Language and literacy development in kids does not begin while at school but rather as early as preschool days. Language is a formalized system of symbols, signs, sounds and gestures used as a means of communicating thought and emotions among others while literacy is the ability to read for knowledge, write and think critically about the written word, understand the symbols and the pictures. This ability helps in self understanding and the understanding of the whole community. The daily activities of the people surrounding the child and the physical environment play an important role in the language, literacy and communication skills of the child. This means that acquisition of language and literacy in children is social as it majorly happens through experiences surrounding them and when they communicate and socialize with others. It should be noted that acquisition of language, communication and literacy skills occur concurrently and not sequentially thus requires that all the above are done at the same time. Language and literacy therefore mark the first step towards communication and thus help develop a communication bond between the child and the adults in the environment. It is therefore important to note that learning is not an event but a process.
Understanding oral language between 0 – 3 years
There are a lot of activities and series of periods vital for the acquisition of language. During the child development, each age is characterized with specific approaches to language development. The age between 0 – 3 years, is very vital in the general learning of language and communication skills. At this age the child’s oral language capabilities entirely depend on the surrounding. The building block for oral language acquisition is majorly based on the interactions of the child in the natural surroundings of the home environment. These interactions determine the rate, quality and the ability to communicate with others. The parent – child interaction helps the child in better understanding of the mother tongue. Other factors that help the child learn and understand oral language include story telling the child, reading books to them and modeling.
Oral language acquisition by the child is a process and occurs through three major phases namely; protolanguage, transition and language. The protolanguage stage involves the child paying attention to the noises, physical movement and the child –adult interactions. At this stage, the child is always alert to the sounds and noises within. This occurs during the crawling stage in the child growth. The transition stage involves the child beginning and learning to pronounce words based on the environment, learns the mother tongue and begins to demand items, services and the actions taken help them develop language and communication. The language stage is characterized by the child seeking confirmation from other people through performing various activities and as they communicate the child learns the language.
Physical setting in language development
Children grow and develop in different environments and as such this influences them in their language acquisition and development. The physical environment is the immediate and tangible things that a child can come across and includes the people around the child, the social activities undertaken in the presence of the child, the culture of the people and the physical things that the child can touch and play with. All the factors correlate to give an impact on the child learning the language. The availability of other resources like pictures, trees, books and other learning material that can initiate imaginations and the child asking questions. According to Evans GW (2006), children raised in a noisy neighborhood tend to be slow in learning while as they grow and while at school. He noted that parental behaviors in overcrowded homes where the parent has less time to communicate with the infant makes it hard for the child to learn a language effectively as only few words and time are used yet the ability of the child to learn a language depends on the amount of time and the quantity of words spoken to the child consistently.
During my observation of the children at the day care school, I noted that sometimes leaving the kids to play on their own whether lying on the ground, crawling, sitting but having objects to play with helps them in the exploration. They do this by picking objects from the ground and taking them to fellow kids or to the teacher. During class time the children tend to crowd near wall charts that have familiar objects. When followed by an explanation from the teacher, the child grasping capabilities improve.
Importance of the physical environment in language and literacy development
The physical environment of the child as stated above not only helps the child in cognitive and social development but also in language development. Children need to learn to pronounce read and write simple words while at home. This means the quality of time an adult offers the child, talking, reading books and story telling to the child assists them in their differentiating several aspects of language and social life in the environment. Sometimes the social background of the family, their home physical location and set up is vital in language development of the child. The noise within the environment, including from cars, people and music among others help them learn the language Evans GW (2007). Some parents in such environments appear to withdraw, be less responsive and talk less to their children. They fail to consistently talk, read books and story telling to the children with a reason that there is a lot of noise in the environment. In such environments the parents need not to neglect the child but engage them through reading the books loud and talking to them regularly. The photo albums, educational charts, pictured books around should be given and with the help of an adult to answer the questions asked, the child develops the mental capability and memory.
Interactions of children that are important to language and literacy development
As stated earlier, the development of the child depends on the healthy interactions of the child. These interactions can occur both at home and in the school environment for the school going kids. In the school setting for example, the child needs to interact with the teachers, fellow children and other social and physical amenities around. Raising a child’s intelligent Quotient (IQ) at an early age depends mostly on the time the child spends with the parents making fun and laughter and learning in the process. Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Dr. Joye Bennett and Nancy Hearn (2006) noted that teacher’s constant contact with the child helps them in their general social and language development. The interactions may be through reading the chart contents loudly, demonstrating and engaging them in practical activities. In the day care school setting where the parents are absent, the teachers can still interact with the children and assist them in their literacy, communication and further language development. The children are give pictures, charts and books to try and read them and with the assistance of the teachers, the children are able to improve their memory and recalling capabilities. In their classroom interaction the teacher is expected to instill discipline to the children through the speeches and actions taken incases of indiscipline. Example, whenever a child makes a mistake and the other does well, it is possible for the children to learn and correct themselves with time incase the teacher praise good behavior in front of the class. This step introduces to the child the imitation strategy where the child will want to do good to be praised and by so doing they learn (Elizabeth et al 2006).
The social amenities in the school help the children during their child- child interactions. It is during this period that the children start learning the mastery of possession. They tend to understand the guarding principle especially if they are in possession of any tangible material. The child to child interactions in the play fields help them learn the importance of socialization and tend to develop friendship selectively. The child may sometimes wish to play alone. This is important to them as they learn some new tricks by themselves. The toys and the games they play help them master the language used and the skills employed during the game. Elicker, J.; Mathur, S. (1997)
Generally, in the study of language and literacy for the development of the child it is also important to note the culture of the people surrounding the child during the development stages. The child in the second phase of language development begins to replace the child language words with the mother’s spoken words. If the parents happen to be from different cultures and backgrounds, the child easily learns the two languages. Special emphasis is put on the time and the quantity of words spoken to child. In their study on bilinguals in children, Dr Fraser Lauchlan and colleagues noted that children who had the ability to speak two languages had a better mental development. This ability is crucial to performing arithmetic, problem solving and creative thinking. They also argued that bilinguals could think in both two languages thus able to translate assignments from one language to another for easy understanding. In order for the child to develop the language effectively during the early stages of life, it is important to allow socialization with others.
Nurturing Your Baby’s Soul, by Elizabeth Clare Prophet, with Dr. Joye Bennett and Nancy Hearn 2006 pp45-49
Evans, G.W. (2006). Child development and the physical environment. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 423-451.
Evans, G.W., & Hygge, S. (2007). Noise and performance in children and adults. In L. Luxon & D. Prasher (Eds.), Noise and its effects (pp. 549-566). London: Wiley.
Edward Sapir, 2009 Language and Environment: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/659930 Accessed: 05/08/2009 16:41
Elicker J. Mathur, (1997). "What do they do all day? Comprehensive evaluation of a full-day kindergarten". Early Childhood Research Quarterly 12 (4): 459–480. Doi:10.1016/S0885-2006(97)90022-