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Conversation is king

Recent research has found that “back-and-forth exchanges boost children’s brain response to language: study finds engaging young children in conversation is more important for brain development than ‘dumping words’ on them”.

Research news from the McGovern Institute for brain research 2018. Therefore, to help children become enthusiastic learners, readers and writers, they all need language enriching experiences with frequent conversation with engaged adults.

An engaged adult will:

  • Actively wait for suggestions from the children

  • Provide resources to enrich and support the children’s ideas

  • Consistently welcome and encourage children to express what they feel and need

  • Show empathy, warmth, understanding and patience when children do not want to follow rules, get distressed or are confused

  • Seek out conversation rather than dominate the interaction

“A child who struggles with language will soon switch off, feeling threatened rather than challenged when asked to read or write. But all is not lost, we can engage them by speaking their language” Joseph Coelho, author.

If we are to learn to ‘speak their language’ we need to honestly delve into their world through quality observation and interaction.

In ‘Preparing for Literacy - guidance report’ (The Education Endowment Foundation, 2018) several practical ideas are shared in ‘High quality interactions – it’s harder than it looks!’.

Here’s our quick summary:

  • Offer interest, extend, and explore the children’s ideas e.g. “I wonder if...” or “did you know...”

  • Immerse yourself in the child's world and experiences...tuning in, showing genuine interest, and asking children to elaborate ‘I really want to know more about the blue thing in the garden’.

  • Think aloud as this is an important developmental through the planning and recap, clarify ideas, share a similar personal (simple) experience, and use encouragement to extend ‘you’ve thought about and planned your picture with lots of detail, what’s next?’

  • Show shared thinking...reminding children of previous steps or agreements, suggesting an alternative (staying on topic) and asking quality open questions ‘why does...?’ or ‘how did you...?’

  • “Use a wide range of approaches including shared reading, storytelling, and explicitly extending children’s vocabulary”

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