4 Benefits of Public Speaking in Elementary School

Teaching kids to be comfortable with public speaking from an early age has lifelong benefits. The Head of Chicago City Day School explains.

Public speaking: these two little words can drive fear into the hearts of so many of us. Whether talking in front of a live audience for an event or communicating effectively on a Zoom call at work, public speaking is part of our lives. So why isn’t this important skill a requirement at every elementary school?

At Chicago City Day School, public speaking in elementary school is a cornerstone of the educational experience, says head of school Chris Dow

“Our founder was a strong advocate for teaching public speaking in school. We believe that public speaking is a key life skill as well as an academic skill. We include it as a purposeful curriculum component,” Dow says.

Here are four key benefits of public speaking in school:

Public speaking in elementary school builds confidence and reduces anxiety

We all know adults (and you may be one of them!) who is terrified at the prospect of public speaking.

“Since this is one of many people’s biggest fears, we introduce our students to public speaking beginning in senior kindergarten in a simple, low-stakes way,” Dow explains. “Everyone is going to have to do some public speaking at some point in their lives. Through the early exposure and our supportive school environment, kids quickly learn to be comfortable with it.”

Plus, early public speaking training boosts self-confidence.

“Public speaking is an important life skill. It’s how we convey our emotions, describe our wants and persuade others,” says Dow. “You also have to maintain eye contact and connect with the audience. And the more you do it, the more self-confidence you gain because once you’ve done it, you know you can do it again.”

As students progress through grades, confidence in their speaking abilities grows over time, says Dow.

“Watching the growth of our students in their public speaking skills is amazing. By the time they reach eighth grade, every one of our students has a role in speaking at graduation for several minutes. They’ve learned to embrace public speaking, in part because it is rooted in every part of our curriculum.”

It enhances critical thinking and communication skills

Public speaking is more than just talking in front of an audience. It also requires critical thinking, organization and the ability to argue persuasively.

At City Day, students learn to develop their ideas, structure their thoughts and deliver them effectively. Learning to make logical arguments enhances students’ overall academic performance.

“Public speaking requires you to have a mastery of what you are discussing and to build strategies and skills. You can’t just rely on your notes,” says Dow.

Public speaking fosters community and empathy

A unique aspect of Chicago City Day’s approach to public speaking is its emphasis on community support. Students listen to and learn from each other’s presentations, creating a sense of empathy and understanding.

“When everyone has to take part in public speaking, it increases the empathy the students have for one another,” says Dow. “They are less likely to be critical of their fellow classmates because they are all in the same boat. We find that our students encourage each other and cheer each other on. Our supportive environment reduces anxiety and fear about the process.”

Because public speaking occurs throughout the City Day curriculum, empathy becomes a foundational part of the school’s culture, Dow adds.

“Whether it’s the annual science fair, the fundraisers for our French and Spanish trips or the fourth-grade Poetry Cafe, everyone has a chance to speak. These opportunities happen so often that public speaking, and the empathy it creates, become second nature for our students.”

Lizzie Waterworth at Chicago City Day School
Photo Credit: Chicago City Day School

It prepares students for future success and opens doors

Chicago City Day students have had the unique opportunity to learn from British author and voice actor Lizzie Waterworth through a partnership with the school.

“As both an actor and author, Lizzie does a lot of public speaking and was writing a book about the topic,” notes Dow. “She heard about our longstanding history of teaching public speaking and came to the school to talk to the students. What she was researching were principles we had in place for more than 40 years. In fact, Chicago City Day School is referenced in Ms. Waterworth’s book ‘How to Talk So People Will Listen.’” 

During her visits, Waterworth stressed that the skills developed through the public speaking program at City Day are invaluable for future academic and professional success. Dow says he can see that reflected in the smooth transitions that City Day graduates make to high school each year.

“Effective communication is a critical skill in virtually every field,” says Dow. “The ability to communicate and speak in front of others positions our graduates as leaders and innovators, giving them a distinct advantage in high school and college.”

Most important to Dow, though, is the message that Chicago City Day School sends its students through its public speaking requirement.

“Just because you may be introverted or don’t have the loudest voice in the room doesn’t mean you don’t have something valuable to say,” says Dow. “We want our students to understand that they all have a voice and a perspective that deserves to be heard.”

To learn more about the Chicago City Day School curriculum, visit chicagocitydayschool.org.

Jennifer Kales
Jennifer Kales
Content editor Jennifer Kales has been in the business of writing for more than 20 years creating advertising copy, blogs, books and everything in between. She loves helping Chicago Parent clients tell their stories in a way that resonates with audiences.

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