The Buzz Early Language & Literacy Series | Fourth Edition
Interactive and Responsive Environments Build Language Learning

We hope that you are enjoying the holiday season with your children and that you are ready for Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek’s Language Learning Principle #3: Interactive and responsive environments build language learning.

So what do we mean by “interactive and responsive?” This looks different with infants and toddlers who are not "talking," and preschoolers who have plenty to say! Even for eight to ten-week-old infants, it is possible to have a conversation! Interacting and responding to early verbalizations is fun and important even if you don’t know what your baby is trying to say. Your response is more important than the meaning at this early stage. Other ways to be responsive include pointing out and labeling objects and describing every day events and actions. Tell your child what you're doing and comment on what your child does. This helps them understand that there are names for things and actions. For some positive examples of adults interacting with infants and toddlers, click below and watch from 1:25 to 4:38 minutes.
For preschoolers and older children, invite them into a conversation by expanding on both their words and their actions; ask questions rather than just making demands. If she tells you she wants the snowman cookie on the plate, ask, “Tell me why you want that big, white snowman cookie? What about the small tree cookie that’s decorated with the silver and gold ornaments?” In this way, you make her think about why she is making a certain choice while modeling how to be descriptive with words and using new vocabulary. When she's eating the cookie, you can ask questions about whether the cookie is crunchy, soft, crumbly, sweet, etc.

When you ask questions that have many possible responses rather than closed questions with just one right answer, this keeps your conversation going. Instead of “What color is the firetruck?” or “What is next to the elephant?” try “Can you tell me more about that firetruck?” or “What do you think the elephant is doing?” Another easy way to talk with your child is to simply notice what he finds interesting and comment on it. For example, say, “I see that you like that tractor.” This simple statement prompts your child to begin a conversation that focuses on something he enjoys! In the next video below, notice how these teachers use questioning and commenting to encourage conversation with preschoolers. (Watch from 4:14 – 6:43 minutes.)
It is important to remember that language learning is a social experience. Studies have shown that anything that includes interaction and back and forth responses (also known as conversation) either through live interaction or video chat is much better at helping children learn language than simply listening to or watching a non-responsive video or television show. Also, interactions are best when you are focused on your child and not distracted by phones or other devices. The quality time you enjoy now with your child will only become more important as your child grows. You'll be modeling the kind of conversation skills you hope your child will display with their friends, family, and teachers. For more ideas on how to talk with your preschoolers or school-age children, return to the video above and watch from 13:51-15:45 minutes.

Coming up in January: Children learn best in meaningful contexts.

Happy holidays and keep those conversations going!

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