Elements of a Language-Rich Home Environment

By Joanne Corwin, Rosemary Gallegos, Mary Pat Moeller, Arlene Stredler Brown

Children thrive in language-rich environments. Boys Town National Research Hospital, New Mexico School for the Deaf, the Colorado Home Intervention Program and SKI*HI are working together on the third in a series of informational video tapes illustrating best practice for infants and young children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. Due for release in the Fall of 2005, this third video explores the journey that families have taken in creating a community of supports and developing language and communication-rich opportunities for their children.

For infants, stimulation is based in the social/affective relationships with family members. It is conversational from day one. As children grow, stimulation and dialogues need to support the child's understanding of his/her world and provide the necessary foundations for literacy.

Parenting any child is a developmental process. When a child is deaf or hard of hearing, families learn everything that any parent learns, but they add the process of figuring out how to provide and make accessible fluent language models and strategies to support increasingly abstract dialogues with their child.

Language blossoms and flourishes in an environment that is:

Respectful - The child is seen as a person who can communicate routine information and can understand and learn complex communication.

Real and Meaningful - Communication is authentic, not contrived. The child's interests and natural curiosity are used as language content.

Nurturing - Language is presented within a zone of proximal development. This means that the family accepts and supports the language of the child. Families also gently challenge the language of the child to "bump up" and stretch the child's use of new vocabulary, complex language, and abstract ideas. This means that language is not only tied to the here-and-now, but includes discussion about things that are not in the room and that happened in the past and will happen in the future. Complexity and range of purposes for using language are modeled, and the child is encouraged to use language for this wide variety of functions (such as to play, to pretend, to negotiate, to complain, to question, to answer, to describe etc.).

Responsive - A family follows a child's lead. They accept approximations and model precision naturally. They map language into communicative attempts the child initiates.

Strategic - Language is flexible and incorporates a variety of strategies to encourage communication and expansion (expectant pauses, repetition of the child, rephrasing, adding a gesture for clarification, changing modes or languages to clarify meaning, using manipulatives to support understanding or maintain attention).

Constant - The child is bathed in language (in routines, for new and exciting events, to allay fears or confusion, to explain what is happening now, to explain what will happen, for commenting, sharing, discussing, problem solving etc.).

Guiding - Language is used to advocate and provide guidance. Children learn how to problem solve and think through options with their friends and adults.

Social - Children have numerous opportunities to interact with a wide variety of communication partners at home and in the family's community.

Complete - The child is provided with fluent language models.

Emotional - A family uses language to communicate their emotional availability. This provides the child with words to label and discuss feelings.

Thought-Provoking - The most wonderful aspect of language is that its purpose is to communicate and stimulate thought. The world is an amazing place that is full of surprises. Children need the opportunity to talk about the "whys" and "hows" of their environment.

For more information on this and the other two informational videos in the series, contact Boys Town Press at www.boystownpress.org. Other tapes in the series are: The Home Team, A Family Centered Approach to Working with Families and Newly Identified Babies Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing and The Art and Science of Home Visits.


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