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“Grammy, the geese came back!” my four-year-old granddaughter exclaimed in a recent phone conversation. And while I am always delighted to talk with her, I was especially pleased to hear her story about seeing the geese this autumn. The story she told made it clear that her oral language abilities have reached a level that predicts success in reading and writing in the early school years and beyond. As you might expect, we have long-known that children who are better talkers generally do better in school. But we now have a much clearer understanding of how specific oral language skills build the foundation for developing high-level literacy. Let’s look at three of these oral language skills my granddaughter used in our conversation.
“I named the little geese Hilly, Billy and Willy.” Young children’s ability to recognize and produce rhyming words is an important predictor of success in reading and writing. As they learn that words that share common sounds are often spelled the same way, children who can rhyme easily discover that if they can spell cat, they can also spell rat, mat and bat. Similarly, these children know that if they can read the word man, they can also read ran and tan. Children who struggle to read words in beginning readers are often those who also struggle to rhyme.
“They really made a huge racket!” Children who develop rich vocabularies during their preschool years are repeatedly found to have better reading comprehension at fourth grade and beyond. The challenge for beginning readers is to sound out simple words in books. As they get older and can read most words, however, more extensive and difficult vocabulary is included in their texts. Those children who have heard and used these words in conversations are better able to comprehend reading passages that include them.
“And they flew off and lived happily ever after.” Developing a sense of story, with an understanding that each one has a beginning, middle and end, is crucial to children reading and writing stories on their own. Young children who can tell stories about experiences in their daily lives possess a real advantage in comprehending stories others have written, as they know what to expect and can easily make sense of the sequence of events that unfold. And, since we tell children that books can be their own stories written down, they easily see themselves as authors and translate their oral stories into written ones without much difficulty.
These wonderful oral language skills that my granddaughter has can also be developed by your children. We know that the language modeling and support you provide at home are critical to success in this area. Here are some simple strategies that will build your child’s oral language and literacy success.