What if there was something you could do with your preschooler to guarantee improved literacy? It does not involve reading or teaching but instead prioritizing something we do everyday: eating together. We all need to eat, but one particular study has linked eating a shared meal with your family to an increase in your child’s vocabulary.
Mealtimes with preschoolers are often marked with chaos. There are a million things we need to do to get food on the table while our kids are plagued by hunger and the need for our attention. It is understandable that just getting something on the plate is all the energy we can muster during that 6’oclock hour. But prioritizing not just the food but the conversation around the dinner table can have a lasting impact on our children.
A study by Dickinson & Tabors, 2001 & Snow, 1991 showed that shared meals in the preschool years increased vocabulary in children by 1000 words compared to simply reading to your child, which increased vocabulary by 143 words. The reason for this increase was found in the fact that during shared family meals, there was an increased likelihood for conversation; and a child’s vocabulary increases from both listening to a conversation as well as participating in one.
At this point, you might ask yourself, “…but what should we talk about? My kid is only 3!” Let me encourage you that the depth of conversation is not really what is important, it is simply the fact that a conversation takes place. As we interact with our children, they naturally pick up on new words and concepts. In my home, a dinner time conversation with my 2 ½ year old might not be more than 2 minutes and consist of me asking her a question such as, “What was your favorite thing we did today?” This, in turn, usually leads to recounting the day which in turn might lead to singing a song or observing what we see out the window. Though the conversation is not deep, she is learning the importance of conversation and that she is an active participant.
There is no right or wrong way to converse with your child, the important thing is to simply invite them to talk. You will not only be building up their literacy but creating a lasting memory for the family to cherish.
If you are looking for some questions to help jumpstart dinner table conversation, check out the link below to receive Ten Mealtime Conversation Starters for Preschoolers.