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Oral Language and School Readiness: Helping your preschooler find her voice

Kid's Literacy Activities It may seem that school readiness activities focus a great deal on written language, especially reading and writing. But, oral language is very important as well. Preschoolers are expected to be able to talk about their experiences, ask questions, debate, and explain.

There are three key aspects to competence in oral language as it relates to school readiness:

  • Speaking – choosing what, how, and when to say something
  • Listening – attending to and understanding what others say
  • Reading Aloud – interpreting what is written on the page and saying it for others
Here are a few ways you can help develop your child’s oral communication skills at home:

Encouraging Your Budding Speaker

Confidence in spoken language begins early. Children whose sounds are responded to as infants are more likely to keep talking and develop competence in spoken language. Your baby cooed and you responded, and a give-and-take “conversation” ensued. This very same conversational interaction is critical as your child grows into the toddler and preschool years. Interactions with your child should expand on, not correct, what he says. While the questions from your child may seem never ending, take comfort in knowing that your active responsiveness is aiding her language development. 

Strategies to Enhance Preschoolers’ Oral Language

  • Use every opportunity to ask questions and engage in conversation with your child - during bath time, at the dinner table, in the car, or while waiting in the grocery store line.  Look for the times that your child is most talkative and capitalize on those moments. Often children are ready to talk when they can feel reconnected to you, so plan for extra conversation time during bath or bed routines.
  • Encourage your child to tell stories. He can tell stories about things that happened to him, retell a favorite children’s book (with or without the book in front of him), or make up stories. Telling stories of your own also helps this skill evolve in your child.
  • Play word games like “I Spy” or have your child think of words that rhyme with “bat,” “car,” “moo,” or “pie.” The rhyming words your child picks can be real or made-up silly words.
  • Some children may enjoy talking to a puppet or soft toy that you or she manipulates.
  • If speaking doesn’t come easy to you, you may have to push yourself to be a model for your child. It is worth it to see your child’s growing competence in oral language.
The more you can model talking with your children, while still giving them time to talk as well, the better. Talk together about everything. Explain what is happening while you are stuck in a traffic jam or talk about which fruit you are choosing when shopping in the grocery store.  Establishing family routines like having everyone share one or more good things from their day at the dinner table give children practice and help them feel competent in their oral language.

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