Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Learning Early: Speaking Success is Important

We know from news sources that some children arrive in school aged 5 unable to speak properly or understand what is being said to them by the teacher and the other children. In my experience as a teaching assistant in England, United Kingdom, even the question “How are you?” is met by blank looks from some children. The inability to speak and hold a simple conversation puts children at risk of lifelong difficulties, including employment, social issues and criminality in adult life.

There are two easy steps that you as a parent or guardian can take to encourage speech and
language skills in your child; 
1) Speak to and with your child, and
2) Sing to and with your child.

Even when your child is a baby, talk to them. Commentate what you do in your normal everyday life
for your child, for example if you are preparing a meal tell your child you are in the kitchen and tell
your child you are chopping up vegetables and you are using a knife and a chopping board. By the
age of 3 your child will understand approximately 500 words and simple, everyday spoken
interactions from you will encourage your child’s speech and comprehension.

Singing to your child can support and add to the spoken interactions. Most children like nursery rhymes and other simple songs that have actions that make them more fun and interesting for children as well as helping increase their understanding of what they are singing. They were designed for young children because of their simplicity while introducing complex concepts. Among
the children I work with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is a firm favorite and I think the lyrics are the main reason for that.

Think about the lyrics: ‘Twinkle, twinkle’ - we all know what this means but it’s really hard to explain without using other words that mean the same thing such as ‘glisten’. ‘Little star’ – we learn what a star is and we learn that ‘little’ is opposite to ‘big’. ‘How I wonder what you are.’ - Children learn that ‘wonder’ is a deeper way of thinking that causes them to ask themselves questions. ‘Up above the world so high’ – Children are encouraged to look up and see what is there. ‘Like a diamond in the sky’ – Children learn to compare, and they learn there is something called a diamond. This facile, short nursery rhyme – and others like it – can lead to so many conversations between you and your child and thus give your child so much understanding of the world.

Children unable to communicate often development behavioral problems because of their frustration. In school and out of school, they are disadvantaged. They cannot express their needs, they cannot understand what is being said to them beyond basic sentences, they cannot receive education nor can they function in the workplace. There is a recognized correlation between a lack of communication skills in childhood and experience of the criminal justice system.

As a parent speaking to your child, you model speech; words, pronunciation, intonation and conversation skills. Expect your child to speak correctly and understand most or all of what you are
saying. Some children may know words and be able to put them into sentences, but they may not
know that speaking with another person means give and take – listening, thinking and then
responding to what the other person has said. By the age of five, children’s speech should be
understandable the majority of the time. Children who arrive at school with little speech or the
inability to form words correctly are not just at an educational disadvantage but also a social
disadvantage. Schools are places where children form most of their friendships, so it is crucial that
children arrive at school with as few impediments to conversation as possible. Speech and language
skills are vital for children’s self-esteem and confidence.

More than half of mothers work, and they work longer hours than in the recent past. Fathers have
become more involved in the care of their child, but the financial pressures upon families and the
pressures of the workplace can often reduce the amount of time parents have with their child,
therefore reducing the amount of input parents can give their child. There is nothing wrong with
using the ‘electronic babysitter’ – the television set while you relax, as long as this is used in balance
with real conversations. Television programs aimed at young children often teach basic language so
can be an additional resource in your child’s development.

If you think your child is struggling with speech and
language skills, or their understanding of speech, visit your family doctor or pediatrician. They will be able to do a basic assessment of your child’s needs and then refer you to a specialist. The treatments vary depending on diagnosis – it may be that your child has a hearing impairment or other developmental difficulty and so will be assessed and given the help they need. The Canadian Audiology is an excellent resource with an easy to use website. Your local community groups will also be able to help and support you and your child with speech and language and any other issue you may encounter.

Make Canadian Audiology linked – see below

Catherine Hume - 36 is a teaching assistant with over ten years of experience in UK and Belgium. She also has a background working in social care as well as writing factual articles and fiction.

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