The Importance of Conversation in Early Years

Early Childhood Specialist, Ann, shares interaction strategies that you can use when playing and talking with your child, as well as ways we support children with communication and language development in our Bright Horizons nurseries.

Human beings are tuned in to language from birth. From sighing, cooing, and babbling, to their first words, babies soon learn that language is a powerful tool in human society.

Brain research gives credibility to the view that the social environment in the first five years of life is critically important in promoting optimal language development, and the role of adults and older children is hugely significant. The architecture of each of our brains is shaped in our early life, and our language fluency and capacity for conceptual thought flow from that early experience.

Your child learns language by being with people who encourage their efforts to communicate and look for opportunities to communicate with them, first with speech and then with print. They learn language not simply by being in a noisy, language-filled environment, but through direct personal communication and eavesdropping: listening carefully to the dialogues of others. From infancy forward, it’s important to seize opportunities to talk one-on-one to your child.

Three-year-olds listen intently, collecting words and phrases, learning grammatical rules as they go along. Questioning and playing with sounds and ideas, they evolve into four and five-year-olds who love to talk. They ramble on about anything and everything, move about from topic to topic, and talk to themselves as well as to others. They try new words, particularly enjoying words with dramatic or playful sounds or shock effects on others. They love to create stories from pictures and real objects and are ready to begin tackling the process of deciphering those squiggling lines on a page. At this age, a child’s speaking vocabulary grows from a few hundred words to more than a thousand - and they understand many more. By the age of five or six, in their speech, they will have mastered complicated rules of grammar and syntax, essentially mastering the language of their culture.

Interaction Strategies to Try at Home

Below is a list of interaction strategies that you can use when talking or playing with your child to support their language and thinking:

  1. Inviting children to elaborate

“I would love to hear more about…”

  1. Re-capping

“So, you think that…”

  1. Offering your own experience

“I like to cut my sandwiches into triangles when I make my packed lunch”.

  1. Clarifying ideas

“OK Sarah, you think this pebble will grow if we plant it?”

  1. Suggesting

“We could try doing it this way…”

  1. Reminding

“Don’t forget, you told us if we mixed red and white, we get pink”.

  1. Using encouragement to further thinking

“You have thought a lot about where to put the wings on this plane, but where will you put the wheels”?

  1. Offering an alternative viewpoint

“Maybe the wolf just wanted to be friends with the 3 little pigs”.

  1. Speculating

“Do you think the 3 little pigs might have liked the wolf to come and stay in their house as a friend?”

  1. Reciprocating

“It’s a good job you had your umbrella Peter, I forgot mine and look how wet my hair is!”

  1. Asking open-ended questions

“What do you think…?” “What will happen if…?” “Why does this…?” “How does this…?” “How did you…?”

How We Support Communication and Language Development in Our Nurseries

In our Bright Horizons nurseries, you will see children learning to read, write, and speak in a variety of ways, beginning in the Baby Room and extending through all the age groups.

Nursery practitioners are language mentors or “scaffolders.” They are aware of each child’s development and interests and are alert to opportunities to support their language learning. You’ll hear conversation, storytelling, chanting, singing, poetry, and finger plays in all age groups.

Practitioners are constant models of appropriate language. Children observe them reading, writing, speaking, singing, and listening throughout their day, choosing their words and enunciation carefully.

The environment is print-rich, which means the rooms are filled with signs, labels, pictures, and materials for children to explore, and you’ll see books being read to individual children and in small groups.

Writing areas have materials that allow children the freedom to explore their language, writing, and drawing skills using different media.

External resources

I CAN’s Talking Point for Parents: This gives parents/carers the information you need to help children develop their speech, language, and communication skills.

I CAN’s Ages and Stages: Children develop language at different rates. However, understanding what is typical can help you identify speech and language problems early. You can also find out how to help your child learn to talk and develop their communication skills.