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Little Learners and Language

A love of learning and language is something that all parents want their children to obtain. However, many parents are not aware of the influence they have and the part they play in the development of their child’s language acquisition.

This article will enable you to understand generic tips on how to encourage your child to grasp language learning; it will also provide you with specific points to ‘play’ with in relation to the English language.

By the age of six, most schools have firm expectations in terms of speaking and listening, reading and writing milestones your child should have reached. In order to fully engage with a school curriculum, and indeed to even gain access to preferred schools in some cases, solid skills in these areas are key, not only for developing as a communicator, but for being able to fully access all areas of a school curriculum. It is also an essential part of play and can form the basis for lasting relationships between your child and their friends.

Getting to grips with the early knowledge and skills your child needs to grasp is not always the easiest journey for you or your child. This is partly due to the ‘melting pot’ nature of the English language, which has evolved to reflect the many influences of those who arrived on British shores over the years. There are consequently many rules, or part-rules, in contemporary English to which there are various exceptions.   For children learning how to use the sound symbol (phonographic) system, they are faced with learning to make 44 sounds (lightly debated) in more than one thousand ways. For example, consider the ways we make the long vowel sound for the letter ‘a’: ai as in rain, ay as in play, a_e as in make and then of course exceptions such as ‘they’.

The aim of this article is to give you some insight and practical advice on how you can support your child’s learning in terms of early childhood developments. So, where to begin?

Speaking and Listening
It has been claimed that a child’s ability to annunciate sounds is shaped by the sounds they hear in their first 18 months. Without a rich early experience of hearing sounds children may have difficulty using these in speech. Children’s early experience of hearing and verbalising sounds will also have a significant impact on how they use sounds when attempting to decode letters for reading and, when using speech, to inform the letters we use when writing. What can you do to help provide these crucial early experiences? Consider the following options: sing songs, say rhymes, listen to stories, talk about stories and pictures  and experiences, and create stories together and tell and act them out to others. It is never too early to start. Very young children understand a great deal more than they can verbalise. Their known vocabulary is growing all the time with words and meanings being ‘stored’ until they can physically be spoken. As you speak with your child, you are providing a model for communication. Your child needs to be a skilled verbal communicator before they will be able to communicate in terms of our writing conventions. So get talking!

Reading and Writing
As your child starts school, the major building block for reading (and writing) will be phonological awareness. This term refers to your child’s ability to know and use the sounds we use that our letter symbols represent.

At school your child will probably learn phonics in an order that allows them to quickly use sounds to read and build words. Many schools follow an approach termed ‘synthetic phonics’ which teaches letter sounds in groups that can easily be used.

This first group in this programme is s, a, t, n, i, p. There are many words that can be made from this small group of sounds such as sat, in and it, and so children can start developing the skill of blending sounds as they internalise the sound symbol relationships.

Starting to use these sounds as they are learned establishes their relevance and gives children early satisfaction with reading and creating words. There is, therefore, a positive emotional experience in which learning is more likely to be retained. A fantastic website for supporting the acquisition of phonic knowledge and skills is www.phonicsplay.co.uk.   Going back to an earlier point, speech is obviously important in using phonics to help your child spell words. If trying to spell ‘this’ when annunciating ‘th’ as ‘f’, could be tricky. Issues such as these can result from a lack of early experiences in terms of hearing sounds but, very often this is not something to overly worry about at an early stage.

Being able to articulate sounds is a developmental process. There are sounds that children find more difficult to verbalise until certain ages and there are general statements we can make in terms of the differences between the ages boys and girls acquire the ability to clearly verbalise certain sounds. If concerned, ask your child’s school or another expert for details.

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