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Preparing Your Child: Communication

Preparing your child for school means more than preparing them for math and reading. They need communication skills as well. This article explains how knowing communication conventions will help your child be prepared for school.

In reality, communication involves these things as well a large set of conventions, some of which may be different in school than they are at home. Not all schools are the same, and neither are all homes. But these are some areas that you may wish to be aware of so you can prepare your child for what is to come.

Semi-Formal Setting

Home communication is likely to be informal. You may shout to Jimmy and Ellen through the kitchen window to call them to dinner when they’re nearby in the backyard. But Jimmy and Ellen will have an easier time in school if they know that already realize that we communicate differently in different places and that there are choices to be made. 

  • Indoor Voice - One important distinction, that you may have already made at home, is using a quieter voice inside than outside. If you imagine 25 or 30 youngsters in a classroom, you can easily see why moderating the level of voices will turn out to be an important ground rule. Since children already have some experience of this, you can use what they know to help them understand: we are quiet in movie theatres, in hospitals and, often, in libraries, we can shout and make a ruckus at a ball game, etc. 
  • Space - Part of communication that many people don’t give much conscious thought to is the comfortable difference between people who are conversing. This is different depending on the level of intimacy (you may hold your child on your lap while you speak to him or her) and the social situation. Most children learn this naturally by observation and experience of different situations, but it’s an area you might want to spot check. 
  • Diction - The words used to speak of the same thing may be quite different in different situations. In the broadest sense, people can speak formally, colloquially, or use vulgar language. These are called language registers, and we are constantly making judgments about what kind of language is appropriate to situations. So if its likely that a child has, for example, heard an older sibling trying out swear words, it may be necessary to explain that they don’t belong in a classroom setting. At home, we may use precise pronunciation, or say things like gonna, shoulda, ain’t - these are all acceptable usages in various settings and dialects. But in school, where teaching language is one of the fundamentals, this kind of usage may not be acceptable and children should have enough variety in their repertoire to meet the kinds of situations we can expect them to encounter in the classroom.
  • Magic Words - Please, thank you, and may I are words that ease communication. Titles are as well in contexts in which their use is expected • and even if a parents’ friends don’t mind being called by their given names, it is often true that in school the teacher and staff are to be addressed as Mrs., Miss, Ms., Dr., or Mr. Again, having these words as part of their repertoire will make it easier for a child beginning school.

Turn Taking

One of the underpinnings of communication in schools in the US is usually turn taking. Often students are required to speak one at a time and gain recognition from the teacher first by raising a hand. It might seem obvious that most of us don’t have to raise our hands to speak at home.

What may not be obvious is that not all English speakers and dialects of English treat turn taking the same way. Some groups value additive communications in which people are free to add to one another’s sentences more than is generally found in a school setting. In addition, in some families and cultural settings, the adults do most of the talking and children are expected to be silent and learn by listening. Visiting the school can let you know what to expect for the classroom setting and help your child prepare.

What We Say vs. What We Mean

If the teacher says, “Billy, do you know the answer?” the teacher is likely not seeking a “yes” or “no” but, the answer itself: “eight” or “Hawaii” or “tigers.” The question, “Would you wipe the chalkboard, please?” may seem to be impartial and open to any answer, but it is really a imperative sentence, phrased as a question, which makes it more polite in English than “Wipe the chalkboard now.” Part of understanding language is being able to make inferences and understand when language is not literal. Children learn this by being exposed to a wide variety of conversational circumstances, and by hearing and learning to understand language that is not literal, for example poetry.

Written by Mary Elizabeth