Sowing the seeds of language…A blessing for you AND your child!

by Kathy Henley

Going to graduate school in my 40s was quite an adventure….My two older children, then in high school and college, gave me great tips about the best way to carry a heavy backpack, and many helpful ideas about writing all those research papers!  It was enlightening to see things again through their student eyes.

My new focus, reading disability, was also enlightening, as this was the exact opposite of my initial training.  I had been in the general classroom for many years, and I found that I needed to put on new “glasses” to process and understand much of what I was learning.  The journey was challenging, but in the end, it was deeply rewarding.

One of the most enduring lessons I learned in graduate school was how the process of language acquisition begins at birth, with the primary language functions of listening and speaking. What we commonly think of as “academic language”….reading, writing, and spelling, are considered secondary language functions, with roots deeply entrenched in those early years.   As parents, we are blessed to have the opportunity to help “sow the seeds of language” in our children.

Years before children ever write a paragraph in school, they are in the process of developing a language base upon which to draw vocabulary, experiences, and general knowledge about life. As parents, we have the unique privilege to assist in this process.  Reading to your child helps to sow the seeds of language by exposing your child to new and varied vocabulary.  It also provides your child with the opportunity to delight in story themes, characters, and situations. When you read to your child, you have the opportunity to stop and define the meaning of a word, or monitor your child’s understanding of the plot. You also have a wonderful opportunity to develop and reinforce Biblical principles as you discuss the characters. Even as we marvel at the current digital revolution, there is just no substitute for these real-time reading experiences with your child!  All these early reading experiences become a part of your child’s “language bank”, to re-emerge in later years—-enveloped within the paragraphs and stories we are so delighted to see our children write!

Research has shown that children who lack a deep foundation in oral language tend to have difficulty writing in school. Remember, children must “own” words in their oral vocabulary first before they are able to use them effectively in sentences. It is also important to understand that for the first few years of school, a child’s listening comprehension exceeds his reading ability. Children are able to listen to far more richly developed stories than they can yet read themselves!  This is the perfect time to add to your child’s language bank by reading wonderful, classic literature. I remember so vividly my parents reading The Chronicles of Narnia and Swiss Family Robinson, among many others, to me as a child.  Making a language-rich environment a priority for your child is truly a win-win!  Not only are you sowing those all-important seeds of language, you are creating deep and enduring bonds by giving your child your TIME—the most precious gift of all.

Author Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook is one of many wonderful resources for choosing read-aloud classics. Here at FPDS, Mary Thompson and Karen McBride, our beloved library staff, is the best resource of all!