Language development during the pandemic

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Q: I am concerned about the effect of two years of the pandemic on my preschooler’s language development. What can I do to help them?

A: Your concerns are natural in any setting, but especially important as the pandemic drags on. The best thing you can give your child is your time — and you’ll both get a lot more out of it if you make it fun. My recommendation: throw out the flashcards and high-tech devices, then get out the toys, books and games and start playing.

Research shows that children’s narrative language skills – the ability to tell stories – in kindergarten are more predictive of a child’s long-term academic success than their ability to memorize “academic” information (think of those cards memory).

Your child’s ability to successfully tell another person about their vacation, weekend getaway, or trip to the zoo is much more conducive to academic success. Storytelling is a language-rich activity that helps the following skills grow and develop:

• executive functions such as memory, attention and dwelling;

• social reciprocity such as answering others’ questions, taking turns and clarifying;

• language, vocabulary and communication; and

• problem solving and collaboration.

Using real toys and board games, cards, and people (think tagging, peekaboo, etc.) also helps those same skills grow and develop. These skills are the building blocks of academics or rather, setting up a child to learn successfully.

Storytelling is a skill developed over time and begins when children are babies. Parents who chat with their babies before they even “talk” begin the process. Children begin to learn conversational turn-taking and social reciprocity during this time.

The pandemic has limited children’s exposure, but reading together is a great way to get kids thinking and talking about their observations and feelings about things beyond their experience at home. Sharing stories about yourself, your day, or your childhood are also great models for teaching children narrative language skills.

With continued interaction, language skills will evolve, becoming more and more detailed. Similar to flowers that need water and sunshine to bloom, children’s language development needs storytelling and conversational interaction patterns to thrive.

Sara Martin, MA CCC-SLP, is a Certified and Licensed Speech-Language Pathologist and owner of Speech With Sara, LLC. Visit speechwithsara.com for more information.

The Family Center offers free programs and resources that enable families to successfully overcome life’s social, emotional and physical challenges. Learn more at familycenterweb.org.


Sean Cotton, Owner and Publisher
Jody McVeigh, Editor-in-Chief

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