One of the advantages of sitting just outside of preschool classrooms all day is having the privilege of listening to the conversations that flow out from each room.  A few weeks ago there was spectacular interchange between Jo-Jo and a three year old boy in the Red Room regarding the baby in his tummy! I hear the most fascinating stories articulated in the most interesting ways.

Language absorption peaks during the period of time between 18 months and 3 years of age.  Yet as we all know, there is more to communication than just understanding the spoken work.  Communication involves speaking with and to someone, getting feed back, and composing a response (verbal or non-verbal).

A case was cited in 1978 involving a boy with normal hearing born to deaf parents who communicated through American Sign Language.  His parents exposed him to television every day so that he would hear and learn English.  By the age of three he was fluent in signing, but he spoke NO English and his English comprehension was limited.  The element of exchange was missing from his daily exposure to television.

Taking time to intentionally initiate two-way conversations with preschoolers will help children improve both receptive and expressive language skills.  Here are few ways we can help children practice communication skills:

  • Accumulate a number of “stock themes” to ask about that relate to your child’s experience; things they play with, things they can do all by themselves, what Mommy does, or what Daddy does.  Respond to their answer with another comment or question so as to establish turn taking.
  • Use nonsense talk to start a conversation such as, “Did you eat purple crackers for snack today?”  This will usually elicit some sort of response and you can take it from there!
  • Answer the never ending “Why?” questions with a silly answer like, “Because the moon is made of green cheese.”
  • With older preschool children discussions revolving around feelings and behaviors can take place as well.  Evaluating facial expressions of others is always a good conversation piece.
  • Correcting grammar or pronunciation puts a child’s confidence at risk so it is best to simply respond to a question or comment as it is offered.

As with every other area of development, the art of communication will blossom with time and practice.  Meanwhile, I will continue to listen in and enjoy the sounds of their laughter and the enthusiasm in their conversations.