Blog dedicated to learning disabilities, dyslexia, ADD and ADHD

Friday, April 07, 2006

Preparing Your Youngster to Learn (and help prevent learning problems)

I’m sure you have heard it by now. Play Mozart to your baby, and she will be so far ahead of her classmates by the time she starts school, you will be glad you did. But, there are many other things that will help your child be well prepared for learning and her first year of school.

Speaking – Speak to your children. Have conversations with them, even if they are too young to respond back appropriately. Their vocabulary will expand as well as their auditory processing skills.

Hart and Risley found that the widening gap between the vocabulary growth of children from professional, working class and welfare families across the first three years of the children's lives could be attributed to the overwhelming differences in the amount of verbal interaction the parents had with their children. There was a difference of almost 300 words spoken per hour between professional and welfare parents. As a result, by age 3, the professional families' children actually had a larger recorded vocabulary than the welfare families' parents.

The authors extrapolate the differences in words heard per hour to one year and arrive at the remarkable estimate that the children in professional families hear approximately 11 million words, the children in working class families 6 million words and the children in welfare families only 3 million words annually. The welfare children would require 41 hours per week of out-of-home enriched experience to make up this deficit. No wonder our meager prevention efforts are not having a lasting impact!

Reading – Read to your child and point to the words as you go. Ask comprehension questions about the story.

Show your child that sentences, both spoken and written, are made up of a string of individual words. Have your child listen to sentences, look at them, and count the number of words in them.”

Show your child that spoken words are composed of individual sounds. Dog, for example, has three sounds: /d/-o/-/g/. Say a word, and have your child count the number of sounds in it; repeat the activity with another word. Start with short words, and move on to longer ones.”

Point out that speech sounds in words occur in a serial order. Select a word and--using the phonetic spellings in your dictionary as a guide--enunciate, in order, the separate speech sounds in that word. (The serial order of speech sounds in man, for example, is /m/-/a/-/n/.) Have your child guess the correct pronunciation of the target word. Start with two- and three-letter words and progress to longer ones, avoiding those with "silent" letters.”

Explain that removing or adding a speech sound to a spoken word creates an entirely new word. Ask, for example: "If I take away the first sound of cat-/k/-what is left?" or "How many sounds can I add to/ing/?"

Story Telling – “In short, as children listen to stories, their background of information grows. They move well on their way to becoming culturally literate. Indeed, studies now show that children who bring prior understanding to the subjects they read about in school are far more likely to read classroom material with comprehension.”

Foreign Languages – Play tapes of native foreign speakers, or expose your children to as much foreign language as possible. It will help them process the sounds and learn the foreign language much easier when they are older.

Vocabulary – Use adult language rather than just baby gibberish and expose your children to as much vocabulary as possible. They may not understand the words for a while, but it will be easier for them to implement them into their own spoken vocabulary the more often they hear it.

Labeled items in the house – Label your cupboards, furniture, and items around the house. Show them that there is a relationship between the letters, word, and each has a specific meaning.

Writing – Your children can practice their writing skills by doodling, drawing, and scribbling on paper.

Teach the Alphabet – “The final word is: yes, young children may learn something about the alphabet and the speech sounds incidentally while their parents read to them. Exactly how much of this critical knowledge can be acquired through listening alone, however, remains uncertain. Reading aloud cannot reliably impart all of this specialized and esoteric information. Reading aloud is simply not enough.”


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