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Nurture Your Children's Language Development

Printable Version

  • Recognize that your child is an individual. Avoid comparing your child's language abilities with those of anyone else.

  • Talk to your child about a variety of things. This will help your child begin to develop an awareness of how things work in the world.

  • Encourage your child to talk with you -- to share ideas, to ask questions. Ask questions that prompt your child to probe more deeply or to clarify thinking.

  • Listen to your child.

  • Help your child find relationships between ideas -- similarities, opposites, sequence, cause, examples, etc. If your child can find such examples in the real world, it will be easier to identify them in textbooks and make them in written compositions.

  • Model paraphrasing for your children. Occasionally ask them if they can convey the same idea using different words.

  • Involve your whole family in children's vocabulary study. Know which words your children are learning. Occasionally work them into conversations. Share with your children sentences in which you saw or heard the words used. As a family you might target a word a day for addition to vocabularies.


  • Let your child see that you give your full attention to people who are talking to you. Let your child know that you expect the same attention from people you are talking with. If you do not have your child's attention when you are talking to him or her about something important, stop the conversation and get attention before proceeding.


  • Read to your child daily--whether the child is too young to understand you or old enough to read independently. This can be a good opportunity to expose your child to more difficult reading material or to concepts that you would like to explore together.

  • While you are reading with your child, pause occasionally to ask questions about the story: Why do you think [a character] did this? What do you think will happen next? Do not limit your questions to those that have right and wrong answers.

  • Help your child connect what is read with his or her own experience. If you're reading about an animal, for example, remind your child of your observations of that animal in your back yard or at a zoo. Look for differences as well as similarities between print and experience.

  • Let your child see that you value reading both for the information you gain and for the enjoyment you derive.

  • If your child enjoys being read to but doesn't like to read, have him or her evaluated by a developmental optometrist to see if a physical problem is making the reading process uncomfortable.

  • Do not force your child to read books that you think he or she should read (and enjoy!). If your child is a reluctant reader, start by reading about topics in which he or she is interested. One book (or author) is likely to lead to others.

  • If your child does not like a book, do not force him or her to finish it. You might read a portion of the book to or with the child to attempt to spark interest, but if the child remains uninterested, set the book aside.

  • If your child is reading aloud and miscalls a word but has the correct meaning, do not mention the error. Most of life's reading is done silently for comprehension, not orally for perfection.

  • If your child misreads something while reading aloud and seems oblivious to the error that totally changes or destroys the meaning, ask at the end of the sentence, "Did that make sense?" You are teaching your child to search for meaning in what is read.

  • Read some of the books your child reads so that you can discuss them together. Sometimes read different books on the same topic that your child is reading about.

  • Provide a variety of experiences for your child (these do not all need to cost money). Many reading comprehension problems occur because a child lacks background information that would give meaning to words on a page.

  • If your child is browsing through a book looking at pictures and other graphics but reading little, recognize that he or she is developing good previewing techniques. Don't require that every word be read.

  • If your child is reading for information, encourage him or her to have a question in mind so that the reading has more purpose.

  • Take your child to the library regularly. Also be sure that your child owns some books or magazines.


  • Provide practical reading experiences for your child, such as reading assembly directions or a recipe. Ask your child to critique the reading material. Was everything clear? How could the message have been improved?

  • Help your child recognize that things are not equally important.


  • If your child will be giving an oral presentation (even a very short one), have the child practice in front of a few family members.

  • Encourage your child to express opinions, support them, describe things, tell about events, explain things. You will be helping your child to develop fluency and organization.

  • If your child tends to ramble without focus, occasionally have the child stop, think about the main point he or she is trying to communicate, and deliver it in one or two sentences.

  • Be more concerned with the content of a child's message than with whether or not the message has usage errors.

  • Encourage your child to put on puppet shows or plays with his or her friends.


  • Let your child see the many ways in which you use written language.

  • When a child is assigned a composition, ask questions or give suggestions to help him or her narrow the topic. Ask open-ended questions that will require the child to rehearse what he or she will later write.

  • When your child wants your reaction to something he or she has written, respond to the content before you comment on mechanical things, such as capitalization, punctuation, or usage. Give a compliment before -- and after -- you give a suggestion.

  • Encourage your child to write letters -- thank you notes, letters to friends who live in different cities, perhaps letters to a pen pal. If this seems too much for your child, have him or her write a brief note at the end of your own letter to a relative.

  • Recognize writing as a process. Do not expect every example of your child's writing to be perfect. Point out to your child the things he or she has done well.

  • Provide your child with tools for writing: different kinds of paper (some of it colorful), a variety of writing implements, an appropriate dictionary, thesaurus, English handbook.

Hands-On English
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