The Buzz Early Language & Literacy Series | Third Edition

Children Learn Words for Things and Events that Interest Them

As we enter the month of November, we are diving into the second of six principles of early language learning that supports reading. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek’s Language Learning Principle #2 is easy to understand because it’s true for adults as well:  Children learn words for things and events that interest them .
Many adults may remember those famous paper turkeys we made as kids—the ones which involved tracing our own hands, making a face on the thumb, and adding colorful feathers and things to be thankful for every day. Do you ever wonder why we LOVED that so much as children; why we remember it so vividly; and why it's a great tradition to continue? It perfectly combines a child's interest in anything that relates to their own bodies and their fascination with animals of every kind. It's also a great opportunity to introduce new words to your child such as thankful, turkey, feathers, and dinner!

Beyond Thanksgiving, considering what your child cares about in their day-to-day world can provide direction for learning new words, according to Lois Bloom’s Principle of Relevance. Let their interests be the guide to building your child's language skills. If your child loves trains and visiting train museums and singing train songs, use that passion to read every train book you can find with your child. Introduce new vocabulary that relates to trains—conductor, engine, caboose, cargo, passenger—exciting words that build on that interest. You will probably even learn some new words in the process! Ask questions that assume your child is the expert as you look at new books: “What kind of train is that? Where do you think it’s going?” 

With infants and toddlers, this principle begins with something called joint attention. Joint attention occurs when two people share an interest in the same object or experience. When a child shifts his eye gaze between something he sees and another person, he’s including the other person and looking for their reactions. The following video explains why joint attention is so important:
In the video below, there are several great examples of caregivers reading to children. Notice in the last one, when the reader gets to the picture of the tool belt, she asks the child questions about his own tool belt, which encourages him to use even more language, since this is something that interests him and relates to his personal experience.
The more you know about your child and his/her interests, the easier it is to teach them language. The best part is, it makes learning fun for both of you!  

Coming up in December: Interactive and responsive environments build language learning.

Happy talking...and reading!

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