Effective communication skills are essential for early childhood educators to ensure a high level of academic care is provided and to develop strong relationships both inside and outside the classroom.
Without good communication there is no connection and a teacher will struggle to provide any type of educational experience to the children in their care. As stated by Johnson (1999)“communication is an ongoing process of sending and receiving messages that enable humans to share knowledge, attitudes and skills. Effective teaching depends on successful communication” (p4). Johnson (1999) believes that “communication is the driving force in any relationship or situation” (p3), therefore without effective communication the relationship and learning process will suffer.
The two types of communication used by teachers are verbal and non-verbal. Verbal communication is the most obvious form and is used in an early childhood education setting constantly throughout the day. This can include teacher to child, teacher to teacher, child to child and teacher to parent.
In an early childhood education setting, communication between teachers and children begins with a greeting in the morning as classes commence, and would continue constantly throughout the day. A typical day in a pre-school or infant’s school classroom would include activities such as roll call, group discussions and presentations like show and tell or news. These events would be a daily occurrence working to encourage communication between the teacher and the students, as well as between the students themselves, by giving each party a chance to speak and listen and exchange information and ideas. The day would continue with the teacher presenting new ideas and skills as part of the curriculum and, on a more casual basis, outside the classroom, during breaks and sport sessions.
It is important for early childhood educators to be able to recognise the different learning styles of children and be flexible when communicating concepts and the content of lessons. A study by Geng (2011) discusses several different techniques that can be used when communicating with children and these include voice control, for example, using a certain tone of voice to demand attention at the front of the class or a softer tone when trying to form a bond in the first phases of a relationship. Another useful technique when communicating with young children is to use short phrases and deliver instructions in a clear and concise manner.
By using too many words, or words children do not understand the main message can be lost as they become confused or lose focus. Another way to ensure children follow along easily is to repeat instructions and new information, reiterating the main points to ensure they are heard and understood. Requesting a student to repeat the instruction back to the class allows the teacher to ensure they understand and is another chance for the instruction to be given to the class again. Visual clues are also used in a learning environment and within early childhood education these can include tools such as flash cards, pictures or posters and can be particularly useful when learning new words, spelling and basic mathematics, such as times tables.
Non verbal communication is just as important as the more obvious verbal form. An early childhood educator must be able to communicate non-verbally. Johnson (1999, p.6) believes that children react better to this type of communication. Some examples of non verbal communication include facial expressions, touching and body movements, eye contact and use of personal space. By teaching children to understand non-verbal communication cues, their overall skills are enhanced as the two types of communication cannot succeed without each other.
Knott (1979) defines the types of non-verbal communication in three categories: kinetic; body movements and gestures, paralanguage; voice qualities such as grunting and yawning, and the use of social and personal space. She states that these types of communication “play a significant role in the development of effective communication… they are integral elements in all face to face communication” (p 227). It is essential that children learn to interpret these types of non-verbal communication. When combined with verbal communication, these skills will assist them to successfully communicate throughout life in many different situations, not just in an early childhood education setting.
To enable educators to be the best they can be they must be able to communicate well with their peers. Exchanging ideas and information on the curriculum, teaching strategies, students, and problem solving ideas are daily occurrences for teachers. This will assist them in developing skills and furthering their knowledge. Both verbal and non-verbal communication is used between peers. An example of verbal communication between teachers would be colleagues exchanging ideas in staff meetings and discussions and a non-verbal example would include written reports and records about the students.
Teachers play an important role in helping children develop relationships with one another. As an early childhood educator they are witness to the forming of many friendships between the children in their care. It is vital that these relationships are encouraged and guided to ensure all children feel happy, loved and secure with their place in the class or friendship group. Communication is the key to successful relationships and Kranyick (1975) believes that the ability to listen well is just as valuable as being able to project your message well. “The basic premise of the integrated day and family grouping is based on children learning from each other, they must listen to each other” (p 4). If children are not taught the importance of listening they may find their relationships suffer as it will be harder to form a bond if the other child feels what they are saying is not of value or importance.
To support the education of communication within the early childhood years, the Australian Government has developed The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). It is an outline for teachers comprising of five learning outcomes. One of the outcomes is ‘Children are Effective Communicators’. The document states that “communication is crucial to belonging, being and becoming… children communicate with others using gestures, sounds, language and assisted communication” (p 38). The document goes on to say that “Children feel a sense of belonging when their language, interaction styles and ways of communicating are valued”, which reiterates Kranyick’s (1975) beliefs discussed earlier.
The importance of the relationship between teachers and parents must not be underestimated. A positive partnership is essential in order to ensure that a child’s education is supported and encouraged from not only inside the classroom but also at home. As stated by Hughes & MacNaughton (2001) “Communication between parents and staff is an important part of the daily life in early childhood centres… research has shown that good staff-parent communication contributes significantly to the success of early childhood programs”.
An effective way to reach out to a parent or carer is through an information and feedback session, commonly known as a ‘parent – teacher night’. This allows the teacher to discuss a student’s progress and development, as well as voice any concerns they may have. It is also an opportunity for parents and carers to ask questions and learn how to better support their children on their educational journey.
In conclusion, good communication within an early childhood education setting is vitally important. It is essential that early childhood educators focus on developing strong and effective communication skills to be able to ensure a high level and successful educational experience for the children in their care. It is important that these skills are passed on to young children as when they develop good communication skills it can only help to build their foundation for learning and forming relationships as they go through the journey of life, including their future years of study and work, as well as their relationships with friends and family. In the words of Geng (2011) “communication is therefore a fundamental component in promoting positive behaviour”.
Johnson, M. (1999). Communication in the classroom. Place, stateUS Department of Education.
Geng, G. (2011). Investigation of teachers’ verbal and nonverbal strategies for managing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) students’
behaviour within a classroom environment. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, Volume 36 (Issue 7), 17-30.
Kranyik, M. (1975). Teaching to listen and listening to teach. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Conference on the Language Arts in Elementary School., Boston, MA. publisher.
Arnold, M. (1979). Early child-child communication. Theory into Practice, Volume 18 (Issue 4), 213-219.
Knott, G. (2011). Nonverbal communication during early childhood. Theory into Practice, Volume 18 (Issue 4), 226-233.
Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations for the Council of Australian Governments. (2009). Belonging, being and becoming: The early years learning framework for Australia. Canberra, Australia. Author.
McNaughton, D., Hamlin, D, McCarty, J, Head-Reeves, D, Schreiner, M. . (2007). Learning to listen: teaching an active listening strategy to preservice educational professionals. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education. , Volume 27 (Issue 4), 223-231.