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Communication: Building a Solid Foundation for School Success

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Parents and caregivers have many questions about how to best prepare their young child for school success. Will my child be ready for kindergarten? What do they need to know? How can I help? Are we doing enough to encourage reading? Knowing that children who have communication delays are at greater risk for future reading and writing difficulties, it’s wise to consider what we can do now to build a solid foundation for future learning. While many promote flashcards, workbooks, and educational computer games as the answer to school readiness, longstanding child development research provides a different solution – communication.

Learning to be an effective communicator is essential for school success. Most often when thinking about communication, we think about talking. Communication actually involves much more, including understanding, listening, and responding to others – both verbally and non-verbally. It encompasses the skills needed to share our thoughts and understand another’s perspective (Galinsky, 2010). Not only does communication provide a way to interact with others and build relationships, it also creates the foundation for learning.

While being an effective communicator is vital for school success in many ways, one facet worth discussing is its importance in reading and writing. It is well established that a young child’s oral language competency directly correlates to later literacy skills in elementary (Bishop & Snowling, 2004; Catts, Fey, & Tomblin, 1997). This relates to how a child builds literacy skills, moving from listening to speaking, and then later to reading and writing. 

Reading involves two core components: decoding and comprehension. Decoding refers to learning the connection between letters and sounds and using that knowledge to recognize a written word. When decoding, a child converts printed words into words they already speak. Comprehension puts meaning to the decoded words and sentences. It provides the rich, colorful picture we associate to a word described in a text. For example, when we read the word “carnival,” it conjures mental images of bright colors and festivity, rides, a crowd of people, special foods like popcorn, maybe even smells and sounds. It’s that background knowledge that makes reading the word carnival meaningful in context (Perfetti, 1997).

In the same way, a young child must be able to draw on information about a word to understand what they have decoded and begin to truly read. The knowledge-base a child derives is built through his/her listening and speaking skills. A child must have a sufficient understanding and use of oral language to develop strong reading comprehension.

Similarly, a child’s writing skills are dependent upon their reading proficiency. Any weaknesses in the foundational building blocks of listening and speaking will appear later, as literacy skills continue to develop into reading and writing. This same relationship can be seen in the progression of how children are expected to learn new information through the school-aged years. Children move from the stages of listening to learn, speaking and listening to learn, learning to read and finally reading to learn. What does this mean for children who have communication delays? What can we be doing today to help them become strong readers tomorrow? Our focus should be on strengthening their listening and speaking skills through a combination of therapy, playful interactions, and exposure to literacy rich environments.

          

Therapy
Children with communication delays benefit from therapy with a certified speech-language pathologist. Research overwhelmingly supports the effectiveness of early intervention. The sooner a child receives therapy to address communication needs, the greater the gains, resulting in better outcomes across the lifespan. Once a child is receiving intervention, it’s important that all team members work together to practice targeted skills across various settings. More information about how to identify communication delays can be found at our website, www.parishschool.org.

Playful Interactions
Children learn language most meaningfully through playful interactions. Set aside time in your day to play with your child. Sing songs, explore the outdoors, paint and color together, talk to your child about what you are doing, and the people and places you are visiting. Find time to unplug and play without electronics. Discover your child’s interests by observing the kinds of activities and toys to which they are drawn. Be present with them by joining their play and entering their world. Come beside them, follow their lead, and don’t be afraid to be silly. Adults should avoid the temptation of controlling play. Let children experiment with materials. The focus should be on the process, not the outcome. Most importantly, be authentic and have fun!

Literacy Rich Environments
Make reading a part of daily routine, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Let your child turn the pages, point out pictures and words, and ask questions. It’s important to offer varied reading materials in your home. Be sure to include books about the alphabet and numbers and counting, as well as fiction and non-fiction. Make reading time fun and engaging by using expression to make the story come alive. Find times for your child to “read” to you by telling you the story or describing the pictures in a book. Introduce your child to various kinds of print: books, signs, labels, magazines, etc. Children learn about print as we draw their attention to it in daily life.

To learn more about communication and the skills needed for school success, read Ellen Galinsky’s book Mind in the Making.

 

References:

Bishop, D. V. M., & Snowling, M. J. (2004). Developmental dyslexia and specific language impairment: Same or different? Psychological Bulletin, 130(6), 858–886.

Catts, H. W., Fey, M., & Tomblin, B. (1997). Language basis of reading disabilities. Paper presented at the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading, Chicago, IL.

Galinsky, Ellen. (2010). Mind in the Making. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Perfetti, C. A. (1997). The psycholinguistics of spelling and reading. In C. A. Perfetti, L. Rieben, & M. Fayol (Eds.), Learning to spell: Research, theory, and practice across languages (pp. 21-38). Mawah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.