by Carrie Gajowski
“It is now well accepted that the chief cause of the achievement gap between socioeconomic groups is a language gap.” – E.D. Hirsch, 2003
Research shows that children from rich language environments start off their academic career with a definite advantage over their peers. In one study with 280 1stgrade students, results indicated a strong connection between language skills and later academic performance.[i] Another study found that “children who are provided a wide variety of experiences and opportunities to talk, tell stories, read storybooks, draw, and write are generally successful in learning to read and write.”[ii]
How can parents enhance the home language environment to help their children succeed?
Here are a few simple ways:
- Talk, talk, and talk to children. Engage them in meaningful conversation, and help them “use their words” to interact with other children. Help build their vocabulary by using words they may not recognize. Adding unfamiliar words to conversations can pique a child’s interest in learning additional words and discovering how to use them in conversation.
- Read to young learners. Regularly reading a variety of texts to children—stories, poems, factual books about animals and the natural world—can expose them to countless new words. It is even more fun by taking turns. If your child has started to read, one day you can read to him; the next day, he can read to you. Pre-readers can “read” a picture book out loud.
- Teach your young students the joys of music! Through learning new songs and singing, children can have fun while learning new vocabulary. The rhythm of music provides cues that can help children pronounce multisyllabic words more easily, and because young children don’t have to worry about pronouncing every new word correctly when singing with others, they can build their confidence.
It’s never too early to help children appreciate the usefulness of language, the power of communicating effectively with others, and the joy of words. Every word spoken and every word read is truly a gift to a young child.
[i] Elements Comprising the Colorado Literacy Framework: III.Communication Skills, Including Oral and Written Language. (2010).Colorado Literacy Framework. Retrieved April 26, 2012.
[ii] Kastner JW, May W, Hildman L. Relationship between language skills and academic achievement in first grade. Percept Mot Skills. 2001 Apr;92(2):381-90.PMID: 11361297