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Functional Words? What do you mean!?

What are "functional" words and how do we use and model them?

While promoting language development and focusing on teaching their children, parents often tend to focus on colors, letters, numbers, shapes and etc. In reality, the key words that we want to focus on are vocabulary words that label every day items such as foods (banana, milk, apple, yogurt, berries, etc.), toys (car, ball, teddy bear, pacifier, etc.), animals (cat, dog, duck, pig, cow, etc.) and various action words (help, open, more, go, stop, eat, drink, etc.). The goal is to promote functional communication and provide children with words that will get their wants and needs met. For example, when they are thirsty or hungry, they can come up to the you/ the parent and either produce a single words utterance i.e., "drink" or "eat" or short utterances i.e., "drink milk" or "eat banana." In order to model functional vocabulary, we encourage parents to often model the language that is expected to be produced, however, remember that sometimes, 'less is more.' What that means, is that we want to use short utterances with only the key words- avoid long sentences with a lot of useless words. When learning and teaching language, lets focus on key words. For example, while the child is eating a banana, model phrases such as, "eat banana", "mmmm, banana!", "yummy banana!" as opposed to "You are eating a yellow and a yummy banana! is it tasty?" with sentences such as these, the child may not make the connection between the action word (eating) and the item (banana) due to all of the additional words used.

Why stay away from non-functional words?

A lot of times, parents misinterpret children singing the ABC song with them knowing their ABC's. While singing the ABC song at a young age, they most likely know the song- they are not yet associating the sound to the letter or number to actual quantity. Therefore, since they are not yet making the connection between letters or numbers, we do not need to teach them- lets leave this up to the teacher when they start attending school. Think of it this way, if a child comes to the kitchen and starts saying, "white" or "mmm" (for letter /m/) or "two!"- we do not know what they are asking for. This may result in frustration and eventually, a tantrum! If we teach functional words (such as the ones that are mentioned above)- we will have much more success in effectively communicating wants and needs, therefore, avoiding tantrums and tears!

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