Nearly 4 years ago when I first had the vision to create video English lessons for children, I called my business “Kids Talk Languages”. More recently, with my business partner Reuben King, we started “Kids Talk Media” which produces the ‘Sam and Mel’ English lessons for children.
The name for these two companies came from our original mission statement: “We make kids talk”. Although we don’t publicly state it, this motto still guides us in the design and execution of our video English lessons. If a lesson scene or exercise will encourage children to talk, it will be included. If not, we will not use it.
I mention this because today’s issue of The New Zealand Herald newspaper leads with a front page article whose headline is “New Zealand pupils struggling to speak”. The article starts by saying “Fewer children starting school can speak in sentences, prompting an investigation by education chiefs.”
This article would not be so surprising if it were referring to the thousands of new immigrant children who arrive on our shores every year. However, the article points out that “the problem is among native English-speaking pupils”, hence the concern.
How is it that children of 5 years of age cannot speak in sentences using their own native language? One reason put forth in the article is that children are using electronic devices and gadgets too much and that their parents are not talking to them enough.
The article includes tips for parents to engage their children in conversational activities (these are included at the end of this article). Although these activities are undoubtedly positive strategies that will compensate for the time spent on devices, the fact is that children will continue to spend a lot of their free time on electronic devices. Just in the last 12 months I have noticed at the school gates how prompt students are to whip out their cell phones and start fingering them as though they were an extension of their arm.
Given this reality, we at Kids Talk Media realise that ‘if you can’t beat them, then join them’. In other words, if electronic devices are here to stay then let’s use them in a way that will have a beneficial effect on children. In our business, that means encouraging children to speak in English. Which makes me think - maybe we should be offering ‘Sam and Mel’ to native New Zealand English-speaking children as well! J
Tips for parents: (Taken from the New Zealand Herald - September 6, 2014)
• Help your child with simple activities and, in doing so, have lots of conversational exchanges.
• Tell children words and expressions but also make sure they are able to frequently try out new language.
• Read aloud to your children and give them time to think over what they have heard. Ask lots of closed questions (with one-word answers) and open questions (those with many different answers).
• Try to talk with, not at, your children.
• Encourage them to retell their favourite stories from books or their own experience.