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Language Skills May Have Greatest Impact on Kindergarten Readiness

Language Skills May Have Greatest Impact on Kindergarten Readiness

Preparing young children to be “kindergarten ready” is the goal of many parents and preschool programs. It is well-documented that the more skills children bring into kindergarten — in basic math, reading, even friendship and cooperation — the more likely they will succeed in those same areas in school.

Now, a new study published online in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly suggests that it’s time to add language to that set of skills. The researchers say a child’s use of vocabulary and grammar can not only predict future proficiency with the spoken and written word, but it also impacts performance in other subject areas.

In other words, language skills — the ability to fluidly learn words and string them together into sentences — help support total academic and social success.

“A lot of other research focuses on math, science and literacy, and they don’t even consider that language could be playing a role,” said Dr. Amy Pace, an assistant professor in the University of Washington (UW) Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences.

“But really, it emerges as a strong predictor across subject areas. Why do kids succeed in math, for example? Part of it could be having a strong math vocabulary.”

The study is the first to evaluate a comprehensive set of school readiness skills and attempt to determine which ones are the most solid predictors of a child’s later success.

Language was the hands-down winner, said co-author Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, director of the Infant Language Laboratory at Temple University.

For the study, Pace and her colleagues from Temple University, the University of Delaware and the University of North Carolina analyzed longitudinal data from more than 1,200 children in the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development.

The researchers  used several measures of academic and social skills at specific ages and grade levels, including evaluations upon entry to kindergarten and in grades 1, 3 and 5.

Most previous research has focused on how children develop specific skills over time, such as patterns of learning within a single subject area, like math or reading. For the new study, the team wanted to determine whether there are any links between skills when considered in combination, and to think about how these combined abilities might predict gains, or growth, above what might be expected based on the child’s kindergarten-entry skills.

The findings reveal that of the skills and milestones evaluated — social/emotional, attention, health, reading, math and language — only language skills, when a child entered school, predicted his or her performance both within that subject area and most others (math, reading and social skills) from first through fifth grade.

Reading ability in kindergarten predicted reading, math and language skills later on; and math proficiency correlated with math and reading performance over time.

People often confuse language with literacy, said Pace. Reading skills include the ability to decode letter and sound combinations to pronounce words, and to comprehend word meanings and contexts. Language is the ability to deploy those words and use complex syntax and grammar to communicate in speech and writing. And that’s why it has such an impact on other areas of development, Pace said. At a time when so much emphasis is on math and science education, language deserves attention, too.

“It provides a foundation for social interaction. If you’re stronger in language, you will be able to communicate with peers and teachers,” she said. “Language also relates to executive functioning, the ability to understand and follow through on the four-step directions from the teacher. And it helps solve problems in math and science, because understanding terminology and abstract concepts relies on a knowledge of language.”

The study also offers an opportunity to rethink what skills are considered measures of kindergarten-readiness, she said.

“Language ability at school entry consistently emerges as an important predictor of student outcomes. This may be why the first three to five years are so critical for future academic and social development,” Pace said.

“It is the child’s earliest, high-quality interactions with parents, teachers and caregivers that promote a strong communication foundation, and this foundation goes on to serve as the bedrock for future language and learning.”

Source: University of Washington

Language Skills May Have Greatest Impact on Kindergarten Readiness

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Language Skills May Have Greatest Impact on Kindergarten Readiness. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 20 May 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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