Handbook of Language and Literacy Development - a Roadmap from 0 to 60 Months

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Narrative Development (0-60 Months)click to print Print
Research Review / Parent

Written by: Carole Peterson, Beulah Jesso, Memorial University of Newfoundland and Anne McKeough, University of Calgary

0-12 Months

Even before your child can talk, you can help him or her develop foundational skills that support later narrative development:

· To help your baby understand events in the form of language, describe what is happening in the here and now. Use words that describe both actions and feelings.

· To help your baby remember events, let him or her play with the same object, such as a mobile, and experience the same event, such as a particular bedtime song, again and again.

· Establish simple routines around feeding and changing to help your baby’s memory develop.

· When routines are performed in the same order, they also help your baby learn time-based reasoning.

· Establishing routines also helps your baby develop scripts, or ‘blueprints’ of frequently occurring events, which will be used in his or her early narratives.

· You can support your baby’s early sense of self simply by interacting (singing, talking to, cuddling, and playing) with him or her in feeding and changing routines. Through these interactions, your baby will come to understand that his or her role differs from your role.

· To help your baby learn about cause-and-effect relations, you can model actions with simple consequences such as pushing a button to cause a bell to ring or pressing a lever to cause ‘Jack’ to pop out of the box.

13-60 Months

Talk to your child frequently and consistently about past experiences. You can talk about anything that happened in the past, not just yesterday or last week, but things that happened some time ago. For example, a trip that you took last summer, seeing Santa at the shopping mall last December, going trick-or-treating, a visit to the doctor, etc.

· Spend lots of time talking about each topic.

· Ask plenty of ‘wh’ questions and few ‘yes/no questions. As part of this, ask questions about the context or setting of the events, especially when or where they took place. By asking ‘wh-’ questions you are inviting details and elaboration.

     o You fell down? Tell me about it.
     o When?
     o Who was there?
     o Where did that happen?
     o What did you do?
     o Why did that happen?

· Questions that can be responded to by a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ usually are not helpful for narrative development. Such questions do not encourage your child to talk more.

· Listen carefully to what your child is saying and encourage elaboration.

· Provide additional elaborative information in your conversational turn. Supplement and embellish what your child is saying.

· Encourage your child to say more than one sentence at a time by using back channel responses (e.g., “uh-huh,” “yeah?” “really?”) or by simply repeating what your child has just said.

     o Child: I fell down.
     o Parent: You fell down? Uh-huh? Tell me about it.

· Follow your child’s lead. That is, talk about what your child wants to talk about.

· Find a good time to talk to your child. Is mealtime or bath time a good time for you? Maybe driving in the car or on the bus will work well for you. Think about the times that you and your child are together and not too busy or preoccupied to talk.

· Read storybooks to your child frequently.

· When you read stories to your child (a) discuss what each character feels and wants, (b) how and why the characters’ feelings and thoughts are the same or different from one another, (c) how and why characters' actions are motivated by their particular feelings, thoughts, and desires, and (d) the meanings of unfamiliar words

Remember that narrative is much more than a narrow skill. It is a tool that helps us to understand how we fit into our social world. Additionally, early knowledge of narrative provides a toehold by which children gain access to the world of print, which offers endless opportunity for continued learning and developmental success.