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Communicating With Preschoolers

Children are interested in communication as soon as they are born, and we begin to communicate with them right away. As a child grows and changes, however, communication grows and changes too. Communicating with a preschooler is very different than communicating with a toddler or an infant. Infants and toddlers are learning the basics of communication and how important it is. Preschoolers are well on the way to becoming fluent communicators. They have learned a great deal about the purposes and conventions of communication. It’s important for adults to support these changes so that children can continue to grow as skillful communicators.

According to one source, by the time children begin kindergarten, they may have a vocabulary of as many as 14,000 words (Golinkoff & Hirsch-Pasek, 2000). They have learned most of the rules of grammar that govern how words and sentences are formed. They understand most of the social conventions of conversation. They usually understand that people take turns talking in a conversation and that eye contact and tone of voice are important. They also use conversation for different purposes than they did in the earlier years. It’s important for adults to support these changes so that children can continue to grow as skillful communicators.

All of us, from Great-Grandma to baby Susie, communicate for a few basic reasons: to get our needs met, to express feelings, and to get or give information. How we communicate, however, changes over time. Babies cry when they are hungry or wet to let others know they need to be fed or changed. They coo and babble to express pleasure and involvement. Toddlers use telegraphic sentences to ask for what they want, to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction, or to give information. “Cookie!” may mean, “I want a cookie,” “I have a cookie,” or “There’s a cookie.” By the time children are preschoolers, communication has become much more complex. Preschool children still use language to ask for and offer information and to get needs met, but they also understand that language is important in a social context. Children begin to use language to be a part of the group. They may ask for a turn or offer one to another child. Language becomes a very important part of play. Children relate their real world experiences through their play, and they narrate their fantasy play. Children may also use language purely for the pleasure of it. It’s common to hear preschool children singing made up songs or repeating strings of nonsense words just for the way they sound.

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