Monday, June 23, 2014

Communication skills for three to six year olds

What is the child’s primary material for language? The adults in the environment. Reflect on the language you use when you speak with children. What vocabulary do you use with children? Is your language and sophisticated, but also appropriate. As an instructor, make an inventory of how many trees local to the native environment that you can name, how many flower, mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, insects, artists, poets, musicians, continents, mountains, rivers, and famous people important to that culture—be able to name at least ten. Which butterfly does this caterpillar they find at the park belong to? We must instruct the children in the things they would learn—start with the names of trees just in the backyard, along the playground at the school, and across the street from the school. Be familiar with every aspect of the culture in which they are surrounded. We continually identify and name new beings we encounter, and we model this for children.

As educators, we must be that much more aware and available to children, to fill in the cracks of what kind of knowledge is missing from the children. Once we have exposed them to the new ideas, we give them more details, and then give them the freedom to use that language. The child needs the freedom in the classroom to speak and practice language continually at a considerate volume level. Never compromise the volume of language, as it will disturb others if they are too loud. The only way they can learn to speak and read is if they are given the freedom to speak often in their prepared environment. There will be a grace a courtesy lesson on how to sit quietly for certain talks.

How can we ensure that students will converse on “academic subjects”? It is the tip of the iceberg of the prepared environment to provide children with rich experiences in music, art, dance, and botany, to deliver them to a greater context which will give them more enriching subjects for “academic” conversation. Primary children need carefully executed field trips than anyone else.  They may be talking about tv shows and movies, because it the biggest part of their narrow world. They need to be exposed to the broadest expression of human culture. Conversation is the outcome of personal experience. If we want to talk about language and writing being about our thoughts and experiences, only conversation about television shows can come out, if that is the only input. 

Do you have an early memory of an adult looking you in the face and listening to you explain something? Continually examine how you communicate with children. With our whole body and without words, we communicate not just what we need to do, but we communicate whether the person is valued and respected or not valued and currently ignored. Evaluate whether you are expressing that you are being listened to. The first things we have to do is communicate the relationship of trust and respect. Children respond to our tone, pitch, and body language, long before they can understand the meaning of words. When the words and the tone are not aligned, it gives very conflicting messages to the child. When we say something from the child, we have to show it and mean it from all aspects.

As educators, our words need to be exceptionally honest and kind. Observe your gentle, pleasant tone. Emit honesty, graciousness, and respect. It leads to the alignment of emotion with the words. Communicate that every person is important to complete the class. You made the difference. I missed you. Express missing someone in the positive sense, in how much joy you show to greet someone and welcome them in, not in asking where they were.

In speaking to the primary child, be brief and to the point. Don’t go on and on with explanations about why we should or should not do at that time. Express we do not do – thing, and discuss it another time. The message will be lost in the explanation.

We must take a pause before responding to inappropriate behavior. According to the limbic system, the brain’s first response is emotional, so we much pause before responding. Give the child the alternative to whatever inappropriate activity they are exhibiting. Give them a place that they can jump. Much of their disobedience comes from asking developmentally inappropriate things of them. Can we adjust our expectations? Can we adjust the choices available to them?

Model eye contact when you are speaking to children. Look at them when you are speaking to them, and mention it. Do not demand eye contact just during conversations for discipline; show how fully present you are with each of the children. The children will be long-winded as they are learning to organize their thoughts. While you are listening, nod, hmm, and ask simple questions about what happened next, who was there, and why you went to the place.

In listening, give them time to respond. So much of our communication with children is directive. If you listen to yourself with children and start putting a ticker for every time you are giving directions rather than having conversations, the conversation time should be greater than the time for directions. Allow time for the conversational response.

There are strategies to communicating that behavior must change, or the situation is not working. Invite cooporation by asking that the thing be done by all of us:
Let us all remember to keep our feet on the floor.
Let us all remember to walk.
It is time to go to bed.
It is time to eat dinner. (Rather than It is your bedtime. You go to bed now.)
It is time to put away your work. (Not, “I need you to put away your work.” – Do not transfer the need; not, “You need to put away your work,” when it is not the child’s need.)
Use observational language—I see that you are feeling upset. I see you do not want to go to sleep right now. Let’s take a break.
I see there is a big spill there. Let us get the mop.
You can help me by carrying this book. (Not, “Do you want to help?”)
Which bag do you want to carry? (Not, “Will you help me?”)

Let the language be reassuring, that we all make these mistakes, and we can do something about it. Avoid adding OKAY? at the end of the sentence; do not offer a choice in this case. If the action is a necessity, consider giving them a real choice within that framework for meeting that need. This is true, honest, respectful, and invites true cooperation and help. Even adding please implies that it is a choice. Simply state what it is time to do, what you see, and what we will all do. Avoid long-winded explanations. They will understand the necessity.

Jeannot Jonte Boucher is a Montessori educator and parent in Dallas, Texas. 

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