Grow a Reader: Talking

By Shelley Lantz

Talking with young children is so important! When you talk with your baby, your baby is hearing the sounds of the languages you speak and learning what words mean as you point to and label things. When you add new words and information to conversations with your children, you are developing their vocabularies and knowledge of their world.

There tend to be two kinds of “talk”—“business talk”  and “play talk.” Business talk is directive, short, and to the point. Play talk, on the other hand, is responsive to the child, imaginative and often silly, while being open-ended and encouraging. It also offers choices and asks questions. Research has shown that the amount of "play talk" that children receive prior to 3 years of age predicts their intellectual accomplishments at age 9 and beyond. Amazing!

More than any other factor, including economic considerations, research has found that the amount of play talk children are exposed to has the most impact on their language and intellectual development. Here are some ideas of how you can encourage play talk with your child:

  • Read a book together, asking open-ended questions about the pictures. Ex. Look at the pretty, bluebird. Where do you think he is flying?
  • For babies, imitate your baby’s babbling and enjoy her reaction. You could even record the baby’s babbles and play them back for her to hear.
  • Sing favorite songs frequently, and encourage your children to join in. Pause before a keyword in a song or rhyme to give a toddler a chance to fill it in all by herself. It can take young children up to 5 seconds to put their comments or responses into words or meaningful gestures, so give them plenty of time to reply.
  • Provide toddlers opportunities to practice using words they know.  Find a magazine or catalog with pictures of familiar items that they can name with the words they know.
  • For preschoolers, include fiction and nonfiction picture books about animals in your book time together—and learn together. Plan a trip to the zoo to see the animals.

Here are four great book lists to help encourage talk between you and your children. Read your favorite books together, over and over, and have fun!  And, remember to encourage your children to talk when you read together. Look at and talk about the story and the pictures. Ask questions that allow your children to explain what they are thinking and feeling. The books included in these lists are age-appropriate and are fun to share:

CRRL Grow a Reader: Talk With Your Infant

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CRRL Grow A Reader: Talk With Your Young Toddler

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CRRL Grow A Reader: Talk With Your Older Toddler

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CRRL Grow A Reader: Talk With Your Preschooler

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For more information about the current research on play vs. business talk, check out Talk to Me, Baby! by Betty Bardige.

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