AMES, Iowa -- It takes work to increase young children’s interest in learning and build their language skills, but there are ways to make it fun, says Joy Rouse, an Iowa State University Extension and Outreach human sciences specialist.
“With a little planning, families can make time for learning during everyday activities,” said Rouse, who specializes in family life issues.
Children learn new words through conversation and reading. Parents can use pictures and objects in everyday conversation to help their children connect the words they hear with the concrete objects they see.
“With very young children, sometimes using made-up words can meet their needs – calling a scrape on a knee a boo-boo, for example. Over time, using the correct word will make it easier for children to understand more as their world expands,” Rouse said.
Parents can help their children learn the alphabet, singing or reciting letter by letter, to help them connect the letter they hear with the letter they see in a book or on a screen. After children are familiar with the letters, they are ready to link the words on the page to the words they hear and objects they see, Rouse said.
“Using your finger to follow along with the words as you read will help children make the connection," Rouse said. "Reading books and other print materials, or pointing to signs along the road or in stores are other ways to help children make that transition."
“Even magnets on your refrigerator can help children get to know letters and words,” she said.
Using age appropriate books with children is a good idea, but there are many other materials that can give children experience with the written word, Rouse added.
Children see the written word on computers, tablets and phones. When parents consider what is developmentally appropriate for their children’s age, technology can be a way for children to interact with others while they learn. However, parents should be aware that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children age two or younger, and no more than one hour of total screen time per day for children ages 3 to 12, Rouse said.
“If you’re planning a trip, many parks and other attractions have guides to help families move around the activities and displays. These can help older children plan the route and know what they will be seeing next. Some will have pictures as well as words, so young children can use them as well,” Rouse said.
Magazines, catalogs and other materials in the mail can help children understand the connection with the written word. Many will have pictures that kids would find interesting, Rouse said. “When they arrive at your home review them and see if they can be used as part of a fun activity with your kids.”
At times parents may wonder if their children are listening to what they say, Rouse noted. “That’s a time to tell stories or share rhymes, or make something together that requires following directions. These kinds of activities can help children want to listen so they know what comes next.”
For more information about how children learn, download these free Iowa State University Extension and Outreach publications from the Extension Store: