I love this quote and it is so relevant for the early years setting. It's time to reflect on our settings and to check that they truly are the language-enriching environment we claim them to be. I have visited several hundreds of early years settings in my time and there are some amazing things going on, but occasionally, there seems to be a common theme. Practitioners know that they have to encourage talking and so bombard the child with lots of language and ask lots of questions. And, yes, it's important to provide stimulating language but let me ask YOU a question: if you are bombarding them with language, when do they get a chance to get a word in edgeways?! If you are asking them tonnes of questions, doesn't this just encourage them to be a passive responder rather than an active participant in conversation?

A couple of months ago I sent you an environmental checklist with some of the strategies that I talked about in my childcare expo presentation so I just wondered: How's it going for you?! OK, time to confess - have any of you actually done the exercise that I sent through to you, i.e. videoing yourself or having someone video you spending five minutes interacting with a child? Don't worry if you haven't done one yet as there's still loads of time before the end of term! It's a really good time to do this just to check that the communication environment is right for the child.

And it gets better! I've made a video for you where I model doing the exercise, which gives you the opportunity to watch it, to go through the checklist and to tick off the strategies that I'm using. Then afterwards,  I replay the video (it's only a couple of minutes long!) and this time I add comments noting the strategies as I'm doing them and you can see whether or not you picked them up the first time round!

The little boy that I am chatting with is a really good communicator, however, it was the first time he had met me and so of course he had the potential to clam up and not say anything and go all shy. But why you think that he is happy to communicate with me? In particular, pay attention to how many questions I asked in this short clip. I'll give you a clue - I'm not a big fan of questions as they often shut down conversation!

So watch the video and then I've actually included a transcription of the clip so you can see the level of language I use, the turn-taking involved in the conversation and the balance between questions and comments:

Adult: He looks like a power ranger

Child: He’s spiderman

Adult: Spiderman

Child: And he’s batman

Adult: He’s Batman

Child: And that’s batman

Adult: This batman’s got a cape

Child: yeah (I waited) he flies with…when he flies it goes like that

Adult: The cape flies up behind him when he’s flying through the sky

Child: nods in agreement

Adult: And look ppsshh – he’s spinning a web

Child: my brother likes Woody

Adult: Your brother likes Woody. I like Woody and I like Buzz Lightyear too.

Child: My brother likes Buzz Lightyear

Adult: Oh! I thought that was Buzz Lightyear! But it’s not!

Child: That’s a Power Ranger.
So, now you've watched the video twice, how did you get on? Did you pick up on the strategies that I was using?

Now it's your turn:

Spend five or ten minutes interacting with a child and video it! It's really easy these days; you just whip out the iPad or your phone and just prop it on the table - that's all I was doing with the one I've just shown you. Then go back over it, maybe with a colleague, look at the checklist and just have a look to see where you are. People worry about taking videos but no one else is going to watch it! Secondly, only one of two things can happen:

  • First, you might look at the video and cringe, thinking  'I can't believe I spoke so fast / asked so many questions / didn't wait for a reply / spoke at a really high level of language' or any one of those things and that's OK because now you can identify one of the strategies that you're going to work on and then re-video yourself in a couple of weeks time and see if there's any change.
  • The other thing that can happen is you look at it and you go 'wow I'm doing really well actually!'  and notice that you are using all the strategies, in which case fantastic - the video is just proof that you're doing a really good job at supporting children and their communication skills, so just keep going!

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