About really, really small (people’s) conversations

There can’t be many conversations ‘smaller’ than those between babies and their parents and carers, but that doesn’t mean those exchanges are unimportant. In fact, as we would surely all agree, precisely the converse is the case.  It’s no surprise then that a literature review and some direct research reported today (19 October) add credence to this commonly held belief.

Not only are the first 24 months of life critical for cognitive and physical development, but the evidence suggests once again that this period is fundamentally important for communication itself in later life.

Asking the parents
Nonetheless, this research with parents for the National Literacy Trust ‘Talk To Your Baby’ campaign demonstrates that:

For parents, communicating in an informal way with their child, such as talking, was seen as a natural part of parenting that happened throughout the day. Consequently there had been little thought about this subject prior to research in terms of whether they were interacting sufficiently or correctly, or what such a level of interaction might be.
… most [of those asked] assumed that they spent a lot of time talking to their children, although they were often not considering the importance of interaction over talking, i.e. letting the child respond, and reacting to those responses. In contrast, communicating could mean narrating, particularly when children were very young and were not thought to understand speech.

The critical first stage
Given the criticality of this very first stage in any child’s life, it’s clear that there’s never a time when real communication – interacting, listening and taking turns to respond, not just language – can be ignored. Already, the infant school (Years 1-3) curriculum emphasises communication; but that of course focuses solely on the children, not also to any degree on parents and carers.

Now however we have even more evidence that, whether it’s singing songs, reading stories or simply having baby facing mum or dad when in the pram, ‘conversations’ can’t start too early.

Social policy and outcomes
But whilst for some parents and carers this is self-evident and easily delivered, for others there are genuine obstacles: embarrassment, low literacy, time, other demands…. the list is long.

So how much of a priority can very early years communication skills be? And are we missing a trick in imagining that the benefits of parents and children ‘talking’ from day one accrue only to the child?

* Must very early years communication skills remain largely a private matter, or should campaigns such as Talk To Your Baby, which involve parents and carers directly, be central to state early years policy?

* What will be the likely later social / community outcomes, if parents and carers are encouraged more actively to nurture not just ‘language’, but the whole gamut of communication skills, in their children right from the very start?

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Posted on October 19, 2010, in Reading and Research and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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