Three-year-olds love alphabet books and silly songs. How should you build on your child's enjoyment of rhythm and sound?

By the editors of Child magazine
October 05, 2005


Preschoolers generally adore making up new words, creating funny sentences, repeating rhymes, and singing silly songs. And many will happily sit for long periods of time while listening to someone read. They especially enjoy poetry, alphabet books, simple riddles, and guessing books. Even when they don't understand every word, they delight in the sounds and rhythms.

Three-year-olds also tend to enjoy stories about everyday things, animals, and kids, as well as books that discuss issues like learning to share, making friends, going to school, and using the potty. These help them put into words-and think about-many of their fears, ideas, and feelings.

Don't be surprised if your child asks you to read a particular book over and over-and don't take it personally if she bursts into tears if you inadvertently skip or change a word. Her desire to hear the book exactly the same way every time is a good sign that she's building language and memory skills. Capitalize on this by encouraging your child to end some of the sentences or explain the pictures.

Reading aloud to your child-and then talking about what you have just read-is the single most effective way to help your preschooler sharpen language skills. Studies show that when preschool children are read to daily, they do better in school and develop above-average verbal abilities. In fact, it appears that the more interaction of any kind between parents and very young children, the better the children's later vocabulary and IQ scores will be.

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What you shouldn't do, however, is expose your preschooler to flash cards or meticulously correct her pronunciation or grammar. These strategies may inhibit speech development by making the child feel self-conscious or bad when she makes a mistake. Here are more productive ways to help.

  • Talk to your child as much as possible. Tell him what you are doing; ask him questions about past activities or friends, relatives, and places he's visited; describe his behavior to him ("You're making an angry face"); explain the day's schedule. Avoid giving a monologue, however. Your child needs to join in with his own thoughts.
  • Don't use baby talk or imitate your child's speech. Although she will most likely make mistakes and revert to baby talk every now and then, you should make a point of exposing your child to the proper way of saying things.
  • Listen patiently when your child is trying to tell you something. Rushing his speech will fetter both thought and learning, while careful listening tells your child that you're really interested in what he's trying to say. If he's having trouble finding the right word, it's okay to help him in a gentle manner, but don't put all of the words in his mouth.
  • Respond to your child thoughtfully. If you allow her to babble away while you mumble, "Uh-huh" or "How nice," she'll get the message that you're not interested in what she has to say.
  • Play verbal games. Guessing games are fun and help your child use words while learning things like colors, shapes, sizes, and names. When you're playing together, you can encourage him by asking, "Which block is bigger?" "What color is the triangle?" or "What shape is the hat?"
  • Watch what you say. Preschoolers take words very literally -- and personally. If you become frustrated, avoid saying, "You're driving me crazy!" Instead say, "That game is beginning to drive me crazy." That way, she'll know that you still love her.