Lists. Children of this age like to make lists. If the need for communication is tied to the task, the more likely they will be to find value to it. “I'm going to the grocery store today, can you make me a list of the things you'd like to have for snacks for this week?” Any child who can write may jump at an invitation like that.
Letters and Notes. It's a great time to write notes and letters to people. For children, the tangible feel of a note on a paper or a letter on paper is more satisfying than electronic communication (which is more abstract). However, writing text messages to family or friends is also a way to practice writing skills. Don't worry about the spelling. At this stage, it's all about just encouraging the writing process. In elementary they work on spelling. For now, helping your child feel confident enough to write a few words and give them to someone else is already a great introduction to the world of writing. Thank you notes are a great practice to introduce to children.
Read to your child. Nothing will be more instrumental to your child's desire to read than you reading regularly to them. At this age, children don't just love stories, they love books about science and nature. There can be a daily ritual reading time, whether before bedtime or before getting ready for bed. Books often include new vocabulary, ideas, and topics that are not always addressed in our day to day life. Books quite literally open up your child's world.
Ask questions while you read. As you read to your child, ask questions about the story, what do you think will happen next?, why do you think that character did that?, what feelings does the story talk about?, what would you do differently if you were that character?. Engaging your children's thinking, their own knowledge and ideas about the world, and questioning how the story evolves will give another layer to the learning and meaning while you read.
Just as with writing, children will be more motivated to read if they are reading for a real purpose, for something directly meaningful to them, than if it's just random words practice.
Secret messages. Write short notes or messages to your child every day. Whether a reminder for a daily chore, or a little note reminding them that you love them, children love getting written messages.
Scavenger hunts are games you can play that involve writing one word on a small paper and have your child find that object. Write ten words, or just five, keeping it fun and to your child's level can turn reading into a great learning game.
Early reader books. There are lots of resources for early reading books for little children to read to you (once they can read comfortably).
Online reading games. If you are avoiding screen time then skip this one, but for those looking for specifically for reading games for children ABC Mouse, Khan Academy, or Raz Kids have resources appropriate for our age group children.
Home Library. It doesn't have to be fancy, just a small nook where your child can find all their books and a quiet place to look at them is a great thing to incorporate in your home. Designating a block of time of your child's daily routine as :Quiet Reading Time where both you and your child read (your own books quietly, to yourself) can help instill the habit (in everyone at home) for a quiet time for reading.