With the holiday season rapidly approaching, families will be reconnecting and favorite stories will undoubtedly be shared. When families intentionally take advantage of these gatherings and visits, they can enrich a child's reading and language skills while enjoying the comfort and fun of being together.
In order to make these opportunities more effective for language development, make sure stories incorporate" nutritionally rich" techniques. As Get Georgia Reading points out, the quantity and quality of language is critical for brain development. So just like healthy food is critical to physical development, stimulating exchanges and family conversations are crucial for cognitive development. The organization emphasizes that, "Language-rich adult-child interactions, beginning at birth, have a direct impact on social-emotional and cognitive development."
Let's look at three distinct activities that can make this holiday time more meaningful and more impactful for children with a minimum of thoughtful preparation:
1. Share Family Stories
Prior to a holiday visit, encourage relatives to think about stories they would like to share with cousins, nieces, nephews and grandkids. Suggest that relatives use significant family stories from their childhood that occurred around the same age or slightly older than the children in the family. Stories from an appropriate age have more meaning and impact since kids will relate to events and situations that are similar to their lives.
When kids see that some of their experiences and their feelings about a situation are similar to their uncles, aunts or grandparents, it can be very comforting, especially during a challenging period of change. However, stories about coming home from the military or tall tales about pranks at a college party are probably not going to be very meaningful to a five-year old boy or a seven-year old girl. Ask friends and relatives to think about two or three stories they would like to pass along from their childhood, from a time when they were the same relative age as the children in the family.
2. Engage Children in Active Conversation
As family traditions are passed along and stories are shared, encourage discussions that incorporate questions. For example, ask kids what they think about a particular situation. Could they relate to what happened? Did anything like that ever happen to them? If they could go back in time, which era would they like to visit?
Even talking about family traditions, like decorating a front door, going to a musical performance or even watching a football game provide amble opportunities for language-rich discussion. Ask children what they like about a tradition or what they don't particularly enjoy. Take time to explain the origins of a family tradition and see if there is a new tradition that they would like to start.
Non-directive discussions with probing questions are crucial to building language skills. Questions like: Why do you think that happened? What do you think would be a better way to celebrate? How do other families do that? Using questions that lead to more discussion with a "How", "Why", "What", "When" or "Where" can lead to more opportunities for reflection and language development. These types of questions also demonstrate that an adult really wants to hear a child's point of view and that the adult genuinely cares about the child's preferences and ideas.
3. Read Stories Out Loud
Reading aloud is one of the easiest and most rewarding ways to help build reading skills and to bond with young children. While relatives read to a child or finish a story, it helps to take a few minutes to discuss the story. Ask questions about the characters, the place, the conflict, when the story took place, etc.
Use probing questions to see what a child liked and possibly what aspects of the story weren't particularly enjoyable. Make connections between the story and life experiences. Ask questions like "Do you remember the time when...?", "Remember the last time we...?", "Why do you think that happened?", "Have you ever felt that way?"
Make reading aloud fun for everyone. Encourage relatives to read with expression, vary the pace and use different voices for the characters to help focus and sustain a child's attention. Reading together is fun and entertaining, so remind relatives to relax and enjoy this special time to bond with a child.
Inform relatives that when children are actively participating in reading a book or discussing a story, their language skills will improve faster than when they passively listen to an adult reading aloud. It helps to enhance the experience when adults keep kids engaged and explore their answers to questions about the story.
Using any of these three activities to intentionally develop language skills can be stimulating and fun for everyone. These types of developmental experiences can help reinforce and strengthen the foundational skills needed to help a child become a more proficient reader, as well as enhance a child's social and communication skills.
In fact, these skills are so critical that they are specifically defined in the Common Core Standards for Reading. So it's an added benefit that children can enjoy this special holiday time to bond with their relatives while enhancing their active listening and language skills.