When a rhyme is read,
I can tap it in my head.
When the beat is neat,
I can touch it with my feet.
When a word is sprung,
I can taste it on my tongue.
Are children losing the art of language?
Can we talk? As an author and storyteller, I enjoy a love of language. But, as I visit libraries, and schools in the primary grades, I am saddened by the growing number of children experiencing difficulty with oral language development.
I have learned from parents, teachers and children’s organizations that there are long waiting lists for speech therapy professionals to help children through these problems. What’s happening in today’s world that makes learning to speak more difficult? What can we do to help our children before it reaches epidemic proportions?
Cyber-sitters: I believe the ongoing electronic invasion of television, computers and video games has left little room for old-fashioned communication. We use television as household nannies, buy talking books that teach solitary reading lessons and we encourage kid-friendly interactive games on computers of all sizes, to keep little ones quietly busy.
While the convenience of technology certainly has its place in a busy world, I think we need to take stock of the long-term effects of excessive use of these electronic babysitters on children today. In spite of the myriad of words bombarding our kids, there is no human contact in many of the mass media of messages they are receiving. And that means there is no ‘conversation’ through these devices, leaving more limited opportunities for children to learn the art of language, outside of the classroom.
Starting early: Speech is the foundation of all social life. Why then, do we take it for granted? Research proves that when pre-schoolers have difficulty with oral development, they could be experiencing an early symptom of reading disability. And, a child’s ability to read is an important predictor of later literacy development and potential for academic achievement. This is very important to know. At no other time do they learn as much as in the first 3-4 years of life, so what can we do to help our children during these critical early years? I believe we should be reading out loud with our children everyday, to develop a love of language – together.
Let the reading begin: Reading is a significant family activity that, unfortunately, seems to be losing its place of value in many homes. But that being said, most parents already know that any shared storybook reading between child and adult is an excellent way to promote emergent literacy. So how do we compete with the more seductive forms of family entertainment and increase a child’s motivation toward book-reading? A good start is to be pro-active and encourage the child to take an active role in the experience.
Ham it up: Some techniques to fully engage the child might include letting them choose the book and the reading location. It’s important to pause occasionally to allow the child to comment or ask questions. To enhance the story in a picture book, we can encourage children to notice small details in the illustrations that are often not included in the story. Allowing them to hold the book and turn the pages will also give them a stronger sense of involvement. Children love it when we ham it up and use various character voices or wear special story-reading hats or capes for the occasion. Many pre-school children also enjoy to ‘pretend-read’ the story of a familiar book.
Time to rhyme: And let’s not forget the wonderful powers of rhyme to teach our children the rhythm of speech! Stories and poems told in verse are probably the most important part of a young child’s literacy development during the critical window of phonological learning in the pre-school years. Rhyming skills are, in fact, one of the earliest milestones in a child’s path to becoming a good reader. Well-written verse teaches patterns and internal rhythms that help children connect the dots in the world around them.
Making friends: Rhyme teaches children a love of language through the excitement and anticipation of sound. Each verse is picture-poetry, painting a vivid storyboard for the reader. When I visit schools for storytelling sessions, children often complete the last word of many rhyming sentences before I say them, after hearing the line just once. I have also found that kids seem to form strong affections toward characters in rhyming stories.
Between the lines: Well-written rhyme seems to spring to life and dance in the empty spaces between the words. It often makes young readers feel like they’re bouncing along in an inner tube! Rhyme seems to wire the brain with an internal beat that lives on inside of us, sometimes for many years. I’m sure that’s why so many people can still remember favorite rhymes from early childhood.
Powerful stuff: The use of rhyme in teaching children oral language skills can be fun and interactive for parent and child. It’s no wonder that children who can recite nursery rhymes from an early age usually become better readers than those who cannot. So it stands to reason that pre-schoolers who speak clearly are most often reading and producing rhymes.
Great reading: I have always loved stories in rhyme! In addition to the traditional nursery rhymes and wonderfully wacky Dr. Seuss books, I enjoy the creative works of some great Canadian children’s authors like Sheree Fitch, Loris Lesynski and the late Phoebe Gilman, who have all written several excellent rhyming story books that entertain both children and adults.
Hooked on rhyme: I believe strongly in the 3 R’s for teaching children language – Reading, Rhyming and Reciting. It’s important for kids to absorb the world through the ears and not always through the eyes. As children get hooked on listening to the patterns, the rhythms and the way words are put together in a good book – it’s easy to fall in love with the delicious sound of language. It’s all right there waiting to be discovered, inside the scrumptious words of a wonderful story.
When the rhythm goes deep,
I can hear it in my sleep.
When a sound gets in,
I can feel it on my skin.
When the lines all rhyme,
I can dance along in time.