Seeing children as capable and powerful communicators from birth onwards means recognizing them as active social partners who are able to initiate and respond to communication exchanges. Conversation can occur with even the youngest infants when adults are attuned to the child’s subtle verbal and non-verbal cues and gestures and when they respond by interacting in “serve and return” exchanges. Responsiveness to the infant’s communication “wires” the child’s brain for learning.
Goal for children: Every child is a capable communicator who expresses himself or herself in many ways. Children are able to communicate when they:
• initiate, respond to, and engage in reciprocal communication with others;
• learn, understand, and use language for a variety of purposes;
• use varied forms of creative expression to communicate feelings, experiences, ideas, and understanding of the world around them;
• express themselves in their first language in addition to gaining competence in language acquisition;
• participate in meaningful interaction and communication with peers and adults, regardless of their abilities;
• develop increasing capacity in the foundations of language that will support later reading and writing.
Program expectation: Early childhood programs foster communication and expression in all forms. Educators can create contexts that foster communication by:
• being attuned and responding to children’s varied cues and communications;
• engaging in authentic, reciprocal communication with children, where children participate as both initiators and equal partners;
• facilitating successful communication between children by helping children listen to and express themselves to one another;
• documenting children’s communication to help them revisit thoughts and ideas expressed in order to extend their understanding;
• providing time, space, and materials to encourage expression through creative materials that reflect children’s capabilities as well as their social and cultural background;
• engaging and cultivating children’s connections with stories and books in a variety of contexts (e.g., by sharing books and telling stories with individuals, small groups, and large groups), and for a variety of purposes (e.g., to foster close relationships, explore and play with language structures, recount past events, research ideas, spark conversations, and connect with cultural traditions);
• weaving language- and literacy-related activities and materials into all daily experiences, routines, and physical spaces;
• working with families and community members to find ways to support and enrich the transmission of language and culture;
• becoming aware of the many “languages” children use to communicate and providing individualized support so children of all abilities can express themselves and be heard;
• reflecting continuously on and seeking to improve their own communication strategies and techniques for facilitating responsive, authentic conversations with children and families.
Conversations can happen with children of all ages and abilities (e.g., with infants or non-verbal children: by repeating sounds and gestures initiated by the child, following the child’s gaze, and verbalizing what you believe the child is communicating; by building on child-initiated conversation as a partner rather than the “director” of the conversation).
Encourage conversation among children (e.g., rather than speaking for the child, act as a coach to help the child find the right words and approach; model listening strategies and support the child’s listening skills).
Support children’s expression in all forms. For example, some programs are rethinking art activities – moving away from using pre-cut materials or expecting children to complete specific adult-determined products and instead considering children’s art as a form of expression. When educators provide good quality materials and ample time throughout the day, children are encouraged to express themselves through drawing, painting, sculpture, movement, music, and storytelling to communicate their exploration of the materials or to represent their ideas, experiences, and understanding of the world.
Support children’s language and literacy development throughout the environment (e.g., recall and retell past events; revisit documentation with children; place familiar print materials and books in different areas to spark ideas for play and exploration
– for example, cookbooks in the kitchen area, architectural photos as a resource for construction projects; encourage children and families to create their own books and stories to share with each other).