language stimulation for children

Before I Go to Kindergarten #18: Communication Skills Impact Kids

Are Communication Activities and Play Part of Your Child’s Day?


More and more we are adding to the list of what’s important for kids beyond academics. Do you know how deeply communication skills impact kids?

communication skills for kindergarten

Some very recent research published in Science Daily has found that the level of language stimulation for young children can be a factor in childhood depression.

“Children who experience low levels of language learning stimulation beginning at three years of age are more likely to experience language delays by first grade and are three times more likely to develop depression by third grade, new research indicates.” (Science News, University of Missouri-Columbia: Early-life language stimulation, skills may prevent childhood depression)

While new, this finding that communication kids affect kids so critically isn’t surprising. It’s hard for kids to communicate what they want and need in the first place. They don’t have the words or the language patterns. They are confused by their own feelings. Not everyone can understand what they mean. Now, for kids who have challenges with language, the problem is incredibly frustrating. They lose confidence in themselves. They can’t trust others. They are heart-broken and give up trying. Sound like depression to you?

communication skills impact kids

Could you use some communication activities and play ideas to boost language stimulation? Doable, parent-friendly, child-tested suggestions are:

  • Read and share books. This is one of the easiest to do. You can snuggle together and read any time of the day. Tuck a few books into a bag for waiting in line, going on the bus, etc.
  • Tell stories. No equipment needed, other than imagination. Make up stories about anything: the shoes that couldn’t wait so they left by themselves, a magic box of crayons, an upside down rainbow. You might find this hard at first but imagination will stretch quickly.
  • Sing songs. Sing favorites, make up silly songs to old tunes. Hum Mulberry bush and sing, “This is the way we vacuum the floor, vacuum the floor, vacuum the floor.”
  • Have conversations. Notice your child is upset about something? Grab 2 stuffies and have them talk about the problem. Use words that your child might need.
  • Stir in words. For everyday situations, include words. At the store, talk about what you need. Ask yourself questions and answer them. Describe the colors, sizes, of fruits and veggies. Doing the laundry, sort the clothes with words, “Okay, shirt. You have dark stripes, so I think you go in the dark pile.” Ask your child questions, and wait for the answer. Sometimes finding the words takes time but a smile invites kids to talk.communication activities for kids

None of these need you to be a rocket-scientist. They are ordinary. Maybe that’s the problem. It’s hard to believe something so simple can make such a profound difference. Helping kids to use language so others understand them is more than helping prepare them for kindergarten. It’s giving them the biggest tool or strategy possible for interacting with others. Communication skills impact kids now and in the future. If ever there is a magic wand in life, it’s language. In a way, maybe words—any words—really are magic?

Before I Go to Kindergarten #17: Language Stimulation is Critical for Kids

What’s so important about listening to stories and singing songs? Because language stimulation is critical for kids. Any language and every word.

language stimulation for kids

We all communicate to each other using language. While we also use gestures and facial expressions, we rely on words. Have you ever traveled to another country where you couldn’t speak the language? It’s a challenge. Some things are simple and we can act out what we need, draw pictures, or use our cell phones and a translation app, but that doesn’t always work. Especially when we try to explain problems or health issues. Miscommunication with directions means we can get lost or in the wrong place.

language stimulation for kids

Language is so important that the brain starts learning it before babies are even born. But learning a language is a huge challenge. The brain’s best opportunity for learning a language is during the preschool years. In the graph below showing the most sensitive brain development times, language is the orange line.

brain development
reprinted with permission of Human Early Learning Partnership

Some very dedicated researchers discovered that kids hear between 3 and 10 million words a year! (Hart and Risley) Now that’s language stimulation! It’s too bad we don’t have watches and counters for words like we have for steps. 10,000 steps a day is awesome but 10,000 words a day is only a minimum.

reading books and stories

Besides the words, stories and songs are important in a few other ways too. Listening to a story is more than paying attention. Kids also need to connect with the story. As children follow along, they link what they are hearing to their own experiences. Often, when kids hear something familiar in a story they can’t help blurting out comments. They might say, “Hey, that’s what I do,” or “That happens at my house.” We can tell kids are engaged and thinking when they listen to stories.

musical activities for kids

Songs are another way to up the word count in a day. They also give clues about some brain skills and memory. Songs use language as well as rhythm and patterns. The brain can take advantage of these to help learn and remember. When kids sing songs, we get an idea of what might be happening at a thinking level.

language stimulation

Susan Miller’s book is only 1,000 words. How big would it be for 1,000,000 ? Stories and songs are easy things to include in your child’s day. Books can be shared whenever you have a moment, not just at bedtime. Sing songs about getting dressed, the weather, animals, people, and your child’s special interests. Don’t worry about having a great singing voice. Kids are listening with their hearts, not just their ears. Even if we don’t have word-counters, include as much language stimulation as you can. Well, in a way we do because brains count words. How far will words go today?

Before Kindergarten #13: Familiarity with Rhyming Words Letters Numbers

Time to Rhyme and Play Today?

Strange as it sounds, familiarity with rhyming words gives lot of information about children’s development. It is an important brain milestone.

before kindergarten familiarity with numbers letters rhyming words

One way to explain is to compare rhyming words to a car engine’s sound. A mechanic can tell if a car is running well by listening to the noise when the hood is up. If all parts of the engine are working as they should, the engine almost purrs. In the same way, we can listen to a child’s engine—the brain. Well, we’re not listening to the brain, but to the words a child uses. We can give kids two words like boat and train and ask them to choose which one sounds like coat. “Does boat sound like coat, or does train sound like coat?” The word-noise they choose tells us what’s happening at a brain level.

familiarity with rhyming words

The ability to choose words that rhyme indicates the brain has figured out how language and words work. Each word is made of tiny bits of sounds put together like puzzle pieces. The words hat, bat, cat, rat, sat, have parts that sound the same and a really small bit that’s different. We don’t teach this to kids. They figure it out by themselves. This skilled is called phonological awareness.

If a car engine isn’t ticking along as it should, the mechanic checks it over. One of the items to troubleshoot is if the engine is getting the proper amount and mixture of fuel. The brain is an engine and in the case of rhyming words it too needs fuel. That is, hearing and using lots and lots of words.

Some powerful research discovered that kids hear millions and millions of words a year. (Hart and Risley) Between 3 and more than 10 million. By the time kids are 3 years old, that’s about 10 million to 40 million words. Like the engine and fuel, which brain is going to make the connection? The brain that’s only been exposed to 10 million words, or the one that’s been filled up with 40 million words?

Generally, kids can identify rhymes about the age of 4 years old. In the meantime, the brain needs language fuel. Some simple ways to add brain fuel to make the familiarity with rhyming words brain pathways are:

  • Read books. The same book read over and over does count, but reading a variety of books gives a wider vocabulary. Every now and then, pause and let your child guess the next word.
  • Tell stories. Make up your own stories. Tell about when you were a child, what your brothers and sisters did, what you liked to do. Together, create an adventure for the bus when the driver is a zebra.
  • Have conversations. You may need to supply most of the words when talking to kids. They don’t know as many as we do. You can also have conversations with things. Be the voice of the fork as it talks to the spoon on the table.
  • Talk and eat. Eating meals together as a family is food for bodies and fuel for brains. Kids hear so many words around the table as adults talk to kids and to other adults and kids talk to kids. There’s also a context in these shared conversations that gives a richness to the words. No calories for this icing on the cake.
  • Sing. Songs are another way to use words. Very often, there are rhyming words in the lyrics. Don’t worry about your voice. Kids listen with their hearts.

familiarity with rhyming words

A mechanic doesn’t give an engine flash cards. We don’t instruct an engine how to run. We can’t tell a brain how to make connections and thinking pathways. We can provide the stimulation, the fuel so the brain develops familiarity with rhyming words. For kids, these are experiences and opportunities. The gas mixture needs to be language rich. How do you fill up your child’s brain tank?

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