Although pre-academic skills such as letters, numbers, shapes and colors are important to learn, these skills should not be targeted until a child is able to functionally use language. Can your child ask you for “more” of a preferred item? Can your child tell you what toy they would like to play with or what food they would like to eat? Can your child ask you for “help?” If the answer to these questions is no, then save working on pre-academic skills until your child has a stronger grasp on using language functionally.
What is functional language?
Functional language can be thought of as your child’s ability to make their wants and needs known. This includes core vocabulary words that are relevant in everyday life, such as names of important food items, toys, people, etc. It also includes words such as “more,” “help,” “all done,” and other requests that allow your child to communicate what they want or need. Working on these core vocabulary words is key in teaching your child to communicate with you. For language to be considered “functional,” it should be used for a communicative purpose such as requesting, commenting, or interacting with you rather than just labeling words.
Why is it important to have functional language before teaching pre-academic skills?
We want children to be able to say words that are important for everyday situations before they can say their colors, numbers, shapes, and letters. We want children to be able to converse with you meaningfully and ask you to have their needs met before they learn pre-academic skills. Of course it is great if a child can say “green,” “two,” or “circle,” but if they are not able to ask you for “more milk” it is time to take a step back from learning pre-academic vocabulary and focus on increasing your child’s ability to use language functionally.
When is it appropriate to work on pre-academic skills?
Pre-academic skills are concepts that are typically learned in the pre-school setting. If your child is using language to functionally communicate with you, it would be appropriate to learn pre-academic skills together if this is an important topic for you and your family.