Parents’ Support of Children’s Language

Basic science research and studies examining influences on children’s development reaffirms that brain development in the early years is influenced by experience that affects learning (DiPietro, 2000; Dawson, Klinger, Panagiotides, Hill, & Spieker, 1992; Elman et al., 1996). So much of the brain is devoted to processing language that it appears to be socially inclined and develops most effectively from interactions with other people. Language is a critically important emergent literacy skill that is known to predict later reading competence (Butler, Marsh, Sheppard, & Sheppard, 1985). This is particularly true for reading comprehension because language lays the foundation for understanding concepts that are important for comprehending meaning in print (Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998). For example, language development includes understanding a broad range of vocabulary, comprehending grammatically appropriate phrases and sentences (i.e., grammar, syntax), and using words together to convey meaning (i.e., semantics) (e.g., Dore, 1979). As these are all significant for the process of comprehending text, it is important to understand how the early environment best supports more optimal language development. Such information should provide insight into the process of enhancing language, a critical foundation skill for later reading competence.
In the early years, input from parents is a major means by which children learn about the natural links between objects and actions and how to understand and talk about past and current experiences (Bridges, 1979; Smith, Landry, & Swank, 2000). Children have exposure to this form of rich language input during everyday conversations with parents and other caregivers, as well as during shared book reading and play activities. At these times, children are exposed to a range of vocabulary, have the opportunity to ask and answer questions, and express their own ideas. Research demonstrates that this process enhances children’s vocabulary as well as their cognitive and memory skills (Landry, Miller-Loncar, Smith, & Swank, 2002). Recently, links were identified between parental use of rich language input at 3 years of age with higher language development at 4 years of age that, in turn, predicted higher reading comprehension skills at 10 years of age (Dietrich, Assel, Swank, Smith, & Landry, 2006).

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