We've all heard it.
Friends, neighbors, or family members who think it's so cute when a child says "miwwk" for "milk" or calls a blanket a "bwanket." It doesn't matter the child's age; I cringe every time I hear it.
Parents who tell stories about their children, in front of their children -- about all of the cute things they say, mimicking lisps, wrong word choices, or other developmentally-appropriate language mistakes.
Come here, Sweetheart. Let's eat your bwweakfast.
Oh, no! Did you just fauw and swape your knee? Ooooh, that huuwwts!
That's white! Cwistophow is a big boy!
Good idea, let's have sooseee for dinner.
You get the idea.
I'm sure those well-meaning parents love their children dearly, but I'm not sure that they realize how important it is for children to be surrounded by proper examples of language use and pronunciation from the time they are babies on up through school. Parents can, and should do what they can to develop children's oral language skills at home. Parents shouldn't mock or tease their children, and mimicking a child's incorrect pronunciation does just that.
Many speech sounds are developmentally appropriate. And with time and practice, and as their bodies grow, most children will be able to master all speech sounds. Experts give children up through the time they are nine years old to master all of the sounds of the English language.
Most importantly, though, it's our job as parents to surround our children with examples of proper uses of language in text and conversation. We should incorporate rich, varied, and interesting words into our days. We should use words that stretch our children's brains, excite them, and excite us. By doing so, we are helping our children become word conscious and word aware.
So what can we do to help our children develop oral language skills?
1. We can not correct them when they make mistakes. If children say something incorrectly, we just repeat it correctly when we paraphrase what they said or answer their questions. Oh, you want your blanket? Here you go. I know you are ready for bed. Or, I know you scraped your knee, and it hurts. We'll take care of you and you'll feel better in no time.
2. We can listen. Give them time to talk. And listen to them. Get down to their level, look them in the eyes, put down whatever it is that we're doing, and we can listen to them. Listening to kids and engaging in a conversation with them pays big in oral language development. It gives them a chance to talk, to practice their skills, to experiment with new words, and to try new sounds.
3. We can use a rich, varied, and advanced vocabulary with them. Even with the little guys, we should use words that count. Think about the way that many children love to learn and "own" the names of dinosaurs—in that very same vein we should give children the chance to stretch their brains and learn new words. We can do this simply by choosing texts with rich vocabulary and by using all sorts of words with our children while conversing with them and around them. They want to learn. They will surprise you!
If ever you have a question or concern about your child's speech development or oral language skills, it's best to chat with your pediatrician or the child's teacher. He or she will direct you properly if your child needs outside support.
How do you help to develop oral language skills for your children? Does parent-baby talk bother you? Tell us about it on the Scholastic Parents Facebook page.
Read all Raise a Reader posts by Amy Mascott.
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