I have been taught that children’s language falls to the least common denominator when in a group. If you’ve ever helped with junior high youth activities, you know this.
Children (and adults, actually) build language through using the language and they use the language they are most exposed to consistently.
That sounds really good, if we want our children to use English, right? The problem is what kind of English do we want our children using?
Slang? Street talk? Gutter talk?
The vocabulary of the typical American is much less than it used to be. Much. While we have progressed in hundreds of ways in our modern age, every day vocabulary isn’t one of them.
If you would like to see a hilarious (yet convicting) display of how our language (and therefore our children’s language) has diminished, watch this fabulous rendition of The Three Little Pigs I shared awhile back.
Take into consideration the language our children are exposed to in their day. This language comes at them from many directions and if we want to help boost their language (or at the very least keep it from falling) we have to take action.
Everything they hear and read all day is language input. What their peers say. The books the read. The television they watch. The music to which they listen. All of it.
Remember: most of the time, the language input they receive from a group of peers is sub par. Humans naturally start using vocabulary that matches the lowest language in the group setting. Of course, people can learn to not do this, but it takes intentional training.
So, if our children have spent the last eight hours with a group of peers, we need to realize what the majority of their language input for the day has been. If this is rare, it’s not a huge deal. If it’s every day, it is a big deal.
How can we boost our child’s language? Give them terrific input. Ok… more specifically…
- Read aloud to them.
- Have them listen to audiobooks.
- Make sure their reading material is not full of sub par language.
- Model good language consistently.
- Encourage (and even reward) vocabulary usage.
Don’t be daunted by these ideas. They truly are doable by regular parents, homeschoolers or not.
How can we put these ideas into action?
1) Listen to audio books to and from school/activities. Check CDs or even MP3 versions of books out from the library. Join Audible.com, christianaudio.com, and/or look into AudioBooks.com.
If you choose quality literature that is consistently loved, then you will set yourself up for some terrific language input for your children while at the same time making beautiful connections with them (and they with each other). If you listen to Lord of the Rings together, you’ll never forget it. Betcha a bunch of chocolate covered almonds.
2) Allow our children to read only quality, language rich literature. I use quality literature guides for choosing pleasure reading/supplemental school reading. Yes, seriously. The child must select a book from the references or something I am familiar with and know it to be well written, not something that only is culturally popular. Two books I recommend to parents are Honey for a Child’s Heart and The Hand that Rocks the Cradle.
I know this may be difficult to do. We may not want to take a stand on this, especially if our child doesn’t like reading all that much BUT… it’s important. The compilation references I suggest have plenty of truly fabulous books. Books that leave a permanent mark on a person. Books like Where the Red Fern Grows. Our children can and will find ones they like.
Don’t give in to lame books, written with language input far from the goal. If our children reads many quality books, then fluff can be ok every once in awhile. If we’ve done the math on their language input and found it to be sorely lacking, then fluff is off the table.
Interesting tidbit: Since 1971 the amount of books on the market for children has sky rocketed. This is because funding qualifications changed and librarians had more money to spend on books. Whereas before, quality books were the ones chosen due to limited money to spend, suddenly the choices were many. Why? The publishing industry took advantage of the new change.
Just because it’s at the library and/or a best seller, doesn’t mean it is quality literature, in language input or in any other category.
3) Have family read aloud time. If you have been here for long, you know what a fan of read alouds I am. Huge fan. I should have t-shirts made, really. (A couple of posts on read alouds and the huge benefits here and some more here)
Anyway, I know that reading aloud sounds impossible to many. I do. It’s not easy, not even for a homeschooling family that absolutely LOVESlovesLOVES read alouds. It’s very much worth it though.
If you can not read aloud during the week because your child goes to school outside the home and homework fills the evenings, I feel for you. Bummer.
Still, you can counteract the language input by reading quality books together on the weekends. Really great books. Literature, actually, not just books. And if you incorporate the audio books gig, then that’s read aloud that you don’t have to do, but can still be included in. I practically guarantee you’ll be glad you started doing this.
4) Cut down the time spent on television/music/movies on school days. Consider not allowing these on school days. Yes, I know this sounds ridiculous and controlling. I know. Again, if our child has had terrific language input all day, then this is less of an issue. If the language input has been less than desired (aka: if they have spent the majority of their time with a large group of peers), then you have to counteract that.
If you replace this with something, it will be easier. What could you replace it with? Hmmm, oh, I know! How about family read aloud (aka: a parent’s voice or an audiobook)?
5) Start a word of the day/week competition. Post a word of the day (or week) in a central living area of your home. If your family is competitive, and whose isn’t, reward the child that uses the word most in a day. Bonus points of the word comes up naturally and the child uses it well. We could even have a tally board for each time a person uses the word.
Big treats aren’t necessary for the winner, bragging rights would probably work. I know that this may not be something our kids get excited about at first, but I believe attitude is contagious. If mama is busting out the word often and making the kids look like slackers, they’ll probably rise to the occasion. It may take a bit, but give it a try.
I’m starting this today! Seriously. I need to practice what I preach, right? Plus, a couple of my children really need the challenge to think differently about their language.
6) Eliminate words from your family’s vocabulary. This is actually the most difficult for me. I will never forget when I asked a friend’s son for a “paper plate thing” and he said, “You should use more specific language.” Ahem. Now, not that I condone children correcting adults, but his point left it’s mark. That was more than fifteen years ago. (Egad! Hard to believe that’s true. Sigh.) I haven’t always been great at this, but it’s something I aspire to doing and have been working on as of late.
For example, we could eliminate general words that don’t convey meaning (thing, thingy, stuff, etc.) or overused words (cool, awesome, etc). Reward kiddos when they speak with more specific language with verbal praise, treats, or a celebration dance. Or maybe not one of those.
Alrighty… I hope we see the importance of encouraging our children to develop their language. I hope we set the bar for quality language in speech, writing, and reading. It matters.
Do you have any other suggestions?
What can you start doing to help boost your child’s language?