When Immy was a baby I talked to her a lot – just general chatter about everyday things; things we were doing, people we were seeing, events happening around us when we were out and about. This continued through toddlerhood and even now she is three, Immy and I continue to talk about these same sorts of things all throughout the day. Where once her responses were smiles and gurgles, which grew into word approximations, then single word responses, I love that we are now actually able to have a two way conversation.
Conversation is importance to speech development (and therefore literacy) as it helps to develop a child’s ability to express their own ideas, understandings and feelings, and improves their general fluency in verbal interaction. Socially, being able to converse with other children and adults has many obvious benefits.
How can we encourage conversation with our children?
Take advantage of everyday opportunities to just talk together without the distraction of things like television or radio. For example;
- Try turning the radio off and talking whilst you are sitting in the car. You might talk about where you are going or what your child enjoyed on the outing you have just finished, as well as things that you see as you are driving along.
- Sitting down as a family at mealtimes not only allows your young child to engage in conversation but to also observe adults talking to each other and/or to older children and this type of modelling is very valuable to the process of learning the social conventions of conversation. For example, I have always asked Dad 101 about his day at work and now not long after we sit down to dinner Immy usually asks, “How was work today? Did you have any meetings?” and continues with questions like, “Who was your meeting with?”
Think about how you talk with your child. Do you ask questions which elicit a one word response like “Yes” or “No,” or do you ask questions which encourage your child to use sentences to reply? (see examples of asking ‘good’ questions in this post) Do you show interest in your child’s contributions and try to prolong the conversation?
Reflect and talk about real life experiences you have enjoyed together. For example, if you visited the zoo, revisit the experience by talking about it together in the following days. Look at photographs or use art materials to encourage your child to express their thoughts and memories.
Actively listen to your child. Don’t be so busy talking that they do not have the chance to respond.
Use your time reading together to talk too. Talk about the story – ask what your child might do if he were the character facing the dilemma in the book, or ask him/her what is her favourite part of the story and why (see more information about talking to children about books here and here).
Incorporate conversation into your child’s play by;
- Providing an old telephone and/or mobile phone for your child’s use during imaginative play
- Using finger puppets or hand puppets and role play conversation between the characters
- Literary Spot #5: Photo Albums
- Learning Letters Playfully
- 9 Things to Notice When Reading With Kids