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Language Development in the Elementary Years


Language development results from a complex interweaving of biological and social/environmental factors. We use language to interact with others, but language also forms our thoughts and mental processes. All of the senses converge to form a child's mental concepts. Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting reinforce his understanding of objects and actions. But, it is language that organizes and symbolizes the world permanently in his brain.

When a young child learns the word "dog", he has a new neuro-biological construct that organizes his knowledge of an object in his world. As the child grows and has more experiences that involve dogs, the construct becomes more complex. He learns the names of dogs he knows and the different types of dogs. Emotional connections develop based on his observations and interactions with dogs. Then, in the early elementary years he learns to read, spell, define, and write the word "dog".

The parent of a toddler enhances his child's language development by naming objects and actions in the child's environment. Social interactions between parent and child further develop the child's understanding of language. The process continues during the elementary years as existing mental constructs are refined and organized, and new constructs are formed.

How Parents Can Enhance Language Development During the Elementary Years

Teach and Practice Conversation Skills

Children learn the pragmatics of language from the give and take of conversations at school and home. Family dinners, bedtime, and car time are perfect opportunities to practice conversation skills. The way you respond to your child encourages, or discourages, her from communicating with you. Take some time each day to listen to your child talk about her interests and opinions.

Continue to Read Aloud

Elementary school teachers will tell you - even sixth graders love to be read to. Also, encourage independent reading with frequent visits to the library and bookstore. My mother and sister read to their 5th and 6th grade students all of the time. Their favorites - all Patricia Polacco books and, for older kids, Hatchet.

Teach Your Child the Names for Advanced Concepts

Emotional intelligence develops when children learn to name their feelings. Parents teach values such as respect, responsibility, and fairness when they point out examples of each in the child's life experiences and the media. Our school's character education program involves a "word of the month". The children are rewarded for exhibiting that month's characteristic.

Play Family Games

Family games provide the perfect atmosphere for relaxed conversation while building all kinds of useful skills. Take a stroll down the board games aisle at your favorite store and pick up a new game to play this weekend. Some ideas - Outburst, Scrabble, Upwords, Boggle, Scatterwords, Pictionary, and Taboo.

Expand Vocabulary with Computer Learning Tools

Kids love to play games on the computer, and they can learn valuable language skills while they play. Software programs such as the Living Booksseries, and many others, teach language skills while they entertain. Web sites such as WordCentral.comcan be put in the child's link list alongside his favorite game sites. Find more fun language-building games at this link page.

Explore New Experiences with Your Child

Travel, museums, hobbies, any new experience that broadens your child's awareness of the world beyond her home and neighborhood, will enhance her language development. The Internet has given families a quantum leap in opportunities to explore the world from our living rooms. Share your passions and interests and indulge your curiosity about the world with your children.

Link Sources

Positive Parenting Online

Character Counts

School Improvement Research Series from Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory

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