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Learning at home: Having conversations that support learning

Talking with your child is one of the most important things you can do to support their learning! Language helps build children’s brains and gives them the means to think and develop ideas and express themselves. The quantity and quality of children’s language experiences are strongly linked to their cognitive and language development, their social skills, and their later academic performance. Research shows that meaningful communication with others is highly beneficial for children’s language development and later academic success.  Language skills are improved by two-way communication rather than passive listening or one-way interaction with a tablet, smartphone screen or television.

How to have rich conversations with your child:

  • Just talk! Every moment is a potential talking moment. Talk with your children about what you are doing, what you see, what you notice about them or what they are doing, where you are going. Invite their responses and encourage them to join in the conversation.
  • Validate and expand on what children say using new words and phrases to expand and extend upon their ideas. Adding more information can be a natural part of the back and forth of a conversation, and shouldn’t interrupt the flow of conversation.
  • Be available, engaged and responsive to your child. Read to them, have them read to you, or join in and play.
  • Use conversations to build up your child’s vocabulary by using rich and varied vocabulary in play. Outdoor play or science activities provide many opportunities to talk about nature, size, shape, textures, quantity and temperature. Make a point of using specialised language related to topics, such as explaining the terms ‘’metamorphosis’ when learning about butterflies. Rather than avoiding difficult or complex words, just explain them.
  • Make more comments and ask fewer questions when talking with your child, as too many questions can make children feel as if they are being tested, while comments offer children more vocabulary, sentence structures and knowledge. 
  • Engage children in cognitively challenging conversations such as sharing opinions and ideas in pretend play, analysing experiences and different ways of doing an activity or solving a problem, and theorising about how things work.  Give children information when they need it, but avoid too much ‘telling’ as children are likely to become passive, bored and disinterested.
  • Ask questions at both low level and higher levels. Lower level questions elicit labels (‘do you know what this is?’), descriptions (‘what do these look like to you?’) and recall (‘what do these remind you of?’). High level, cognitively demanding questions encourage explaining, imagining, interpreting, predicting, and forming opinions. These are generally open questions such as: ‘What do you think would happen if…?’ or ‘How could we end the story differently?’ Ask children to investigate how and why things work. Encourage them to find out more about things that interest them.

Dr Vicki Hargraves

Vicki runs our ECE webinar series and also is responsible for the creation of many of our ECE research reviews. Vicki is a teacher, mother, writer, and researcher living in Marlborough. She recently completed her PhD using philosophy to explore creative approaches to understanding early childhood education. She is inspired by the wealth of educational research that is available and is passionate about making this available and useful for teachers.

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