IN TODAY'S schools, the fundamental skills of speaking and listening are given as high a priority as reading and writing at all grade levels, and across the curriculum. Students are expected to:
- listen attentively to instruction and advice from teachers;
- have the confidence to ask the teacher questions when the need arises;
- contribute voluntarily to class discussions;
- address the whole class, if only occasionally, on a chosen topic;
- collaborate and cooperate with classmates in various forms of group work; and
- answer teachers' questions fluently; this feedback is the most effective way the teacher has of checking how well a pupil understands.
One of the most important things parents can do to help their children learn to speak well is to have frequent, friendly conversations with them. These conversations do not have to be long, or be about anything adults consider important because the goal is to keep the child interacting with the adult using any words he can say. The following are some suggestions parents can use to have enjoyable, successful conversations with their children:
Communicate for a variety of reasons. Talk about anything your child is doing or is interested in, no matter how insignificant it seems to you, and continue the conversation as long as both of you are enjoying your time together. Be sure to share the lead with your child. Talk sometimes about what he just said; at other times, about your own ideas. Keep your child engaged by matching his ideas and words, and giving him time to initiate and respond.
Reply to your child's comments. Without the continued attention from adults, many children will not develop a habit of talking with others because they often use their talk while playing alone. Even if your child spends a lot of time talking to himself, you can respond to his words and ideas, and show him his talk gets your attention. Don’t get into the habit of listening to child talk, without responding to it.
Keep conversations balanced. It is normal for children to talk mainly about themselves, but it is important for them to talk about others’ ideas as well. Help your child learn an important social skill of learning to talk about other's interests as well as their own.
Follow rules of social conversations. When your child develops the habit of having conversations, you can then start to show him the basic social rules of conversations, such as: listening attentively, communicating for a response; waiting silently, responding to the other person's intent; being clear about what he means, and changing his words if not understood. At the same time, show your child what not to do in conversations, such as: don't interrupt; don't ignore the other's message; don't ramble; don't communicate only to yourself; don't change the topic abruptly; and don't fail to clarify when you are not understood.
The more time parents spend talking with their children, the more their children will grow in confidence. And the more practice they have in speaking and listening, the better they will do in school both socially and academically.
Elizabeth Hamilton, M.Ed, MA, is a teacher with 23 years of professional experience. You can write to her at successfullearner[at]yahoo.com with your questions or comments.