Education research has shown that preparation for school readiness begins from the moment a child is born (Hart and Risley, 2003). In particular, the amount of language that a child hears before age three has a significant impact on their developmental trajectory, processing speed, and ultimately, their educational success. Therefore, creating a language-rich environment goes a long way towards preparing your child for school.
Luckily, creating a language-rich environment is easy. Dana Suskind (2015), author of Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain, offers the “Three T’s”–talk more, tune in and take turns–to simplify the way we think about producing a language-rich environment.
1. Talk more
Talk to your child as often as possible, and encourage them to talk to you. Whether you’re changing their nappy, eating dinner or walking around the shops, initiate a dialogue (or monologue!). Tell your child about your day, express your thoughts and feelings, ask questions, narrate what you are doing, and share your ideas, regardless of their age. Use a wide, vibrant vocabulary. For example, rather than saying, “Do you want a carrot?” say, “Do you want a crunchy, juicy, orange carrot?”
2. Tune in
Pay attention to what your child is interested in, and talk more about that. Adults and children alike naturally pay more attention to a conversation when the topic is something that we find engaging. So if your child is really into Stars Wars (like my five-year-old nephew is right now!), initiate and maintain conversations about that topic. Even (or especially!) if you know nothing about your child’s interests, ask lots of questions to get them talking.
3. Take turns
As much as possible, think of and treat your child as a legitimate conversation partner. Even before they have learned to speak or babble, respond to their gestures and facial expressions as authentically as possible. When they do begin to speak, give them time to talk, and then respond appropriately. Use eye contact, and expressive pace, tone and volume to model the various aspects of spoken language. This prepares them for the conventions of conversation, and equips them to be effective talkers and listeners.
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Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (2003). The early catastrophe: The 30 million word gap by age 3. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/ae/spring2003/hart_risley
Suskind, D., & Suskind, B. (2015). Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain. United States: Dutton Books.