The art of conversation: talking in the Early Years

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By Hilary White

This article focuses on everyday strategies for encouraging conversation in your setting.

Nursery children playing with teacher in the classroom

Human interaction is a basic need, and conversation is one of the key aspects of this interaction. The 2021 Communication and Language ELGs highlight the importance of conversation with the Listening, Attention and Understanding goal to ‘Hold conversation when engaged in back-and-forth exchanges with their teacher and peers’. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of conversation to the young child’s overall learning and development. Nevertheless, it’s not always easy to fit into the busy environment of the early years setting. Try the following ideas as a way of prioritising conversation and ensuring that your ‘back-and-forth’ exchanges are as meaningful as possible.

Prioritise conversation

Raise awareness amongst staff that conversation is important and needs to be prioritised whenever possible. Spontaneous chatting is just as valuable a learning experience as a carefully planned activity, and practitioners should watch out for ‘in the moment’ conversational opportunities. Ask any extra helpers, such as students or parents, to join in with spontaneously chatting to the children.

All kinds of conversation

It’s helpful to keep in mind the many different purposes of conversation, including:
  • Making sense of a concept, observation or event.
  • Expressing thoughts and developing ideas.
  • Planning activities, games, events and projects.
  • Getting to know other children and making friends.
  • Expressing, exploring and learning about feelings.
  • Asking/answering questions and asking for help.
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