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Talking and Learning with Young Children

In Bookshelf Child Development

Summary

Talking and Learning with Young Children is an exploration and explanation of how children learn to communicate using language, how children use language to learn and what the role of the adult is throughout this process.

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The book begins with a discussion about what communication is for and how children perceive language in the world around them. Jones gives some useful and interesting examples of how very young children learn how to communicate with others around them to enable them to achieve desired goals, such as getting a yoghurt from the fridge or a biscuit from the tin. Jones has an easy style with enables us, the readers, to follow his train of thought quite easily. He uses his examples carefully to illustrate complex ideas to ensure that we understand his argument before moving us onto the next point. Bigger questions such as how children acquire grammatical knowledge and understanding are timely given the current DfE end of KS2 Spelling and Grammar testing regime.

Jones links his ideas throughout the book to theorists; he explains clearly Chomsky’s view that “language acquisition is an innate feature of human development”. He describes Halliday’s theory that children “use language in different ways to fulfil a variety of functions.” The role that adults play in children’s language acquisition is particularly well explained. Careful examples demonstrate how adults adapt the ways in which they talk to individual children in response to the language that the child is using to them. A fascinating exploration through the terms ‘Motherese’, ‘Infant Directed Speech’ and ‘Child Directed Speech’ raises questions of how children make sense and meaning from what is said to them and in turn what they learn to say to others. Jones suggests that “in order for children to develop language effectively they need the adult to share experiences with them, where the child can be actively involved”.This resonated with me in terms of the huge emphasis that we, as EYFS practitioners put on Sustained Shared Thinking. Jones’ thoughts about the interactions between children and adults (at home and with EY providers) confirm the importance of scaffolding, modelling and supporting children as they develop their own skills: he says “conversation is the place where children develop as talkers - through learning about language, themselves, the world and their place in that world.” Jones tracks the development of children’s language skills from the first sounds that a baby makes through to the complex, grammatically correct sentences that young children say.

Each chapter of the book ends with points for discussion, encouraging practitioners to draw on their own experiences to make sense of Jones’ points. There are also practical tasks to challenge practitioners thinking such as ‘listening to how their colleagues and the parents of children talk about ‘sharing’ - do they really mean ‘take turns’?(!) These practical ideas and exercises would make excellent staff meeting / training evening projects for settings to encourage staff to reflect on their own practice and consider how they use language with children of all ages. In it’s entirety, the book would be an excellent resource for any higher level student looking to further their own knowledge and understanding of how children learn to use language effectively.

This would be a very useful addition to any professional library. It helps us to understand the vital importance if high-quality interactions with all children, all of the time - including remembering that sometimes, less is more: listening and demonstrating understanding are as important as scaffolding and modelling language to children.

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