Oral skills include both speaking and listening, and are at the root of literacy. Listening to the rhythm of the language spoken around them will help your children discover the rules of that language. When your children experiment with their voices, they will try to mimic how you speak to them. The words they understand best and use first are the ones that represent what is most important to them, such as names or titles of family members or pets, or their favourite foods and toys. As their understanding of the language expands, so does their vocabulary.
Some simple ways you can expose your children to language are to:
- Narrate what you are doing around them as if you are telling a story—while you are diapering, bathing or feeding for instance
- Make up stories or retell stories
- Tell them what you were like as a child or what they were like as newborns
- Tell them over and over again about the many things related to what they love most—their families and themselves
Babies and toddlers will pay close attention to a rhyme or story they hear repeatedly to pick out words they are familiar with. When you repeat your story several times, toddlers understand the beginning, middle and end, anticipating what happens next. You can expand your stories as your children gain more experience.
It is important for children to have a good understanding of the mechanics of their language before they can move to the next step—reading and writing! Singing rhymes to your children increases their phonemic awareness, among other things. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds—phonemes—in spoken words. Before children learn to read print, they need to become aware of how the sounds in words work.
Young children, who have been exposed to a rich vocabulary and ways to use it, can become the storytellers. It is a great exercise for a preschooler to be able to retell what happened yesterday, what they saw at the zoo, or what a grandparent gave them on their birthday. They have to remember in what order the things happened without a picture book to help with the story. They may get the details mixed up, but encourage them to tell their story the way they recall it. They are learning how to remember the beginning, middle and end. They are trying to put the correct words in place of images in their minds. Prompt them if needed.
One of the best experiences I have had as a parent is sitting around a table, living room, or campfire with my children, friends and extended family, retelling stories of our past. My older children have heard these stories so many times, they are eager to share them with the youngest family members. “Tell the one about you and Uncle when you were…” the little ones might say! There are so many stories for them to pick from! Our family shares stories of our elders who are now gone, and our children can retell some of them as if they were there themselves.
So another important thing that happens with oral storytelling, especially when it is about your family, is the bonding that brings you together. Every family has a story! Don’t forget to teach yours to your children, especially since many of our families are spread around the world.
Sing with your child, talk with your child, read with your child, play with your child, everyday!
Check our website for more information about Rhymes that Bind in Edmonton and find a program near you.