Today is Valentine’s Day – the day we express our love for our family and friends. Some like to shower their loved ones with flowers or candy. I prefer something as simple as a card or note to express how much I love someone for a couple of reasons. First, a written card or note is personal. It shows I’ve taken the time to think about the person, and time is always a gift. Second, I use words – the gift of language.
The limits of my language are the limits of my world. - Ludwig Wittgenstein
Words and language, even the use of images, are amazing. The sharing of thoughts, ideas, emotions is central to who we are as human beings. I found an old article from Psychology Today that recognizes the importance of language in the subtitle: Language can change the world. So, what does this mean for young children?
Do you remember the viral video from last summer of the dad sitting on the sofa having an entire conversation with his baby son? The baby wasn’t speaking what we might consider words, but that didn’t matter to the dad, who responded with full sentences, inflections, and questions. This is the importance of language to very young children – sharing a wide and varied vocabulary supports a child's ability to communicate, and articulate and understand feelings. It also supports thinking and problem-solving, and developing and maintaining relationships.
Language can be accessed in many ways – talking and singing with children is one of the easiest. Sing lots of songs, clap to the beat of the music, and make those silly faces. Describe what you are doing throughout the day: “I am going to wipe the table with this blue cloth so that it is clean when we have our crackers today at snack time.” When you’re outdoors, try something like, “Look at the fuzzy caterpillar climbing up the stem of this beautiful purple petunia flower.” Let the child ask questions and express their natural curiosity and build upon the conversation.
Incorporate counting and sorting into your conversations. Compare the big spoon to the small spoon, or the red cup to the green cup. Read to your children – over and over and over. Read the same books often, pointing to the words as you read them, then choose new books. Use funny voices (one of my favorite memories was reading a book called “Coco the Carrot” with a fancy French accent). Ask questions about the story and let the child ask questions, too!
Learning language requires active participation – you and the child should be engaged in the entire process. Handing the child a phone, tablet, or even a book is not active learning. So please take the time to engage because watching your child’s language skills is one of the greatest gifts you will receive – language is love. Happy Valentine’s Day.