Kids need a good talking-to — and scoldings don't count.
That was the message that Jonathan Fribley, a longtime educator from St. Paul, Minn., had Tuesday at the "Kindergarten Institute," an all-day training session for some 250 area prekindergarten and kindergarten teachers held at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Children have to learn how to talk before they can read and write, said Fribley, the event's keynote speaker. And if kids don't learn complex language skills early, they're behind for life.
"Putting the pencil to the paper is the easy part," Fribley said. "The language is the hard part."
By the end of second grade, he said, the average child knows the meaning of around 6,000 words. Divide second-graders into four groups, and the lowest fourth will know only about 4,000 words, he said, while the highest will understand 8,000 words. A gap of 2,000 words equals about two grade levels, he said.
The quality of conversations that children have at home and at school determines where they stand, Fribley said.
His presentation contrasted two sets of fictional parents.
"Hey, get your butt outta there!" is how 18-month-old Jeremy's parents responded when he put a ball in the toilet.
Kimani's parents' used the kind of open-ended questions and advanced language that Fribley said builds language skills.
"Kimani, you can't put the ball in the toilet. It will plug up the toilet, and we won't be able to flush it!" his parents said. "You want to play with the ball in the water? What other water could you put it in, instead?"
Leigh Ann Potter, a literacy coach who works with teachers at North Hamilton and Daisy elementary schools, was among those who attended.
Parents can build their children's language skills through conversation, she said.
"Let them express themselves and share their ideas and their feelings," Potter said. "Talk to them in sentences. Just have conversations with your kids. Read to them and ask questions."
The Kindergarten Institute was provided through a partnership between the Hamilton County Department of Education, UTC, the United Way of Greater Chattanooga, and Read 20, a local group that encourages parents to spend at least 20 minutes a day reading with their children.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.