Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Teaching Twos - Language

teaching toddlers language

I had an interview recently and was explaining how I teach. She asked, with what I perceived as a large amount of derision, "What can you teach a TWO YEAR OLD?"

Yep, SHE was about to be schooled. 

Please remember that this is child-led learning through play and movement. No drills, worksheets, etc. I'm going to present them in a series of subjects:

Vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary
2-year-olds pick up about 10 new words a day, when provided with 10 new words a day. Each child has different words that s/he will be drawn to, so I need to expose them to many more than that. The favorite word for them all yesterday was flamingo. Since it is estimated that an average person only uses 700 unique words on any given day, and a child has a vocabulary of 14,000 words at age 6, it can be implied that only through targeted efforts at vocabulary introduction does this happen. The main source for this is READING. Each book introduces a child to another person's vocabulary and voice. Given that there is a DIRECT correlation between time spent reading and future grades and adult success, reading is the key aspect of teaching 2-year-olds language.

Parroting/mimicking/repeating of words is key to rapid vocabulary acquisition. We work on this from birth. A newborn will stick its tongue out if it sees someone do it. That's how it starts. We start with parroting of movements, move on to parroting of sounds/babbles, and on to words. A child that will parrot words will pick up twice as much vocabulary in half the time as a child that doesn't.

To expand vocabulary, we will work with our monthly/weekly preschool themes to prep vocabulary they will need for those in the following years.

Sentence structure
The little ones are 2 years and 2 months old now. This week we have been working on pronouns. Previously they all used their names and said things like, "John do it." "Daddy truck." "Mommy go." Now they are speaking at up to five word sentences, and have thrown out a couple of pronouns. So it's time. So instead of me saying, "No, that's Randy's truck. Give back." I'm saying, "No, that's his. Give him his truck back." In just a week the use of pronouns by the 2's has greatly increased. This is a conscious directional shift in how I speak to them, with a specific goal in mind. A few weeks ago they were not ready for this shift, now they are. 

In parts of the world where eye contact is discouraged, enunciation is much better and mastered earlier than here in the west. [Just read this, but can't find source.] For us westerners, it is rude to not have eye contact when speaking, however when the eyes are on eyes, the mouth movements are missed. I purposefully teach the children to look at my mouth when learning new words. I say the word in a specific tone that keys them to parrot me, and put my finger to my chin to indicate them to watch my mouth. 

I will have them parrot a few times, until improvement is made, or they look away, indicating end of interest. I always end with a, "Good job!" and high five.

Enunciation is key to being understood, so the sooner we get good enunciation of the words they know, the quicker we get better communication and fewer tantrums from communication frustration.

While many would consider the ABC song language acquisition, I do not. For me, it is mathematical sequence. It teaches order and the concept of consistency. The language component is simply the vocabulary introduction of the letter names.

ABC recognition means little to me. It doesn't matter to reading if a child knows an "A" is an "A", it matters that they know that "A" says "aaa." Most of my former 2-year-olds knew their phonics for both upper and lower case by 3, and learned the letter names by 4. This meant that they were often reading some at 3/early 4, without knowing their letter names.

We learn phonics through acquisition first of sounds. Not just letters and their partner sounds, but also digraphs and blends. We'll spend a week focusing on the CH sound for instance with casual references to the letters shown. We start at 2 to make clear the concept that letters make sounds. At 3 we work on sounds making words, and by 4 we move to words make sentences, make paragraphs, make stories, etc.

We also work on phonics through reading of alphabet books. I emphasize the phonics element, since the letter name is usually the focus of the book. It's easy with books like Dr. Seuss's ABC.

While reading, we work on many of the pre-reading skills
- Left to right convention
- Recognition of print as meaningful words
- One-to-one correspondence of words 
- Repetitive readings to encourage comprehension, sequencing, filling in

When we do reading, it is ALWAYS interactive. The children get to play out the story in some way. In Goodnight Moon they pop balloons, meow like kittens and do a lot of other movements and sounds. For any book that has a repetitive phrase, like Pete the Cat, then they say that phrase whenever I pause and look at them. If you haven't done this type of interactive reading, it's easiest to start with books meant to be interactive, like From Head to Toe by Eric Carle. However, any book can be made interactive. 

The one way we do letter name recognition is the first letter of their names. Since I put it on their work, and they have their names on their cubbies, I make a point of introducing the first letter of their names at 2 years old. 

Observational skills
A huge part of comprehension is paying attention to and remembering details. When we read, I always ask them to find different little elements within the pictures. With repetition, they become use to looking more closely, paying attention longer, remembering elements, connecting the story to the picture, and gaining a clearer understanding of the content. What this leads into is greater comprehension once they start reading, and a better ability to visualize the story once the pictures are removed in chapter books.

This is not done just in fine work like a picture book, this is a skill that we focus on at a large scale as well. The 2's will point out the moon, a pear in the tree, a spider web over the garden, an ant on a tree, etc. They are more observant through practice, and while the goal is to be better readers, having attention to detail and a broad visual perspective have many excellent advantages.

Language acquisition begins in the womb. So many pieces of the language puzzle are in place, ready to go, when a child hits 2. Twisting and turning the pieces until they make sense, go together, and create a beautiful picture of meaning, is a large part of the skill set learning for twos.

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