There really are few things more entertaining than a chat with a 4 year old. Yet, hilarity aside, there’s actually scientific evidence that suggests volleying conversation back and forth with young kids lays a foundation for later successes.
According to research by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, engaging in dialogue with young kids can, in the long term, significantly improve their vocabulary and reading comprehension.
An eye-opening take away from their multi-year study? By the time a child reaches the age of three, the duration of their conversations, their speech patterns, and even the average number of words they use are a direct reflection of their parents.
There’s much debate these days about what we can do to ensure that our kids grow up to lead full, happy and enriching lives. Given the insights from this study, maybe we should spend less time stressing out about selecting a preschool and more time talking construction vehicles, favorite color preferences, and just what ingredients make the ultimate ice cream sundae (preferably, over ice cream sundaes.)
The truth is, everyone loves a good conversationalist. As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the most important and overlooked skills we can acquire. Engaging people in conversation (and learning to really listen) is the key to learning and building connections. It solves problems and sparks new ideas.
But just like conversing with people over 3 feet tall, there’s certainly an art to it. For some parents it’s hard to find the right questions or topics that get them chatting. For others, it’s hard to get a word in edgewise over a breathless barrage of the entire plot of Frozen.
Asking open ended questions that start with “who, what, when, where, or why” give the most runway for thoughtful answers. Narrowing those questions down to specifics are helpful for driving the dialogue. (Instead of “what did you do today?” ask “what games did you play at recess today?”)
Simple things, like narrating your frustrations about a misplaced set of keys and involving your kid in the retracing of steps go a long way in boosting their ability to problem solve.
Relating stories of your own childhood to the things they enjoy/fear/are disappointed by brings you closer. (Especially if you tell them the embarrassing stuff.)
Asking about their dreams is beyond entertaining. Last week my 4 year old daughter recounted a “very scary dream” where two crabs “tried to steal me and take me to their land of dirt and rocks.”
“Wow. That sounds stressful. How big were the crabs?”
With her hands in claw shapes, she smacked them together imploring, “Regular size. BUT THEY WERE VERY STRONG.”
The beauty of implementing this scientifically proven path to greatness? You can do while you wait in line at the grocery store. On the drive to school. While cooking dinner. (And it’s way cheaper than fancy preschool.)