A language-rich environment is vital to children’s early learning and social-emotional development. A language-rich environment isn’t just a room with books and a variety of print; it’s a room where children hear and participate in talking, singing, and reading.
Recent research out of MIT has shown that not just language but an intentional conversation between an adult and a child is what can actually develop the child’s brain. Many children hear mostly directions—like “sit down” and “line up”—which don’t provide the opportunity to engage in a conversation. Try these strategies to improve Language Modeling and engage all children in rich conversations that will prepare them to be readers, writers, and thinkers.
Get down on the child’s physical level (by kneeling, for example).
Listen to what the child says or pay attention to what they are doing or pointing at.
Observe the child’s facial or body expressions.
Comment on what the child is doing and wait for a response.
“You like the trains. You’re working hard to build a large train track.”
Ask questions about what the child is doing or plans to do.
“What are your plans for those blocks?”
Repeat what the child says then add a little bit more or a new vocabulary word.
Label or describe:
Child: I like it.
Teacher: You like juicy peaches.
Provide more information:
Child: [Pointing outside] Dark!
Teacher: The sky is dark. It looks like it may rain soon.
Help make connections between what is happening in the classroom and what is happening in homes or communities.
“What does this remind you of?”
“You like playing with the stuffed animals. Do you have any animals at home?”
Instead of this …
Adult: Eat your lunch.
Adult: What are you having for lunch?
Adult: Are you playing in the kitchen?
Adult: What are you cooking?
Adult: What will you do in the kitchen today?
The time has come for hard conversations.
That’s the feedback we have been receiving from educators across the country. There are plenty of tough conversations educators are trained, taught, or feel equipped to handle with children and families - gently bringing up a developmental concern, facilitating a disagreement between students, or explaining what happened with the classroom goldfish are all part of a day in the life. But in the last year, since the killing of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police, educators are increasingly asking for help in communicating more comfortably with young children about diversity and difference.
I was supposed to be an architect, instead I was a teacher of young children; it felt like my calling.
When I started my coursework, they tasked me with visiting multiple classrooms. It overwhelmed me when in some classrooms, children were crying, teachers were frustrated, and no one seemed to enjoy the day. I thought I had made a mistake. Thankfully, I had a professor who inspired me to continue. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the behaviors I observed in both children and teachers, the professor charged me to uncover the root of those behaviors.
And so, my journey to support social-emotional development began.
This past year of hybrid and virtual learning due to the pandemic highlighted the gaps in learning and the inequities that we already knew existed. It is apparent, now more than ever, that there needs to be a narrow focus on bridging the divides (e.g., digital) that exist and meeting students where they are in order to promote growth and put less emphasis on standardized testing. This would allow teachers to concentrate on curriculum with greater impact, differentiate their instruction, and utilize effective strategies that they know make a difference for children’s outcomes.
We’re closing out our celebration of NAEYC’s Week of the Young Child with Family Friday. We have revamped this post from spring 2020 a little to reflect the changes that have happened since last April, but as many families have learned this year, classic activities are classics for a reason. Please enjoy these ones with your young child, and remember - the love, support, and work you’re putting into them will change the world.