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Want to Boost Your Preschoolers' Language Skills? Reminisce With Them
  • Posted February 22, 2024

Want to Boost Your Preschoolers' Language Skills? Reminisce With Them

Talking about the “good old days” might elicit eye rolls from teenagers, but it could be the key to boosting a preschooler's language skills, a new study finds.

Reminiscing about past events with preschoolers presents young kids with high-quality speech as good as or better than sharing a book or playing with toys, researchers discovered.

“Talk in reminiscing is characterized by longer and more complex sentences than talk in many other settings,” explained senior study author Erika Hoff, a professor of psychology at Florida Atlantic University.

“Reminiscing also is argued to be more widespread as a naturally occurring practice across cultures and levels of socioeconomic status than book reading,” Hoff added in a university news release.

For the study, researchers observed Danish parents as they interacted with their 3- to 5-year old children either by reminiscing, sharing a wordless picture book or building with LEGO bricks.

Analysis of conversation transcripts in those three activities revealed how parental speech differed in each, as well as how much the children talked in response to their parents.

Reminiscing elicited high-quality speech from parents as good as that from book-sharing, results show.

Further, reminiscing compared to toy play produced parental speech higher in grammatical complexity, and prompted more utterances from children.

Researchers also found no differences between mothers and fathers when it came to the speech they shared with children while reminiscing.

The study shows that the activity a parent and child are sharing does matter when it comes to demonstrating language, researchers said.

“I would suggest to parents that it's not just important to spend time with your children. What you're doing when you're spending time with them also is important,” Hoff said.

“It's good to carve out some time just to have a conversation,” Hoff added. "If you like reading books, read books. If you would rather talk about planning the future or talking about the past, do that. Make time to have conversations with your children.”

Although reminiscing prompts parents to use rich, complex language, researchers warned that they still saw differences in parental speech related to their education level.

Parents with more education more frequently labeled objects and events, offered more grammatically complex speech and more frequently repeated and expanded the responses children provided, results show.

“Reminiscing is good, but it's not a magic bullet that closes societal and educational gaps,” Hoff said.

The new study was published recently in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.

Future research must focus on “ways that will close the gap in the language experience of children from more advantaged and less advantaged families,” Hoff added.

“Of course, it's good to find activities that enrich all children's language experience, and all children will benefit from such experiences,” Hoff said. “However, such activities can't be expected to eliminate all differences in children's experience.”

More information

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has more on activities to encourage speech and language development.

SOURCE: Florida Atlantic University, news release, Feb. 19, 2024

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