I have had plenty of memorable moments while consulting for preschool centers. Young children find magic and purpose in so many things – it is a time when life is so thoroughly explored. Over the years, I have noticed that the dedicated teachers, assistants, and volunteers have some common characteristics. Most of us might see ourselves in more than one of the categories I suggested below! This article mentions eight general types of adult conversation styles as well as considerations for adapting that style in the early childhood center.
Rushed and Elsewhere
• You are very aware of the schedule and rush through the activities to adhere to it.
• Your interaction with the children may be less effective for promoting learning and independence because there is very little time for chit chat as you push through the routines and keep them hopping.
• Even though you are rushing, you still may be one step behind all day. Too many things on the go?
o Eliminate something or simplify your projects until a sense of peace and manageability returns.
o Ask volunteers, such as parents; grandparents, students; or even Girl Guides, to prepare items for projects a head of time or to pop in to help with transitions so that there is more time for that relaxed interactions and a comfortable pace.
o Maintain a simple but back-to-back schedule every day. For example, right after story is snack; therefore, the children will learn that they get up from the carpet and walk to their table for snack. Right after snack is bathroom time. The children learn that they get up from the table and go to the bathroom line. (Try to stagger small groups and have them hold onto something to keep their hands and minds busy as they wait for their turn.) Right after bathroom time is outside time, so the children go from the bathroom to the cubbies…. Although this will take time to run smoothly, the children will start to become much more independent, manageable, and relaxed. They will enjoy feeling responsible and knowledgeable about what they need to do.
o Keep a fixed helper at different stations so there is always someone for the kids to walk towards and to support them as they begin the next task. Occupied children are content children who are more likely to learn and communicate.
o If you are unable to have a helper at the stations, hang a big stuffed animal from the ceiling at the various stations and give it a special name and duty. For example, “”Go to Ben Bear! Ben Bear likes to watch you put on your boots so we can all go outside and play’.
o Breathe more. Remember to exhale!
• You have very limited verbal interaction with the children.
• Even if they approach you with a topic, you respond with little or no feedback.
o Words are not the only way to communicate. Start with non-verbal communication, such as pointing, smiling, and using exaggerated facial expressions (such as big eyes, elevated eyebrows, and a surprised looking mouth when the children are sharing something excited)
o Experiment with making different facial expressions to respond to children. Remember to use your: eyebrows, eyes, nose, jaw (varying levels of openness), and lips (pucker, smile, close, open, twist to the side…). Throw in a few arm and hand movements, like a shocked hand to the mouth or an “oh my goodness” hand to the forehead. Just respond! Try these unusual face postures and think of words or emotions they might represent:
- Eye brows up – eyes open wide – jaw open – lips tightly together
Eye brows up, eye open wide, open mouth wide
- Eye brows down – eyes looking to the side – lips puckered
- Eye brows down – eyes looking to the side – twist your puckered lips to the side
- Make up your own face – kids love your animated reaction!
o Make a conscience effort to increase your verbal interactions with the children. Positive verbal interactions offer many benefits to the kids, such as improved: self esteem, grammar, knowledge, and social skills. Refer to the Quick Tips link for strategies.
The Fun One
• You jump in there and have fun with the children; however, you do most of the talking and idea generating as you fully entertain the kids.
• The children may not have an opportunity to turn take, add to the conversation, or make a request as you talk and play and talk and play.
o Keep having fun – model play behaviour for them based on their level of play development. Help them reach that next step of play.
o Use language stimulating strategies, such as re-directing and expanding
o Let them lead the way – copy their actions and follow their script. Again, use language stimulation strategies. Also, older children who are engaged in dramatic play benefit from receiving a script for their play.
o Supply the Script – If they are stuck for idea, get them excited about the pretend setting (Where are we today?), the characters (Who will work at what?), and the plot (What are we trying to get done?). For example, set up a hairdressing studio and let them know they will need a person to do each task: wash, dry, cut and style, work the cashier, sweep up the hair, be the customer….Show them how to go through story books to pick out the hairstyle they want. Get them going then step back and let them work through the script together!
o Use strategies such as Act, Wait, & Watch for Response – Say or do something and allow them child to react verbally or non-verbally (eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, laugh…) before you continue. For example, blow bubbles towards some two year olds. Say “bubbles!” (As they pop the bubbles, you can slowly say “pop pop pop – pop the bubbles”). Then sit and wait. Watch for a child to express that he wants “more bubbles” by:
- Looking at you or at the bubble jar
- Responding in a physical way (a baby might start kicking is feet or change the breathing pattern)
- Saying something. Initially, model “more” or “more bubbles” each time. Soon the children will spontaneously say “more bubbles – please”.
- For ‘slower to talk’ children, try modeling the sign for more as you say it. Often, they will start by using the sign to see the bubbles fly!
- They learn that when they say (sign) something -they get something.
Save the Day
• You are ahead of the game!
• You talk for the child even when he has not communicated – “Trevor needs a cookie”.
• You assume what the child wants or needs and you take care of it lickity-split, before the child has a chance to try it alone or make a request – “I’ll glue this on for you.” “I’ll put on your hat for your”
• Overusing this style teaches the children to be passive and that others make their life happen for them. They may learn to sit and wait for someone to take care of things. There is no reason to become independent or to learn to use their words in a meaningful way.
- Act, watch & wait for a response (verbal or non-verbal)
- At snack, the children ask for a cookie and then receive a cookie. Some use sentences and other use their gestures – either way you model the word “cookie” or “This cookie is for —-“. Aiden does not talk yet. As the cookies are passed around, you bet that he wants one – but you hold off handing one to him. Finally, he stares at the cookie jar and looks at you. As the jar passes he reaches out his hand. Now he has communicated! (eye gaze, eye contact, reaching) As you hand him the cookie, you say cookie!
- Sarah is getting ready to go outside. She is looking for her mitten. You can see it, but you wait it out. Finally she approaches you and initiates an interaction with you, “My mittenzgone”. You respond, “Your mittens are gone? Let’s look together!”
o Pre-teach – Help the children learn self-help skills, such as asking for help or requesting an item from you or a peer. That way they will know the “script”, such as saying “help me please” when they have a problem.
• The majority of your interactions start with questions.
• You mean well, but often you are either:
o Asking the obvious or
o Adding anxiety by requiring an exact answer, such as with “What did you draw”
o Teaching the children to wait for a question to communicate
Considerations to try instead of:
o What did you draw? Try: “Tell me about this part.”
o Can you try this for me? Try: “Try this” or “1, 2 ,3, jump with me!”
o Can you open your lunch? Try: “Open your lunch. (wait) If you need
help, say help me please.”
o Is this your hat? (he’s wearing it) Try: “You’re wearing a hat! It’s a blue hat!
o Are you colouring? (she’s colouring) Try: “You’re colouring a picture.”
o Also try offering choices when needed:
- Where is the ball? … Is it under the table or on the chair?
- When should we go outside? … Right now or after snack?
- Why do we wear boots? … To keep our ears or our feet warm?
- Who is wearing blue?… Is it Brent or Jenni?
• You spend most of your communication time directing traffic, making commands, or telling the children exactly how they should be doing what they are doing.
• Too much of this type of communication may result in reduced: decision making, risk-taking, and creativity. Children may make fewer initiations and learn to only communicate in response to a direction.
• They may worry about doing something incorrectly or, on the other hand, they may not worry at all since they will be told when and how they will do something. They may feel like play is a test.
• They may not always understand why you told them to start or stop doing something.
o Pick and choose when you need to be directive and when you can let go and empower the children do the thinking, exploring, and doing. This will help them to interact freely with their environment and learn about the impact (good or less favorable) of their actions.
o Safety first – safety never takes a holiday. Be clear, direct, and firm – “Feet on the floor— you could fall and hurt yourself!” “Hands off of the fish – that hurts the fish!”
o Be consistent with what you expect and with the general routine. For example, everyone needs to keep their hands to themselves on the carpet – everyday-every time. “Hands on knees and look at me!” Everyone needs to put the blocks back in the bucket – everyday -every time. “Put it away to save the day!” With routine, the children may eventually require less direction. As their learning, try taking a step back to prompting or remind the children (“When you’re done – clean up your fun.”). Make sure you catch them increasing their independence with a task so you can celebrate with them.
Above and Beyond
• The words that you use, the length of your sentences, and the complexity of your speech may be far too advanced for the little ones to understand and to imitate.
Considerations to try instead of:
o “You are required to bring in your signed form to me on Thursday if you would like to go to the Berry Farm the following Friday.” (Too much info, big words)
- Try: Be more concise – “Take this paper home for your mom. Bring it back to school.”
- Try: Make it meaningful – Have the children play post-office and “mail” the form to their parents. That way they have to go through the act of manipulating the letter and anticipating their parents receiving it. Show the children pictures of the farm and let them taste berries. Tell them they can go when their moms and dads bring their letter to school.
o “Before you go outside, go to the bathroom” (directions are backwards)
- Try: Say what you want in the order you want them to do it. “First, go to the bathroom. Then, go outside.”
o “Chose the longest stick and glue it under the middle tree.” (What do the concepts longest, under, and middle mean? The child may end up picking any stick and putting it on any tree.)
- Try: Simplify – give one step at a time.
- Try: Pre-teach concepts – show the children what the concepts. Either show them on your art example while you repeat the concept word a few times, or let them experience the concepts in real life, such as at the play park. Let them go ‘under’ the table or under a tree. Let them take turns playing monkey in the ‘middle’. Let them make string snakes and learn about which one is the longest. Children need multiple repetitions and experiences with a concept to truly understand it.
• You have gained a heightened awareness of the children’s play and language skills
• You are familiar with their interests
• You are approachable and responsive to their interactions with you
o You interact with them at their physical level, face to face
o You show them you are listening and interested through non-verbal communication (eye contact, head nods, facial expressions…)
o You respond in a supportive manner with encouraging words
• Without testing, you use strategies to enhance their play, social, and communication development
Marnee Brick, MSc
Speech-Language Pathologist and Director of Speech Therapy
TinyEYE Therapy Services (Speech Therapy Telepractice)