Building Language Skills in the Home

There are always topics that adults avoid when their parents are around. What if children clam up in the same way?

The College’s Giselle Nunez, PhD Special Education student, is focusing on the importance of language and vocabulary in the home as she begins her doctoral research at the College. Significant bodies of research indicate children do not use certain vocabulary in the home with parents.

As part of the Urban Educators Scholars cohort, a grant project funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs, Nunez and others in the cohort launched a community-based arts project during the summer of 2015, examining how youth participants use vocabulary within the arts around peers, parents and teachers.

“We are finding the children are using vocabulary with us as researchers and with their peers, but not as much with their parents,” Nunez said. “We’re trying to figure out how parents probe their kids: are they asking? Will parents let children come up with the word or are parents helping them find the word?”

Nunez’s interest in parent-child communication arises from her work as a speech pathologist at Barbara Vick Early Childhood & Family Center in Chicago’s southwest side West Lawn neighborhood and at Peck Elementary in West Elsdon. She works with culturally and linguistically diverse children at Vick including children with special education needs. With these pre-K students, she works with parents on lessons for the home that build on content covered in the classroom. She says as children make the transition from home to pre-K to kindergarten, parents need guidance to understand how to support native language but also the learning of a second language (English).

“With the over-identification of Black and Latino children with special education needs, my goal is to work with parents to ensure it’s a language disorder, not a language difference,” Nunez said. “Parents need to understand the needs of the school and the differences between academic language and social language. It’s a maze of home and school.”

In pursuit of her dissertation, Nunez is interested in examining cultural competencies of graduate programs for speech language pathologists and how competencies impact referring and identifying Black and Latino children with language disorders.