Monday, June 23, 2014

Activities to support the development of language, ages 3-6

The child has created language within herself. Now, she needs to expand her vocabulary to communicate so many experiences. At three, the child is not speaking clearly, so she must refine the articulation of her speech over the next few years. In what order do the words go? The child is internalizing the syntax of English, to develop the capacity of language for communication. We must provide the child with an environment with activities that will help her explore language. We know this about the child, generally. But what about the specific children that are coming to our classrooms?
How did these children come by language? What experiences have these children had with language in their environments? How has the speed and isolation in our communities changed the acquisition of language in these children? How has poverty impacted these children? Does the child have another first language? Who are these children who are coming to us? Where are the children in their task of developing and creating language? What is their experience in being spoken to and listened with respect.
The children themselves can be the materials for language for each other. Once we know who the children are, we can prepare the environment for them. Stimulation will look different for different populations. How do you respond with English as their second language? What about children coming with poor speech patterns because of bottle feeding, affecting the formation of the hard palate? Unless we know the child, we cannot prepare the environment. But once we know, we can protect, nourish, and stimulate.

Magnet schools tend to have a wider variety of life experiences that stimulate the need for language. Children without experiences other than passive television watching don’t have the same urge to search for vocabulary to communicate, but if we can stimulate those urges, the natural path to development will come.

So, our initial work is to understand where the child is in the development of language. Then we provide language for communication. 

We create an environment rich in spoken language, which will have many opportunities for speaking and listening. We do not know if there is a family mealtime at home; we can create a mealtime conversation in the classroom, to fill that gap. Tell stories about your own life, beyond the book. Kids who grow up with the constant noise of the television are trained, foundationally, with a cognitive adeptness in tuning out human language as ambient sound and not interpersonal communication. Refine the abilities, then, for self-expression with richer vocabulary and specific tools for exploring language. The work of spoken language and conversation starts the day they enter the classroom and ends the day they leave us. 

Written language means nothing without a strong background in spoken language. Resist the urge to begin teaching writing without having a strong background in speaking. They do not need to begin writing until they have the cognitive foundation in language.

Jeannot Jonte Boucher is a Montessori educator and parent in Dallas, Texas. 

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