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Babies from birth use communication in body language or sounds with us and from this we must acknowledge them and look to support them to the next level of development. There are many ways in which we can support and extend speech, language and communication development in the early years.
When we first are introduced to a child, we have to assess them to understand which level of language we are going to use with them, we would not say to a 6 month old baby, ‘Hello, how are you, what have you been doing today, what would you like for dinner etc’.
We must use lots of facial expressions and soften our tone of voice and use shorter sentences, we tend to speak slower as well so we say ‘Hellloooo’ with a big smile on our face when speaking to a baby. If we are showing a baby something when we are speaking to them we should point also to help them understand what we are saying to them.
Rhetorical questions are not real questions as the person asking the question as such, also answer it, so we might say to a baby ‘would you like your nap now, oh yes you would, you look very tired’ or ‘you would like your bottle of milk now, wouldn’t you’. It allows us to speak and communicate with a baby or toddler who will not answer our questions but it is a way of us using speech, language and communication on a daily basis, helping to be part of the day and feel involved.
Using eye contact and smiling the response it usually positive and received back with a smile or babble.
Closed questions should not be used all the time, only when a yes or no answer is needed, we must ensure we still use all others areas through out the day, we can use a closed questions like ‘have you finished your lunch’ ‘do you need help with your shoes’. Closed question should not be used on babies, but can be used on young toddlers that are able to understand the question and give a yes or no answer, or even able to shake or nod their head. Sometimes if a child is upset or does not know you (their first settling in), closed questions can be used to help if the child is feeling anxious and does not want to hold a conversation with you, obviously this is something you do not want happening every day and the child should start to speak and say words to you.
Open questions prompt a child to give a longer answer and are needed to develop their speech and language skills. So asking questions like ‘what shall we do today’ ‘what shall we have for lunch’. A child should not give a yes or no answer in open questions, but hopefully will speak up and answer the questions, sometimes you may get a ‘I don’t no’ answer, but that usually is due to others reasons. Babies will not be able to answer open questions and most of the time only children that feel comfortable with you, so the children that attend you setting for a while and are quite settled.
Using questions is only ever useful if the person asking the question is interested in the answer of the child, using open and closed question throughout is a good mix, but listening to the child is more important so if we say to them did you have a good day at playgroup? And they start to tell us what they liked and we walk off not listening, what was the point in the question.
Conversations (chats) are important to have with children throughout their day with you, just speaking to children like ‘have you got your shoes on’ if not having a conversation. We will not have a full on conversation with a baby, but our speech must be playful like peepo games or tickle toes. With a young toddler saying thankyou if they bring you a toy. These are the start of fun chats and teaching them that language is not always serious. When driving in the car, with a baby, really it seems you are talking to yourself when you say things like ‘oh look theres a tractor’ and carry on chatting away most of the journey, but doing this will extend the skills needed for their development. Again chats with older children in the car can be an excellent time. It is reasonably quiet, you see things you can talk about, the children are still and they know they have your attention (my best chats are with the children in the car). Conversations have to be when the adult is able to sit and listen and show the children that they have the attention of the adult.
Having activities at the ready for children will prompt speech and language, children will ask questions, listen to answers and probably ask more questions, the adult will explain the activity and sometimes children will have their own ideas, so this will prompt more speech etc. So just like we do we our own families, we run out of things to say, by choosing activities and then we can give information to the children and prompt more communication within the setting, keeping it fresh and exciting.
It is important to let parents know how valuable their contribution is towards their child’s speech, language and communication development. Sometimes parents are very busy and may only have 15 minutes a night to spend with their child like at bath time. I usually make notes in my assessments on the child if I feel they may benefit from a parent help or I may carry out a special assessment on a particular child and share the information with the parent, giving advice if needed. Most of the time I will just make it informal and have a chat when I can we the parent.
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