How do you begin to teach a child who has no functional language?
This question is often posed to our staff.
We have begun to document and describe some of our young students and students who are new to language to illustrate their milestones and the struggles they and we face together.
We use a natural approach to language development. First offering an environment which is visually and linguistically rich – words, signs, posters, pictures, interactive representational materials (flashcards, slot charts, puzzles, pictures, videos, books, magazines).
Then we try to create ‘natural’ setting in which to use the language – play, cooking, cleaning, working, writing, coloring, games – in which the child is brought into the activity. We try to force communication by presenting choices at all turns and by not letting the child dictate too much of what happens. In the beginning, we will follow the child around talking about the things we are doing and seeing – SWING! YES YOU SWING. I LIKE SWINGS. THIS SWING RED. YOU SIT-ON BLUE SWING. etc.
All along the way, we impose some structure: Flags, Chapel, Calendar time, Prayer, Printing, Math, Counting, Computers, Story telling. The goal is to model language and stimulate expressive language. Receptive language skills precede expressive language skills so there are multiple models of language happening all around in classrooms, between staff, with other students – each instance of seeing language signed will impact the mind of our new students.
This is as true for a 4 year old as it is for a 14 year old.
Our ultimate goal is to use language to discuss, teach, explain and help our students to know God, to understand the message of salvation and their need of a Saviour. Many language studies presuppose that language developed without the intervention of God. We know that language is a gift from God and we love to see our students use this gift to know Him.
As you read their stories, praise God with us for His gift of words and language. Also remember to pray for those who are living without Him, without language and without someone who is able to tell them.