Reading, Storytelling and Language Acquisition

In the last few weeks, I have been learning about a methodology that many teachers of world languages are using in schools called TPRS, which stands for Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling.  In my pre-mom days I was a Spanish teacher, and it’s been interesting to see how this methodology (new since I taught) meshes with what I have learned as a Kindermusik educator in terms of how any of us learns a language, whether it be our first one or our fifth.

A TPRS educator may teach very differently from the one you may recall from your own Spanish I days.  She or he does not spend an hour conjugating verbs or giving lengthy explanations about what a present progressive verb tense even is.  Nor does he or she teach vocabulary arranged by thematic topic (“Today,  we’re studying ‘body parts’” ) without any context.  Rather, in a TPRS class, the teacher and students, together, create a story in class, building on vocabulary with which the students are already familiar.  Teachers expose their students to hearing many repetitions of only about three new phrases or vocabulary words in a lesson before they expect the kids to speak, and they teach grammar through natural use.  Additionally, they ask their students to give an appropriate gesture or physical representation when they hear the new words.  Vocabulary is taught in context (describing the main character of a story, an elephant, perhaps, will include some animal words, some body part words, as well as physical and emotional descriptive words).  TPRS teachers encourage a playful and personal atmosphere, often asking silly questions about the story they’re telling or making sure that the vocabulary and stories reflect vocabulary that is germane to the students’ lives.  After telling stories in class, the group moves to reading, and finally to free writing.  Throughout the process, the class may sing little songs or create pictures of the stories they tell.

While the TPRS methodology isn’t without some controversy (mostly from those expecting a traditional foreign language approach), research supports its effectiveness.  “In speaking, writing, vocabulary and grammar . . . TPRS has consistently outperformed traditional teaching, and has at least equaled traditional teaching in every study.”  (Show Me the Data: Research on TPRS Storytelling“) To me, this is no great surprise.  It is exactly what we do in Kindermusik, and even what we do naturally as caretakers for our little ones.  Of course, Kindermusik is more than just a music and movement program.  It is about teaching the whole child, and language acquisition is a large component of that whole-child development.

In my daughter’s Kindermusik class last week, for instance, they created stories together about being frogs—what do the frogs do?  Eat bugs, hop from lily pad to lily pad, and swim.  They used gestures, including the ASL sign for FROG, and hopped and swam from lily pad to lily pad.  They sang songs about frogs (my daughter loves the finger plays and requests them when we’re driving), and this month on the @home Kindermusik site the story is Frog Went a-Dancing, which includes a repetition of certain phrases and of course a lot of silliness (animals are speaking and each has a dancing song).

I don’t recollect ever explaining to my children that there is a difference between past and present tense verbs—instead, I use the verb tenses as they come up.  Naturally, it takes kids awhile to figure out that “eated” is actually an irregular verb, but not because anyone sat down and said, “the verb ‘to eat’ is irregular and will be conjugated differently in the past tense.”  No–eventually, with enough repetition and reading, our kids figure it out.  Participating in Kindermusik helps with all of this critical repetition.

You will notice that our Song of the Heart Kindermusik studio supports language acquisition in a variety of ways, not just what happens in a Kindermusik class.  Having puppeteers come for our Fall Festival exposes children to stories, thereby enriching vocabulary and helping them create meaning of the world.  We have books for children to read while they wait for their class to start, or in the hall while they wait for their siblings to finish class.  The educators incorporate natural gestures for words as well as American Sign Language instruction—both within a Kindermusik class and as part of a separate Signing Time class you can take with your little one.  (Teaching your children ASL in and of itself has proven to be a fantastic way to help them develop language.)  Taking a ukulele class encourages older students to learn a more sophisticated vocabulary—music-specific words as well as the more complex words that we find in other songs (the same holds true for the other music classes we offer for big kids).

Clearly, as humans we need connection with others.  Language acquisition is an important part of that connection.  Of course, not every child follows a neuro-typical path to developing language skills.  Nevertheless, exposing our children to as many research-based best practices will give them great opportunities to receive the love and nurture that comes from communicating with others.  Storytelling and reading are such important components of that communication and I appreciate being part of the Kindermusik studio where we nurture that connection with our kids.

P.S. Did you see the blog post from last week1,000 Books Before Kindergarten is another great way to support language acquisition!

1,000 Books Before Kindergarten

Today’s guest blog post comes from an e-mail we received from one of the parents in our Kindermusik community.  Enjoy!

Miss Carol,

I wasn’t sure what to send you regarding our experience with this program so I just wrote it like a letter.  Let me know if you would like additional information.

As an educator for almost 10 years, I knew the importance of reading to young children, especially before they entered school.  Also, as a quiet stay-at-home-dad, who was not a big talker, I wanted to ensure that I filled my son’s day with words, songs, rhymes, and the joy that they all bring.  My wife and I found a library program on the internet called 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten but it was not offered in any of the local libraries.  The program emphasized reading and preparing young ones before entering into Kindergarten and supported its claims through studies.

Studies show that reading to toddlers and preschoolers: creates a stronger bond between parents and children, leads to more success in school, increases and improves basic speech skills, creates more logical thinking skills, builds comprehension and context, enhances concentration and discipline, and increases their chances of reading more as they grow older (10 Reasons Why You Should Read to Your Child).

My wife and I were instantly hooked and began our, then, 18 month-old son on the program.  We explained the program to our friends and family and they assisted in the program as well by reading to our son, buying books for his own personal library, and emphasizing reading whenever they could.  We utilized the Salt Lake County Libraries massive resources of board books and picture books, along with his own personal 300 book library, and story-time from friends and family and Mrs. Patrice at our very own Kindermusik Class and are excited to say that he completed his journey this past fall.  It took a little over 2 years but the journey was, and still is, a wonderful one for him and the whole family.  We shared our experience with the Millcreek Center Library and Suzanne Tronier, the manager, has decided to adopt the program.  They are preparing the program for any interested parents as we speak.

I loved participating in this program.  It created a most wonderful bond between my son and I, and between him and the rest of our family and friends.  Through this program, he was introduced to so many things, such as: songs, rhymes, opposites, seasons and those things associated with seasons, animals, classification, colors, shapes, the alphabet, numbers, character building, concepts regarding our faith, diverse people and places, cultures, humor, vocabulary to recognize and express feelings, many different categories of random items (instruments, cars, farm equipment, dealing with construction, and different languages), and so much more.  I would recommend anyone to participate in this program and enjoy the little precious time we have with these little ones.

Demi Clinton