Diving Deeper - Music and Vocabulary By Kitty Skeen - Former Mini Maestros Bendigo Franchisee
The words in our vocabulary are the building blocks for understanding and expressing ideas. Children’s vocabulary and concept development is dependent on consistent, nurturing and interactive learning experiences with adults and other children.
‘Presto’, ‘Lento’, ‘Forte’, ‘Piano’, ‘Beat’, ‘Rhythm’, ‘Saa’ - The older aged classes of the Mini Maestros program explicitly teach some of the most important musical vocabulary your little person will need to start and continue a journey into music. But, the Mini Maestros program doesn’t just stop at musical vocabulary; every age group explores non-musical language acquisition, from babies up. Think about the activities in class that your little one loves, they’re constantly exposed to new words and encouraged to use them. The first that springs to mind are our ever-popular peekaboos, however the Mini Maestros program has been written to include exposure to all of the following ideas, words and names; jungle animals, zoo animals, farm animals, birds, nature, people, autumn, winter, instruments, stop and start, transport, body parts, actions, toys, colours, numbers and nonsense. Phew, what a list!
The words that children tend to say first are naming words (Nouns and Proper Nouns), such as mum, dad, friends, animals and places. In Mini Maestros we start questioning our children about where they live (Trot, Trot, Trot), the names of their pets (Bow Wow Wow) and what they had for breakfast (Cheeky Pussy Cat). After naming words, action words (Verbs) are the second earliest type of word. Our Welcome Song each week directly address this. Think about how quickly your child has come to understand or say action words such as jump, stamp, clap, spin or twinkle fingers. Other words which are learnt early on are a few examples of modifiers (a word, clause or phrase that describes another word) such as ‘more’, and personal-social phrases such as ‘please’ and the ever popular ‘NO’.
Mini Maestros teachers are always telling parents that they are their child’s best teacher. This is absolutely true when it comes to speech development and vocabulary acquisition in children. Aside from attending a Mini Maestros class, you can do so much to help your child become confident with words;
- Always talk. Talk to your child about what you are doing and point out different things to your child when you take your child out for a walk. Turn everyday situations into opportunities for discussion and description. Incorporate counting, naming, and describing into everyday activities. Ask questions and wait for a reply (don’t you love how some children take the opportunity to chat, babble or sing in the stop/start activities we do with instruments. I often feel like I can see a child thinking ‘ah it is my turn now’). Repeat and reward each time a child attempts a word, giving them attention and affection.
- Read together. This is one of the most recommended activities to enhance the vocabulary of a child. Start off with board books and picture books with repetitive words. Encourage your child to repeat the words that you speak while explaining those pictures. In my house we are particularly fond of rhyming books (Hairy Maclary, The Gruffalo). In the Mini Maestros program we love to incorporate rhymes too, in many of our lap plays (Higgety Piggety Pop, Moses Supposes) and activities such as ‘There Was An Old Woman’ and ‘Did You Ever’. Hearing rhymes is important for children’s language development. With lots of repetition, children will start imitating the intonation of familiar rhymes before they start speaking. Older children will begin anticipating a rhyme and offer suggestions based on their increasing knowledge.
- Sing songs. Some toddlers are more enamored by songs than with stories and conversations. There are a lot of songs that help in teaching new words to toddlers. For starters, try out songs like ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’, ‘Old McDonald Had a Farm’ and ‘This Is The Way We Wash’. These songs have the added bonus of teaching action words and lots of new nouns. All our Mini Maestros children this term loved exploring different words through our ever popular frog activities; ‘croak’, ‘ribbit’, ‘kelo’, ‘kwa’ (Japanese language learning!), ‘boing’ and even ‘yum, yum’ (Ten Little Speckled Frogs).
- Explore your surroundings. There is so much to be learned by exploring nature and describing the objects, movements and qualities that are around you. Children love to go out and learn about new things to feed their curiosity, so use this opportunity to enhance their vocabulary. Take your child to a zoo, park, the seaside, a farmers’ market, a farm. They will come across new things, both living and non-living—a variety of trees, animals, birds, people, flowers and fountains and will have a fresh set of vocabulary to take home. Also, while you’re out and about in nature, engage your child in sensory activities too. Go outside in the garden after rain and discuss how it smells and feels, jump in puddles (Splash!). In these different places and ask them to describe what they see, smell, hear, and feel. Let them feel the sand between their toes and touch leaves, plants and animals.
- Play with older children. Children love to be around ‘bigger’ kids who have already navigated through the stage of development and come out confidently on the other side. Not only will interactions with older children improve a child’s vocabulary, you can see benefits such as increased confidence in their own ideas or activities and understanding of behaviours such as sharing, turn-taking and listening.
Children will begin speaking at various ages, some proceed from babble or jargon into short words such as mum, dad, car. Others might appear to start speaking later, but when they do it’ll be in complete sentences (my son Clancy did this). Therefore it is always good to remember never to compare your child to another and understand a child’s development as a growth continuum, regardless of their age. The following is a guide reflecting the broad developmental norms;
12 months: 2 words plus mummy and daddy
18 months: 10-50 words
2 years: 300 words
2.5 years: 450 words
3 years: 1000 words
4 years: 2000 words
5 years: 5000 plus words
17 years: 36 000 to 136 000 words
 Munro and McGregor, 2017, from education.vic.gov.au.
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