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Young father talking and laughing with preschool son

Oral Language

Conversations That Count: How Do Preschoolers Learn?

Learn how children develop oral language skills through interactions with their caregivers and families by reading sample conversations with preschoolers.

Families are their children’s first teachers. As a family member you begin teaching your babies about language as you welcome them into the world with smiles and caring words. You respond to your children’s coos, babbles, early words, and simple sentences. By the time your children are preschoolers, they know a lot about language. You have spent many hours listening, talking, reading, and writing with them.

Gina bounces out of bed and hurries to the kitchen. She opens the cabinet, takes out a box of cereal, then puts it back. She takes out another box and says, “Grandpa, this is my cereal. It has a big ‘P’ and lots of stars.”

Grandpa says, “That’s good thinking.” Gina points to a letter on the box, “That’s a ‘P’.” She traces the letter in the air and says, “ ‘P’ as in Peter. Peter’s name starts with a ‘P’. It’s on his cubby.”

Grandpa makes an offer. “Today, we can have our regular story time and then write together. I need to write a letter to a friend. You can write, too.”

Gina puts her empty bowl in the sink and runs to find her mother. “Mom, I’m gonna read and write with Grandpa.”

Her mother says, “That sounds like fun. When I take you to family child care, I’ll tell Ms. Jenkins that you like to write. You can write at her house and at home.”

Like many preschoolers, Gina is learning language:

  • She knows that letters (the P) and pictures (the stars) have meaning.
  • She knows there is a ‘P’ on her cereal box and at the beginning of Peter’s name.
  • She knows that people take turns when talking to each other.

Gina’s family helps her learn about language:

  • They have a regular story time every day.
  • Grandpa encourages her thinking, so Gina continues exploring the letters on the box.
  • Grandpa offers to write with Gina.
  • Mom talks to Ms. Jenkins, so that Gina can write at family child care and at home.

Adapted from: Koralek, D. (1997). Ready * Set * Read for Families: Early Childhood Language Activities for Children from Birth through Age Five. America Reads Challenge, U.S. Department of Education.