Summer is half over, and the days are getting shorter. With school on the horizon, a speech-language pathologist at the University of Missouri recommends that parents use every opportunity — even time at the pool — to help their children get ready for the upcoming school year and expand their developing language skills.
“You don’t have to spend a lot of money during the summer to help your children develop their language and reading skills,” said Dana Fritz, assistant clinical professor of communication science and disorders in the MU School of Health Professions. “There are several items on the market that cost a lot of money that have not been proven to be effective. On the other hand, there are a few proven methods that are absolutely free to parents to help their children improve their speech and language skills before school starts again.”
Fritz, who also is director of the Robert G. Combs Language Preschool, recommends that parents focus on the following:
For young children (0-5)
· Build a rich vocabulary. Talk about the things you see and do with your child. Use synonyms to introduce new words; for example: child: “I’m really happy today.” Parent: “That’s nice to hear, why are you glad today?” According to Fritz, very young children, ages 0-3, learn best with face-to-face communication.
· Introduce and encourage rhyming, which helps children break down large words. Read Mother Goose rhythms, sing songs and read poetry to children ages 3-5 to help them break down tough words.
· Encourage children to identify the relationship between sounds and symbols. For children ages 4-5, work on identifying the first letter in their names. Use any sign you see (billboards, information signs at the community pool, menus at restaurants, etc.) and talk to them about the first letter in the words and what sounds that letter might make. The goal is to get kids to start attaching sounds to letters (symbols).
For older children (5+)
· Take short field trips in your own city and talk about what you see. “Don’t talk down to children in kindergarten and early grades,” Fritz said. “The more you talk, the more they will learn.”
· Leave books lying around. Check your local library for summer reading programs that encourage children to read. Having books within easy reach encourages students to read during summer “down time.”
· Enroll in summer school or other enrichment programs if available. Previous research has shown that students can lose months of learning if they do not continue to practice school skills. Enrolling in a four to six-week summer school program provides continuous instruction, but also typically leaves room for summer play as well.
“It’s helpful for those students who will be entering kindergarten or going to a school environment for the first time to have an opportunity to see their classrooms and schools before the first day of school,” Fritz said. “This can help relieve anxiety and stress that often comes with entering a new environment. If parents can’t take advantage of summer school, they should check to see if there is a ‘meet the teacher’ event and attend with their child.”
Fritz has been a practicing speech-language pathologist for 21 years with experience in school, hospital and university settings. She has directed the MU Robert G. Combs Language Preschool, a preschool for children with speech-language-literacy delays and/or disorders, for 11 years, and has served as a clinical instructor and clinical assistant professor in the MU School of Health Professions’ Department of Communication Science and Disorders for 17 years.