We all talk to the children in our settings but do we talk with them?

I have been thinking about conversations quite a lot recently. During the last year I have spend a high proportion of my time in Early Years settings, giving me the opportunity to reflect upon our interactions with young children and how they interact with each other.

Reflecting upon the type and nature of the conversations, questions and instructions I observed, I am struck by the number of opportunities we have to enrich children’s language learning. For example; the child who rushes into the setting bursting to tell us about their new baby sister which leads to other children recalling their experience of a new sibling which leads to talk about caring for others and so on.

However, the other thing which gave me pause for thought was the number of interactions which fell into the following headings:

  • direct instruction e.g. “put your coat on, please,”
  • closed questions e.g. “which one is blue?”
  • non- specific praise e.g. “wow, well done”

Each of these could have been be maximised to introduce new words, encourage conversation and support children to use language to think.

Numerous studies in the USA and UK have identified that many young children are beginning school with poor language and speaking skills, especially those from less advantaged backgrounds. We know from The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education [EPPE] Project and Effective Pre-School and Primary Education 3-11 Project (EPPE 3-11) longitudinal studies funded by the DfE, that such children gain the most from the highest quality pre-school settings.

In Early Years we often talk about high quality but a detailed definition, agreeable to all, can be difficult to pin down.  I have set out below what I consider to be the high quality markers which support children’s understanding, development and use of rich language.

  • Maximising and using of every part of the session/day to develop strong language and speaking skills.
  • Being intentional when communicating i.e. body language, make eye contact, be at the child’s physical level, actively listen and allow processing time
  • Environments which are relevant and fascinating to children, so that they want to take part and communicate
  • Creating engaging opportunities for conversation and show children that their views are important and valued.
  • Actively listen and model rich language throughout the session e.g. as part of child led play, routines and use children’s contributions/questions to enhance their learning.
  • Ensuring that all activities (planned and spontaneous) and routines are maximised to introduce and explain new words in context so that they are remembered and used by the children.
  • Showing interest in each child by giving them individualised attention to match their developmental needs.
  • Sharing books daily in an interactive way which encourages children to try out new words and sentence structures
  • Acting as a narrator, without questions, for a child, who is less confident to speak
  • Using social coaching to support peer interactions

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