The rate at which every child’s language skills develop differs, with some two year olds barely speaking while others are using full sentences. From the time they walk in the preschool classroom door at two, until they move on to elementary school at five or six, children learn not only how to articulate their needs, but they can also express their feelings to others, and feel comfortable speaking in front of a group.
There are many opportunities in preschool to practice these skills. In our three year old class, the children have several chances each week to practice public speaking. Every Monday during circle time, we pass our class mascot, Mr. Bear, from child to child. While a student is holding Mr. Bear, it is his turn to speak. He can tell us what he did over the weekend, or something else he’d like to share. Most children love this time, as holding Mr. Bear is a treat. Any child who is not holding the mascot understands that he needs to be quiet while another student is speaking. That helps the other children develop good listening skills. For children who are especially shy and not comfortable speaking to the group, they can give Mr. Bear a hug and pass him on to the next student without feeling the pressure to speak in front of the class.
The children have another opportunity to speak in front of the class when we have Show and Tell. Here again, we tailor the questions to the child. Some kids love to talk and are happy to go on and on. For those students, we try to ask more thought provoking questions. For example, if the Show and Tell theme was ‘something I used as a baby,’ and a child brought in a rattle, we might ask why he thinks babies enjoy rattles. Of course, there is no right or wrong answer. The point is to help them become comfortable speaking in front of other people. The children who are unable to speak in front of the group when the school year begins, almost always become comfortable by the year’s end.
If your child is especially shy in these instances, practice with him at home. Role-play what he might say when it is his turn in class. That little bit of practice goes a long way. Take advantage of mealtime to encourage your child to speak to you. Ask him what he did in school, or why he likes to play at his neighbor’s house. The more he practices speaking, the more comfortable he will feel. And don’t forget to listen to his answers. You will learn a great deal about your child through casual conversation.