Oral language is the foundation of literacy. Pre-kindergarten children are not reading yet, but they are building comprehension skills through listening, the lively back-and-forth of every day conversations, pretend play, and active read alouds where parent and child are having a dialogue about the book.
Parents can develop oral language and comprehension with these activities:
- Active every day conversations
- Sharing oral stories
- Reading books together
- Singing and playing rhyming games
- Listening games, such as “Simon says”
- Dramatic play where your child takes on imaginary roles
One shift that will advance your child’s oral language skills
This video is from Home Reading Helper, a resource for parents to elevate children’s reading at home provided by Read Charlotte . Find more video, parent activities, printables, and other resources at Home Reading Helper .
Every day conversations with your child are so important! Sometimes those interactions are necessarily brief and direct — “Let’s put on your socks and shoes so we can get to the store.” Try to also build in open-ended conversations each day — talk that is active, with lots of back-and-forth between you and your child (sometimes called “multi-turn conversations”). You’re teaching your child how to take turns listening and speaking, and showing your child that you value their thoughts and ideas.
Ask your children questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer. Some questions that help them to talk more openly are “Why do you think that happened?” “What do we do next?” “What would happen if we did it this way?” “What can we do about that?” “How can we make this better?”
Read together every day
Reading aloud is one of the best ways to help your pre-K child absorb new words. It’s also a great way to help young children learn about the world and make connections between their own lives and what’s in the book — that helps children see the world with empathy. And last but not least, it’s a wonderful time to snuggle up with your child and share the experience of reading and discovery together.
Bring in the nonfiction
There are so many great nonfiction and informational books for very young kids (such as the popular DK Eyewitness series). Try to include some of these during your next trip to the public library. Even very young children love learning about the real world and are proud to share what they know!
Explore your world together
Even a walk around the neighborhood or a trip to the grocery store can be a rich learning experience for young children. A child may see an urban bunny for the first time on a walk, and then be able to connect it to stories about rabbits. These personal connections help children connect what they read with what they know — a powerful way to build comprehension skills!
Try these oral language comprehension activities at home
Walk and talk
When you take a walk through your neighborhood, encourage your child to point out things she sees and to talk about them. React to her observations, ask open-ended questions (who, what, why, where, when, how), and add your own observations to encourage a lively conversation. During the walk you might want to stop and say, “Listen, what can you hear?” Or if you hear a familiar sound, stop and say, “Do you hear that knocking sound? What do you think that could be? Maybe it’s a woodpecker — let’s look up and see if we can spot the bird.”
Act it out
Read stories such as The Three Bears or Three Billy Goats Gruff. Act out the stories using different-sized stuffed animals. This is a great opportunity to talk about the concepts of “small, medium, and large.” Go on a scavenger hunt in your home to find other objects of different sizes (shoes, socks, cups, etc.) and ask your child to classify the items by size. You might also ask your child if he knows another word for small and large.
Create or learn songs to expand your child’s vocabulary. One idea: make up songs to describe your daily routines, periodically adding new verses that include new vocabulary words.
Play “I Spy” with your child using words that describe an object’s position. (“I spy something on the carpet, in front of the couch, next to the dog.”) Play games such as “Red-Light Green-Light,” “Mama, Puedo,” and “Simon Says” that require talking, listening, following directions, and giving directions.
Grocery store literacy
Position words are used every day at home and in preschool. Use the items on the grocery shelf to give your child practice finding something above their belly button, below their nose, on the bottom shelf, and between other items on a shelf. Opportunities to use superlatives, those little endings that help describe size, are all around the grocery store. Have your child find a big fruit, a bigger fruit and the biggest fruit in the produce section. What’s the smallest item in the cart? The largest item?
Take advantage of daily activities. For example, while in the kitchen, encourage your child to name the utensils needed. Discuss the food you’ll be eating, their color, texture, and taste. Where does the food come from? Which foods do you like? Which do you dislike? Who will clean up? Emphasize the use of prepositions by asking him or her to put the napkin on the table, in your lap, or under the spoon. Identify who the napkin belongs to: “It is my napkin.” “It is Daddy’s.” “It is John’s.”
We’re going on an adventure
Ask your child to draw a map of an imaginary place he would like to explore. Have him tell you a little bit about the setting and who might live there. If you like, you can dress up (sometimes a hat or cardboard tube spyglass is all you need) and set out on your adventure. Encourage your child to tell you all about the journey and what he’s experiencing. Your child will love it if you are “all in” for this imaginary journey!
Model active reading when you read with your child. Talk about what’s happening as you’re reading. Stop and discuss any interesting or tricky vocabulary words. Help your child make pictures of the story in his mind. Ask your child, “What just happened here? How do you think that character feels? Have you ever felt like that? What do you think will happen next?” Not only will this develop your child’s comprehension, but critical thinking skills as well.
Tell me about it
After a read aloud, one of the best and easiest ways to check for understanding is to ask your child to summarize what the book was about in their own words. You can ask a question or two to help your child clarify her thinking or to add more detail.
This is a wonderful activity for a family picnic or for a rainy day when you’re snuggled together on the couch. Share a favorite story about your childhood or a family story that’s been passed down from generation to generation. Use vivid language and details about people, places, and things. Funny or scary will really get your child’s attention! Your child will probably have lots of questions, which keeps the storytelling alive. You could also ask your child if she has a favorite family story of her own.
More oral language comprehension resources
- The ABCs of Active Reading (VIDEO: Read Charlotte, Home Reading Helper)
- ¿Qué es lectura activa? (VIDEO: Read Charlotte, Home Reading Helper)
- Reading tips for parents of preschoolers in English and 12 other languages
- Think Alouds to Build Comprehension (In English and Spanish)
- Use a PEER When You Read Aloud (In English and Spanish)
- Sharing Wordless Picture Books (In English and Spanish)
- Reading Adventure Packs for Families (In English and Spanish)