Positive Relationships: Home learning - One to one

Penny Tassoni
Monday, August 25, 2014

Parents play a crucial role in helping children learn to communicate - but there is not a one-size-fits-all approach, says Penny Tassoni.

While many children are doing well with their language and so begin Reception with fluent speech and language, there is a concern about the rising number of children who are not fluent at four years old. As a result, there has been a focus on children's speech and language in the past few years.

In England, projects such as Every Child A Talker have been rolled out, while locally many speech and language teams have developed their own resources.

The reason for the focus is easy to understand - the level of children's language can impact on their life chances.

Fluent language is linked to reading and writing and so any delay can make it hard for children to learn. It is also linked to healthy emotional and social development and so building friendships and controlling emotions becomes harder with delayed language.

While early years settings can undoubtedly support children's language, parents have the trump hand. This is because parents share a unique emotional bond with their children, which can act as catalyst to motivate communication.

SIMPLE AND NATURAL

Sadly, some parents do not realise that the time they spend chatting to their children matters. They can assume that the 'real education' takes place while their child is with early years practitioners. After all, practitioners follow a curriculum, carry out assessments and write reports. Practitioners talk about 'next steps', inspections and transitions.

By contrast, walking to the local shop and talking about nanny might seem - from a parent's perspective - too simple and natural for it to really count for anything. The reality, of course, is something very different.

We know that time matters when it comes to communication. Long interactions are better than short ones. One-to-one interactions with a sensitive adult are extraordinarily precious and can have a huge impact on children. So while parents may think nothing of that trip to the shop or the chat about what to have for tea, those uninterrupted individual interactions are hard for group care settings to replicate day in and day out.

Many parents do not realise this and perhaps a good starting point is to let them know that there are limits to how much one-to-one interaction can be provided at the setting. Their input is not just 'nice'; it's essential.

ENJOYMENT

Although we as practitioners need to take communication and language seriously, parents should focus on having fun with their children. This is because when interactions are mutually enjoyable, the adult becomes fully engaged and their communication style improves. You only have to watch a dad lift their baby up in the air to see great eye contact, a wide smile and a tuneful chuckle.

If we keep watching, we will also see how the baby responds and how together the father and child start to mirror each other. So when it comes to suggesting activities for parents to carry out at home, it is important to give permission for parents to focus on those activities that they are likely to enjoy.

Interestingly, for some parents, this will not be play. There are some parents who find playing with young children the antithesis of pleasure. They can look and feel bored sitting on the floor pretending to drink cups of tea or being asked to help build a castle. The temptation to send a quick text or check out the action on Facebook quickly becomes overwhelming.

Yet those same parents can transform into expert communicators in other situations, such as taking the dog for a walk or making cakes.

So it can be worth having an honest conversation with parents about what things that they have tried out with their child and what they most enjoy doing.

Finally, perhaps we also need to consider looking at ourselves in this respect. Practitioners are likely to have different preferences when it comes to communicating and playing with children.

In group care settings, there will always be those who find the role-play area an easy place to enjoy the company of children, while others might love to engage with children in the garden or on a walk.

As professionals we can probably turn our hand to a range of situations, but it is always worth playing to our communication strengths.

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