Friday, 9 December 2011

How to interact with pre-schoolers

I have seen some really good nursery worker-child interaction this week and some awful examples too. I won't  name and shame the bad ones but the good ones need mentioning. Jayne from Little people Nursery in Burntwood and Kelly, Lynne and Sara from Little Springs in Rugeley are all natural communicators. They have a skill for interacting with pre-schoolers which really brings out the best in the children. I mentioned it to one of them and she dismissed it by saying it was instinctive but in reality, nowadays it isn't. Our natural talents as communicators are diminishing. 

So what makes them so good, why are they able to bring out the best in the little ones? The Hanen course I went on last week was all about showing parents how small changes to their own behaviour can have a dramatic effect on their child's communication. According to Hanen, the following techniques help to engage a young child in conversation:
  • Accept anything the child says as meaningful and try to interpret it for them. For example, a non-verbal child took a coat to Sara and lifted his arms, she said, 'Oh, you want your coat on? I'll put your coat on'. 'Coat on' is exactly what he would have said if he could talk. I also saw a TA just take a coat from a child who handed it to her and put it on while carrying on a conversation with another adult. This was a missed opportunity for interaction.
  • When interacting with a child always have eye contact. Kelly was giving instructions to a child about a whole group activity so she crouched down to his level. Always be on their level with your face turned to the child's to face. The same TA mentioned above gave a very long and complex instruction 30 reception children while facing  away from them and trying to talk over her shoulder. Out of the 30, it looked as if just 2 little girls actually understood the task. Then to add insult to injury they were all told off for 'not listening'!
  • Use lots of different tones of voice, facial expressions and gestures. These help children to interpret the meaning of what is being said. All the staff mentioned are very expressive which helps keep their attention too. Imagine if you were in a  foreign country where you didn't understand everything that was said to you,  it would be really helpful if people used facial expression and gesture to supplement what they said to you. A quiet, flat affect is also the easiest way to switch off a child. Life is exciting to a two and three year old, working with them gives an opportunity for adults to be excited about it too!
  • Follow the child’s lead in playing even if the child plays with a toy in a different way than would be expected. It's only adults who stick to rigid rules while playing, who says the jigsaw pieces can't be spun or stacked or become chips?
  • Keep the conversation going by using the right type of questions. Try to avoid closed questions like “What is this?” or questions that answer themselves like “You want a biscuit, don’t you?”. Rather, use choice questions like “Do you want juice or tea?” or open-ended questions like “What happened?”
  • Wait for a child to say something, don't step in and anticipate. As with the coat example earlier, if a child who can talk, just hands the coat, wait for him to ask you to put it on. Hanen have what they call 'owling': observe, wait and listen. 
  • Add onto what the child says, so if the child says blue car, say 'yes a big blue car'. Jayne is excellent at doing this in a really natural way.
If you want to read more these very simple but powerful tips there are two Hanen publications which are well worth the effort to read. They are clear, simplistic and very, very sensible.


Small Talk SLT are able to offer Hanen 'It takes Two to Talk' programme for parents and from July 'Learning language and loving it' for early years professionals.

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