Are you underestimating your child’s ability to learn language?

Are you underestimating your child’s ability to learn language?

According to a recent report from Save the Children, too many parents underestimate their child’s ability to learn language and as a result, they are hampering their child’s progress, causing them to struggle at school and even fall behind. Are you one of those parents? What are your expectations of your child’s language skills?

The report was written following a survey of parents and it showed that a staggering 47% of parents had expectations that were too low. They thought their child would know around 100 words by the time he or she was three years old – government guidelines recommend double this number. The knock-on effect when children start school was defined as the equivalent of every five-year-old living in Sheffield, London, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle struggling to learn in reception classes – a staggering 130,000 children.

Experts suggest that the brains of toddlers are much more active than those of adults – they work at about twice the rate so toddlers can learn much faster than adults realise. This means that the most important years for learning language are before a child goes to school. Professor Torsten Baldeweg, professor of Neuroscience and Child Health at UCL, puts it like this: “Why is it important to stimulate children before they go to school? It is precisely this period when we have explosive brain growth, where most of the connections in the brain are formed. We know that if these connections are not formed they, to variable degrees, will suffer longer term consequences to their physical, cognitive but also emotional development….”.

The report also found that the majority of parents thought that school was the most important time of learning in their child’s life, showing that the vital importance of early learning is just not appreciated by many parents. So what can parents do? What all round parenting advice is available to ensure early language development in toddlers?

All play is learning time for babies and toddlers, so talk to your child as much as possible and about anything – what you’re doing when you’re shopping, doing household chores or what you can see when you’re out of the house. Even children who aren’t old enough to join in a conversation are still absorbing language. Sing to your child, even before he or she is born. Don’t worry about whether you have a good singing voice or not – you are your child’s parent, so your voice is the one they want to hear. Go back to your own childhood and revisit nursery rhymes – rocking your child in time with the beat will also help to develop an understanding of the rhythm of language. As they get older, play word games like I Spy, which helps them to think about letter sounds and gets them looking around. Before long, you will find your child chattering away to you, their toys and even themselves – all important steps in early language learning.

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