This term is one that was thrown around quite a bit in my Montessori Trainings. We discussed the importance of a Language Rich Environment and how we, as teachers, are to prepare such classrooms. But this is not just a consideration for teachers. Parents need to be aware of the importance of the Language Rich Environment and create this atmosphere in their homes.
There is continually new research showing that early exposure to diverse and full vocabulary makes a difference in a child’s later ability to read and write. The most recent research suggests that exposure to a Language Rich Environment can have a major impact by the age of 18 months. Unfortunately we are seeing that the divide is between high-income and low-income families. But parents of all income levels are capable of offering their child a Language Rich Environment. Here are some tips for keeping your home alive with language:
1. Talk to your child (even your newborn) and explain what is happening. “I am going to give you a bath. I will lift your left arm, now I will lift your right arm, and we are taking your shirt off.” Your child’s capacity to understand and take in verbal language is incredible. The first type of language that develops is their receptive language. They develop their receptive language from the language they hear around them. These are the words that children understand when others speak them. When speaking with children, use descriptive words and correct names. No babytalk or nick names please!
2. Have conversation with your child. “Good morning, did you sleep well last night?” and then pause and give them an opportunity to respond. A baby may respond with body movements, a smile, or even cooing sounds. A toddler may respond with words, but may need a few moments to process your question and formulate an answer. Make sure to pause and give ample time for a response. In my experience, at the moment I think I should repeat the question, I make myself wait 30 more seconds. So hold on…it’s coming.
3. Read to your child. And I don’t just mean children’s books. Yes, there are some great children’s books out there, but there are some really horrible ones too, with language that is way too simple , and even weird or strange phrasing. Consider reading poetry, prose, or even an article from the newspaper. We read to our children because they love stories (and the sound of our voice), and we read to our children because reading offers a different form of language; a formal language. Conversation can be casual and our children learn the ease of social interaction through the art of conversation. Reading offers complex and diverse sentence structure and continues to expose our child to new vocabulary.
4. Surround your children with books. This can be more and more difficult as the use of e-readers is becoming ever more popular. Children need to see books and to see people reading them. That means you Read in front of your children. Show them the joy of sitting and reading on a quiet afternoon, even if its just for 5 minutes. It is important that they see this happen. By having many books within your child’s reach at home, you create an atmosphere that is ripe for exploration. When our children were very young we had to put some of our most prized books out of reach, and often showed how to take care of books and properly turn their pages. This takes time, but is worth the effort.
As a parent, I marvel every day about how much my children read. It was never an effort. We created a Language Rich Home and are raising them in it. Once you create the space, offer the language and the rest comes so naturally. They cannot help but to learn from their surroundings. This is why their surroundings must be the best you can offer.