Childhood educators hold key to kids' verbal skills


Researchers at the University of North Carolina's Frank Porter Graham Chihld Development Insitute says a study shows how early childhood educators can ignite the growth of language and communication skills in infants and toddlers.

Nicole Gardner-Neblett and Kathleen Cranley Gallagher published the research-based recommendations online.

Gardner-Neblett, principal investigator for the FPG study, said: "Early language and communication skills are crucial for a child's success in school and beyond.

“Children who develop strong language and communication skills are more likely to arrive at school ready to learn and are more likely to have higher levels of achievement.”

Facial expressions

She said during the first years of life, children’s brains were developing rapidly, laying the foundation for learning.

The interactions children have with adults influence early brain growth and learning, giving early childhood educators a crucial opportunity to provide children with interactions that can support language and communication.

Language and communication skills include a child’s ability to express himself or herself through words, gestures or facial expressions, as well as the capacity to understand others.

 Co-principal investigator Kathleen Gallagher said that when teachers provide children with higher levels of language stimulation during the first years of life, children in turn have better language skills.

“When teachers ask children questions, respond to their vocalisations and engage in other positive talk, children learn and use more words,” said Gallagher.

Development of language

The FPG researchers said that many early child care educators can do more to actively engage children and facilitate the development of language and communication.

“More high-quality language interactions between children and adults will provide children with the kinds of experiences that can foster their growth,” said Gardner-Neblett.

Gardner-Neblett and Gallagher reviewed the current science and then streamlined their findings into 10 recommended practices.

More than Baby Talk: 10 ways to promote the language and communication skills of infants and toddles recommends one-on-one and small-group interactions that are tried and tested to support the development of language and communication in infants and toddlers from a variety of backgrounds.

Among the FPG team’s recommended interactions are responding to children’s vocalisations and speech, eliciting conversations and using complex grammar and a rich vocabulary. 

Each practice includes the science that supports it and examples of how to use it.

The “Get Chatty” recommendation, for instance, suggests commenting on routines like hand-washing, as they occur:  “We are washing our hands. We are making lots of big bubbles.”  Educators also can use longer sentences, draw connections between children’s lives and books and use songs to tell stories.

Infants and toddlers

Gardner-Neblett and Gallagher said that many of the practices work well in combination with one another and early childhood educators should keep in mind children develop differently and at varying rates.

In addition, while educators play key roles, they are not the only group that can make a marked difference for infants and toddlers.

“We think parents could use these same practices with their young children,” said Gardner-Neblett.

“By using these strategies at home, parents can provide children with the rich language exposure and opportunities they need to enhance their language and communication, helping them to achieve in preschool and beyond.”

 (Picture: Teacher and a child from Shutterstock)

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