This was an idea thrown out there during a recent workshop I took on Supporting Adolescent Reading. As soon as I heard the presenter say, “Conversation builds vocabulary,” I knew she had something there. I have known this all along, although I have never really thought about it.
I have never spoken down to children in as long as I have been working with them. I speak to them much the same way I would speak to an adult. I have conversations with children and really listen to what they have to say. I use the same language and choice of words I would with a friend. I always thought I did this out of respect. Children deserve to have respectful conversations with adults. Now I can see that it also serves another purpose, it helps children learn.
Conversation builds vocabulary. Speaking to children respectfully and engaging them in good conversation exposes them to all sorts of words and conventions. It models appropriate speaking and listening behaviour. It shows them that what people think and say is important. And yet it is something we probably don’t think about.
How many parents have good quality conversations with their children? How many parents just constantly criticize or yell at their kids instead? I know that some parents never even really speak to their children. It is sad.
I remember when I used to work as an after-school supervisor. Most parents would come to pick up their children and quickly rush out the door. One parent in particular wouldn’t even get off of her cell phone when signing out her kid. She would motion at him and expect him to just come without any discussion. It didn’t matter what her son was doing at the time. In contrast, I had one parent who would always come in and sit with his daughter and see what she was doing. He would stay and play with her for a few minutes, or talk to her about her day while she finished her activity. This was great to see. I loved to see parental involvement like that. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it very much.
So I think we need to encourage parents to speak to their children more often and to have good quality conversations. I see this happens more with grandparents, but children don’t always have access to their grandparents. And parents will often feel like they don’t have the time. This, however, is just an excuse. Children deserve to have your time. Give them as much of it as you can. It really is the most important thing you can give them.