This summer I'm volunteering at a daycare center trying to gain a better understanding of two-four year olds.
I've gained a whole new respect for anyone who is able to spend 8 hours a day with a room full of 2 year olds.
I can't help but be saddened though when I listen to the two year olds chatter amongst each other, or when I watch them sort colors, count, listen to stories, or ask questions using full sentences. At two, they are so much further along than many of the children who enter kindergarten at my school.
Their language is fuller- their sentences are more complete- they make better eye contact with adults- they seem aware of their world instead of fearful of it.
Many of them come from the same background as the children I teach- the same socio-economic background, as well as the same international background. So how, at two, is their language stronger than the 4-5 year olds entering my school?
Most of the 4-5 year olds who enter my school do not have any sort of preschool experience. For many, kindergarten is their first school experience- and- due to their parents' misconceived notions that they should not teach their child their native language- it is their first immersion into language in general. What happens when a brain develops for 5 years without truly interacting with language?
Another observation I've made is that the two year olds speak in longer sentences to one another than they do to us- and they mimic each other more than they mimic adults. If one of their peers asks, in a full sentence, to use a toy, they will immediately repeat that sentence, and sometimes apply it to another toy. A friend notices three flags flying- they will notice three flags, and then three flowers- and perfectly mimic the friend's intonation as they announce their own findings.
One of their teachers can say something and they will repeat it, but usually will repeat only the last few words in the sentence. With their friends they repeat the whole sentence.
The preschool where I'm working includes children from different socio-economic backgrounds. At first I was surprised by this, and then didn't think anything of it- children are children, right? I started noticing the way the children interact with one another- how that one child whose surrounded by language at home is happily playing with her friends using the language she's learned at home. And quickly her friends copy her language during play. The drama center goes from banging on the table with forks to having a party and pouring out juice simply by that one child adding a full sentence to play. It is something one of the teachers or I couldn't inspire.
This is certainly only anecdotal and true research may prove me wrong, but it seems to indicate some importance between who children's peers are and their language development.
So, for me, who will spend the first few months of kindergarten desperately trying to make up for the lost years of some of our children- how do we use this to our advantage? And when we're discussing the positive impact of preschool programs should we be looking at preschool programs that create an inclusive community to promote language development?