Now you’re talking

Using two simple communication tools when talking with your child can make a big impact on their learning, emotional intelligence and behaviour, writes CLAIR EDGELER of BestStart Early Learning Centres.

As teachers, the team at BestStart is trained to understand how children learn and the ways to best support them learn and develop. We thought it might be helpful to share two valuable tools that you can use to encourage your child to become a confident, life-long learner:

Curiosity and open-ended questions
Asking questions that require a longer reply than ‘yes’ or ‘no’ can reap incredible results. These are often referred to as open-ended questions. Open-ended questions — such as “What happened to the rain?” — stimulate your child’s thinking by requiring them to engage with the world, rather than simply observing. They challenge your child to think deeply about the subject and explore their own thoughts and feelings about it. Your child’s language, communication, imagination and curiosity will be enhanced as they describe and share their thinking with you.

Practical questions — like “What do you think we need to do with the dirty washing on the floor?” — can engage your child in problem-solving and decision-making experiences that are empowering and encourage their independence and contribution to the wider family. Your child’s replies can lead to further discussion, often in directions you might never have predicted, creating more moments to laugh, explore, create and engage together.

Here are some simple starters for open-ended questions:

  • I wonder what will happen if…?
  • What do you think you will choose next… Why?
  • What does that cloud remind you of?
  • What happened after I left today?
  • Can you tell me about your day?
  • Can you tell me about how you’re feeling?

Descriptive feedback
Descriptive feedback is another brilliant learning tool. When you notice your child doing something that makes you smile, offering some descriptive feedback has a much greater impact than the standard “good girl” or “great stuff”. Descriptive feedback tells your child you noticed exactly what they did. When you reflect back to them what you saw, it helps them to better understand situations and their feelings. Taking the time to closely observe your child’s behaviour also tells them they are important.

Describing situations back to your child can help them understand how their behaviour may affect others. For example: “I saw you notice that Coco hadn’t had a turn yet so you took the bucket and offered it to her. Coco’s eyes lit up and she looked really happy! She gave you such a lovely smile and you smiled back! It looked like she was really pleased that you shared with her.” This is a great example of how to build your child’s knowledge and understanding of their feelings and behaviour, and their effect on others. When we talk about behaviour and feelings in this way with our children, we are helping to build emotional intelligence and effective communication skills that will last a lifetime.

Descriptive feedback can also encourage positive behaviours. “I noticed you carefully dipped your brush into the yellow paint and put it on the paper to make that gorgeous big, bright circle,” and other simple observations like this, give your child clear, positive feedback about their ideas and actions and introduce many concepts (dipped, carefully, big, bright, etc.). It also exposes them to more wonderful, useful words that will build their vocabularies and confidence to understand the world around them. And, finally, it provides them with an opportunity to add more information to what you have just said, e.g., “Yes, Mummy, I drew the sun.”

Passionate about the untold possibilities of play, BestStart Educare has produced Bright Ideas for Young Minds, a vibrant book that’s bursting with experiences and play ideas to pursue with
your children. best-start.org