- Parenting a Montessori Child
Language Acquisition, Vocabulary Enrichment, and the Power of Words
Spoken language is one of the most important aspects of a child’s development. Your child’s future work with writing and reading is dependent on having a rich vocabulary—but so is the development of your whole child. Character development, the conscious thought process, and the ability to experience and communicate empathy, all have roots in the spoken language. During the first few years of life, exposure on a daily basis to language in all of its varied forms is important.
In the beginning the one, the written language, falls from the other [spoken language]
drop by drop, and these will later form a distinct stream, words and discourse.”
– Dr. Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood
Spoken Language in the Montessori Environment
In our classrooms at The Montessori Schools, we speak in purposeful, strategic ways to children. We develop and present lessons with the intent of giving your children as much accurate and precise vocabulary as possible. We utilize language cards, books, stories, poems, and songs. Your child learns vocabulary for expressing sensory impressions, as well as for everyday objects, geography, math terms, and so much more.
Whether your child is inside or outside the classroom, she or he needs ample opportunities to learn vocabulary. Tell and listen to stories. Converse with peers and adults. Whatever it takes to share words, words, words with your child.
As parents, friends, grandparents, and babysitters, we can do much to satisfy your child’s need for language. There are many things that we can do to reinforce the language acquisition already happening in school.
Remember, Children are Always Listening
What we give, is what we get. Your child will absorb the language you use when you speak. Consider more strategic ways to give them more words—and more precise words. If you don’t know the names of the trees or the flowers in the park, research the names with your child.
Speak to your child at eye-level. Leaning over, giving your child clear access to your face when conversing or giving directions increases cognition. You are also demonstrating respect toward your child while making your tongue and lips visible in the process of creating sounds and words.
Speak to your child in complete sentences. Hearing proper syntax will support your child in their own capacity to tell a coherent story.
Context, Inflection, and Basic Etiquette Matter
Don’t overtly correct your child’s mistakes. At this stage in your child’s life, mistakes are developmental. Directly correcting an error in syntax only serves to confuse or, worse, diminish confidence. The more effective method is to model the proper pronunciation/pronoun/structure in your response.
Child: “Her is eatin’ pasketti!”
Adult: “Yes, I can see that she is eating spaghetti for lunch today!”
Listen without interrupting, for disrupting a child’s speech (or finishing their sentences) models undesirable behavior while negatively impacting confidence. Furthermore, listen to your child’s stories even if they are nonsensical. And, if he or she is struggling to find the words, be patient. When there is a natural pause in the story, you can thank your child for sharing. How proud they will feel.
Observe rather than compliment, as observations can be rich in new vocabulary. This is the difference between, “You look so beautiful!” and “I notice that your dress is plaid and has a zipper down the back with a hook and eye clasp at the top!”
Be positive and respectful. Language should never be used to bribe, hurt, judge, or manipulate. Adults must model civility and respect, which is the only way that children will see language as a bridge to human understanding.
Negative: “I’ve told you 100 times not to climb on the couch!
Does this look to you like the playground?!”
Positive: “I can see you really like to climb. We won’t be able to go to the playground
for another hour, but if you’d like to move your body, you can…perform yoga on the rug,
help me carry the groceries to the fridge, dance to some music, etc.”
Other Methods for Introducing New Vocabulary
Play the question game: who, what, when, where, why, how… “What did you eat for lunch today? How was your sandwich? Who did you sit with? Where did you eat lunch? When did you have lunch? Why did you leave your apple in your lunch box?” The point of this exercise is to practice the language already learned and to use these newly acquired words appropriately in conversation.
The “question game” mimics the process of compiling the necessary parts
of a story, which is an essential skillset for writing.
Concluding Thoughts (and Words)
Young children find the intricacies of our language humorous and joyful. Rhyming, tongue twisters, and clapping games are timeless and fun ways to bide time while you wait in line or sit in the car. Similarly, share with your children all the silly songs, rhymes, and stories of your own childhood. Using descriptive language, you can make almost any experience into an engaging story, from a subway ride to the grocery aisle. Enjoy exploring language with your child!