January 30, 2012
Language development and literacy is at the forefront of early childhood education. Parents are being encouraged to read more to their children now more than ever. Early experiences with language are the foundation for success in later school years. This is why it is important to infuse language in every way in the classroom. The infant, toddler, and preschool years are viewed as the point where "children take their first critical steps toward learning to read and write" (National Association for the Education of Young Children [NAEYC], 1998, p. 32) The following is a look into language development of three and four year old children and strategies to reinforce language concepts in the classroom. Many preschools today focus on play through learning. Many theories support the concept that children learn best through play and lessons should revolve around this philosophy. With this in mind, the classroom environment must be supportive to language acquisition. For three and four year olds, speech is a direct reflection of what they (children) are thinking (Otto, 2010, p. 165). These children are spontaneous and this is reflected in their speech. They say what they are thinking as it goes through their head (Otto, 2010). Receptive and productive vocabulary correlate with specific aspects of children’s individual literacy environment (Otto, 2010, p. 167) which include frequency of reading with child, child’s age when reading began, number of picture books in the home, frequency with which child asks to be read to, frequency of child’s trips to the library, and active exploration. In the classroom this age group explores phonemic knowledge as they begin to recognize words with similar sounds, explore sound manipulation through sound play, and begin to associate initial letters with specific sounds (Otto, 2010, p. 173). The use of semantic knowledge can be seen in their frequent use of overextension and underextension (Otto, 2010, p. 177). Overextension occurs when children take a word or label and associate it with an object that resembles the original context, but is not appropriate (for example, observing that cars have tires and calling a bicycle a car). Underextension occurs when a word is restricted such as when a child refers to the family dog as a dog but does not make the connection that other dogs are dogs. This group also begins to understand figurative language (Otto, 2010) The development of syntactic knowledge is evidently seen in the length and structure of a child’s speech (Otto, 2010, p. 180). Grammatical complexity is also developing and is present in an increase in noun/verb phrase complexity, use of negation, production of interrogative sentences, and beginning use of passive forms of sentences (Otto, 2010, p. 180). Threes and fours are developing morphemic knowledge through inflectional morphemes used to indicate plurality, possession, and verb tense (Otto, 2010, p. 182). These children often overgeneralize and are beginning to use comparatives. This age group is exploring the use of language in different ways and new situations (to ask permission, establish social rules, express emotion, and make judgments) (Otto, 2010, p. 184) as they are developing pragmatic knowledge. Frequent interactions involving language lead to greater experience in using language in different ways (Otto, 2010, p. 184). Jean Piaget played a big role in how we perceive children today. He played a big part in developing the constructivist theory and the cognitive development perspective of language development. The theory states that language is acquired as maturation occurs and cognitive competencies develop (Otto, 2010, p. 30). Piaget believed that nurture and nature played equally important roles in shaping how a child learns and that children moved through stages of learning, conquering milestones in one...