Mary Sweeney | October 19 | Cougar Chronicle

Dear New School Early Childhood Families,

Every day I have the pleasure of greeting our youngest of learners at drop-off or walking them out to the car-line in the afternoon.  This is a special time for me to connect with my favorite little people and their families. I enjoy wishing all of the children a great day and hearing their responses.  I love walking out our 3 & 4-year-olds and finding out something special that happened in their day.  Just having a conversation with an early childhood student can put a smile on anyone’s face. Their communication and vocabulary amaze me as they grow into the amazing little people they are. 

Hearing a two-year-old first call me out by name may be one of my favorite things.  At this age, they begin to label everything around them and their language and vocabulary grow by leaps and bounds. Many families will never forget the cute words each of their children have for things at this age.  My family still calls donuts “No-nuts,” and lobsters “Monsters,” because our daughters called them that when they were little. How about the 4-year-old who asks, “Why?” about everything you say? Or how our toddlers can tell a story that seems to keep going and going. Communicating is a big part of our everyday experience.

Language development is a huge milestone in early childhood. One of the most interesting things about the development of language in children is that it is closely related to play. Children begin producing their first words, usually around 12 to 13 months old. This is often the same time that many parents begin to worry if their child’s language is developing on time, if they are using words, etc. Also at this age, symbolic play evolves. Symbolic play is when a child holds a banana to their ear and pretends that it is a phone. Symbolic play/pretend play is great for modeling language as well as building vocabulary. Labeling everything in your child’s environment, reading with your child, and simply talking to them will encourage language development.

As children get older we sometimes see the concern shift with language development— it starts to be about intelligibility.  How much is understood and is age-appropriate? When children start talking in 3-4 word phrases, language can sometimes become jumbled for a while. In young children, there is often a marked difference between single word speech and conversational speech and the intelligibility of each. Intelligibility with a child’s family and intelligibility with unfamiliar listeners is often a concern families have. I often catch parents filling the void of another’s understanding by interpreting for their child because they can understand them but others do not. This raises the big question, at what point should all of my child’s language be clear and understood?

This is when calling in the experts can help validate or clarify a concern. During this time of year at The New School, most teachers have built a relationship and connection with their students and have become aware of each child’s language development.  

This year we will again offer free speech and occupational therapy screenings at The New School in Early Childhood.  You may receive some information from your classroom teacher during your child’s Parent-Teacher conference*. If they have any concerns, or if you have any questions or concerns, please let your classroom teacher know and they will have the form for you to fill out. These screenings are a convenient and easy way for families to meet the needs of their child in an environment that is safe and comfortable for the child.

If you catch yourself asking, “Why would my child need a speech-language screening?”  Try asking yourself these follow up questions: Is my child understanding what others say as well as same-aged peers?  Is my child using verbal communication in the same ways as their peers? Is my child difficult to understand? Speech-language therapy screenings will assess many different areas of development. They look at a child’s receptive language (understanding) and expressive language (use of words). It can also determine if your child’s articulation (speech sounds used) are difficult to understand when they are speaking or if others can understand your child when they have conversational speech. 

These early years are crucial in speech and language development. We want to encourage communication for students, as well as introduce parents to the right kind of support as early as possible, because young minds are the most receptive to learning new things, if needed. In child development, the earlier is the better!

Mary Sweeney

Head of Early Childhood 


*Parent-Teacher Conferences will be held this week from October 19-23.  Your classroom teacher should have scheduled with you.  If any of the times do not work with your schedule please let us know and we will accommodate as best as possible.  This is a great time for teachers to share about all of the great learning happening. It takes a village to raise strong, confident children and we are lucky to have such a great team of teachers and families here at The New School.

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