It’s an all too familiar scene. Your child throws his backpack in the car and hops in the backseat. You ask, “How was school today?” and get the standard one-word response. “Fine.” “Good.” “Okay.”
You’re looking for a recap of what your child learned. A retelling of interactions with friends and teachers. A story explained with more words.
Narrative language skills. That’s what you’re looking for! It’s the ability for your child to use language to tell a story.
There’s more to narrative language skills than just storytelling.
These skills help your child:
- Understand the meaning of a story.
- Retell past experiences.
- Take someone’s point of view.
- Give instructions in the right order.
- Organize information that’s heard.
- Make predictions about future events.
- Describe themselves.
Narrative language skills predict a child’s later academic success by potentially boosting their vocabulary, grammar, and memory.
Stronger social skills is another benefit of developing narrative language. Children can more confidently build relationships with others. They can effectively interact in social situations throughout their daily life by conversing about themselves and things they’ve done.
How to Help
Children develop narrative language skills from as early as 2 years-old all the way to 10 years-old or even adolescence. That means it’s always a good time to build them!
You can help your child develop narrative language skills at any age by incorporating some simple strategies into everyday activities.
Start routines. Establishing a bedtime routine can help a child learn to memorize and predict the steps of an event. Make sure to narrate what you are doing along the way so he or she can connect the actions with language.
Sing nursery rhymes. Repetitively sing a favorite nursery rhyme and use the gestures that go with it (“The Itsy Bitsy Spider” is usually a favorite!). Babies can start to sequence the hand movements and words in order.
Talk out loud. Children are usually able to comprehend language before they are able to produce it. Lay a foundation of vocabulary words and grammar concepts by explaining what is happening during daily routines like diaper changes and bathtime.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
Begin with books. Reading books with pictures that capture your child’s attention can help him or her learn what a story is. Use words like “first”, “next”, and “last” in between reading the words to help your child start to understand how to organize events.
Let your child “read”. If your child asks to read Goodnight Moon every night, go ahead and do it! As your child starts to favorite certain books and hears the words repeatedly, he or she may be able to more easily memorize the lines of the story. Try asking your child to take a turn “reading” the story to you in their own words as you look at the pictures together!
Play pretend. Create stories as you play with your child! Having a tea party, picnic, or a pretend check-up at the doctor’s office are great ways for your child to engage in an imaginative narrative!
Color a picture. As your child draws a picture, ask questions and make comments that encourage him or her to depict a story through their scene. “Where is that bird going?” or, “It looks like a sunny day!” are a few examples.
“Read” wordless books. There are several wordless or almost wordless books out there. Give one to your child so he or she can make up their own narrative to pair with the illustrations!
Write a story. Encourage your child to write their own story about a past event or one they make up! Ask follow up questions (like “why?” or “what happened next?”) to keep the narrative language going.
Teach story grammar. Teach your child what different story grammar terms mean, such as a problem, solution, plot, beginning, and end. Ask about these specific areas to start a discussion after your child reads a few pages in his or her favorite book!
If you are concerned with your child’s narrative language skills or other areas of speech and language development, a Speech-Language Pathologist (also known as a “Speech Therapist”) can conduct an evaluation to assess these areas. The therapist will provide recommendations, which might include your child attending regular speech therapy to improve their skills. TherapyWorks is a company that provides Speech, Occupational, Feeding, and Physical Therapy Services via teletherapy across the US and in-home in Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan.