Why is helping your toddler learn to talk so important? “If kids learn to articulate what they want and need, it causes much less anxiety,” says theater teacher Ashley Bugg Brown. “In [my field], theater, it’s about communicating thoughts and ideas. These are life skills, and they can be taught.”
Ashley and her husband, Marques W. Brown, are both theater teachers. She’s been teaching and directing theater at Lausanne Collegiate School for 11 years, while Marques does the same at St. George’s Independent School. In addition, he serves as education director for Chatterbox Audio Theatre. As educators, they equip young people to talk about their thoughts and think critically about issues. As parents, they do the same.
“Engaging kids consistently from an early age helps them observe the world around them and understand it in a deeper context,” said Marques. “Little people don’t always have the skills to share what they feel. The more you communicate with them, and demonstrate communication, the better they can express themselves.”
Babies’ brains develop in response to experiences. In the first three years, their brains are soaking up information at a faster rate than they ever will again, with new neural connections sparking to life as they explore the world around them. As a child’s first teachers, it’s up to parents to make the most of this period of explosive brain development.
Speech and language are integral to human life. Language is deeply connected to culture and identity; it’s what we rely on to convey our thoughts and feelings. Years before a child begins studying language at school, through the lens of grammar and reading, they use it in speech, developing a vocabulary and nurturing the skills required to use it. Parents and caregivers are key during this period of learning.
“Communication between people is an exchange of ideas,” says Ashley. “At home, we talk to our kids all the time. We talk them through everything. Their language is developing through engagement in our family conversation.”
Marques agrees. “Adults learn a new language better when we don’t focus on grammar, when it’s used regularly and conversationally. Kids are just like that,” he says. “I think people forget that the more words kids hear, the better their cognitive development is.”
As teachers, the Browns see evidence of the power of language daily, especially in theatre classes built around clear, specific verbal communication.
“I had a kid who was having a little trouble focusing on an exercise we were doing, so I gave him a line,” said Ashley. “It pulled him in, focused him. I could tell he was thinking about his line, how to say the words and what they meant. When I gave him that line, that point of view, he connected. That’s the power of language.”
Setting a good language model for your children doesn’t require any special training; it only requires an awareness of the way you are using words around them. Kids pick up their native tongue by being immersed in it, listening to the adults around them communicate with each other.
“Kids are cute. It’s tempting to let them lead and come down to their level of communication, but engaging with them in similar ways to how you interact with other adults is important,” says Marques. “The onus is on us to be honest. It’s okay to be angry, frustrated in front of children to a point. It’s okay to be real. But you have to keep yourself in check. Be aware of the example you set.”