Child practitioners know how to interact with young children, they ask them direct questions and wait for a response. It's very easy for parents, standing with their child, to hear a question, whether it be asked by a childminder or teacher, or a friend or relative, and to answer the question on behalf of the child. It's so easy to do this that it can be pretty difficult not to. Try to avoid doing this though, it really is important that children learn to engage in conversation and that they learn to listen, interpret and respond to questions in their own right.
As a parent, you don't want to show up your child, or have them stuck in an awkward situation where they don't understand a question. This is such an important part of language development though that you really aren't doing them any favours when you respond on their behalf.
When granny asks 'What have you been doing today?', or the childminder asks 'Is it sunny outside?', there's a really high probability that they already know the answer. Adults are sympathetic to the knowledge of young children and don't ask searching questions requiring a comprehensive, in-depth, analytical response. They are asking in order to engage with the child, to help build a bond and in order to allow the child to practice language. The enquirer isn't usually looking for a definitive answer, they probably aren't even interested in the correct answer; instead they simply want to hear the answer in the child's own words. If parents wade in with the answer then they are denying the child the opportunity to speak for themselves.
If you recognise this behaviour in yourself then try to spot it in your interactions with those around your children. If you are aware that you are doing it, then you will be able to pause, think about it, and then stop before giving an answer. If it's a deep rooted habit that you have developed then it may take a little time to coax yourself away from it, but you will get there eventually.
Research suggests that of all the children in reception classes in UK schools, nearly half of them have poor language skills. This is an astounding figure and Early Years Practitioners are doing so much to attempt to help those children with their language and communication. The difficulty is not helped by the fact that children coming from nursery into schools are all at different levels of speech and communication so each child may need slightly different emphasis when it comes to helping their individual needs.
Communication is vital in various areas of development within the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Communication is a two way process and we must listen as well as talk. Communication between children themselves is also important because if one child cannot be understood, it can lead to further problems and frustrations.
ICAN (the charity that supports speech and communication) claims that over 2.7 million children have difficulties communicating. There are various ways that teaching practitioners can assist with general group activities as well as individual attention.
How to improve communication with general group activities:
- Make sure there is lots of interaction between childcare providers and children
- Practice listening skills between both children and teaching staff
- Introduce rhymes and songs and tell stories
- Use props such as pictures and puppets and musical instruments, talk about them and describe them
- Teach signing actions in groups
- Introduce discussion topics and games