Time to talk

Get your children chatting, says Catherine Clark...

There has been a great deal of research relating to talk and the impact it has on learning development. Recently, the work of the ECAT project has helped grow recognition of how vital it is for all children to be able to communicate confidently and capably – and the fact that 2011 is the National Year of Communication is helping to reinforce the point further.

Talk is vital to our lives; it shapes our thoughts into meaning. As early years practitioners we recognise how crucial the formative years are in acquiring language and the impact this will have on lifelong learning. It’s essential we provide quality learning environments where children become capable and confident speakers and listeners.

We need to reflect upon how we cater for language development, in particular speech. Talk needs to be at the core of all we do. It’s not a separate entity, but fundamental to all areas of learning. Reflect upon who does the most talking. Is it you or the children? Do you dominate the dialogue in well-meaning attempts to ask questions or add information? Do you take time to let the children answer, or do youquickly fill in those gaps in the conversation? It’s crucial to allow the children time to ponder their responses and to formulate their hypotheses. Some will readily instigate conversations whilst others will prefer to listen, but still absorb. Adults need to know when to involve themselves in the conversation and judge carefully whether they can extend or enhance the dialogue or their presence is impeding or intrusive. Consider the environment too: there’s a need for large spaces, but equally cosy dens and hideaways will often provide a treasury of language.

We need to celebrate talk and keep it at the heart of what we do. If we help facilitate quality language development there will be lasting rewards.

Catherine Clark has worked in early years education for many years. She is the in-house educationalist at TTS, consulting and advising on how children learn, and has developed numerous award-winning products.