In the early years, there is wide recognition that children’s learning behaviours and language development are paramount. Therefore, making a careful review of how your environments provide rich opportunities for children to express their ideas, develop creative thinking and extend their vocabulary across the whole curriculum, is essential to ensure success for all.
We know that well-developed self-regulation and language enables us to communicate to those around us, make our needs known, discuss ideas, offer opinions and participate in the social world. This in turn builds our sense of identity, sense of place and belonging, and enables us to have a stake and purpose in the communities of which we are a part – all key factors that are vital for securing emotional wellbeing.
The vehicle for learning and thinking
As educators it is critical that we recognise the growing evidence that language is the explicit vehicle through which learning and thinking takes place.
The process of ascribing words and language to objects, emotions, thoughts, and our ability to recall, are the means by which we develop communicative and expressive worlds; connecting learning and successfully building relationships.
Complex language, sophisticated thinking
It follows then, that the more complex the language we use, the more sophisticated our ability to think and understand.
Young children acquire language by being exposed to a rich diet of vocabulary and experiences in which new words, idioms and forms of expression float naturally and seamlessly onto experiences and conversations.
In the early years there is wide recognition that children’s learning behaviours, language development and love of story are paramount
As with learning anything, there can be huge variables in this. Some children pick up new words very quickly after hearing them just a few times and are then able to integrate these appropriately into their everyday speech. Other children need additional ‘consolidation’ to reach this point and may have to hear the same words many times over and in many contexts to be able to use them in the same confident way.
It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to ensure that we offer multiple opportunities for children to hear and use new vocabulary if it is to become truly embedded.
The lexicon of vocabulary
Think of simple words that you use every day and employ a thesaurus. Children aren’t just ‘hungry’; they could be famished, starving or ravenous – maybe hungry enough to ‘eat a horse’.
It isn’t just ‘cold’ outside, it could be chilly, cool, freezing, bitter, nippy, crisp, raw or frosty. It could ‘feel like an icebox’ out there or ‘be nice weather for a polar bear’.
The use of such language not only opens up the possibilities of how nuanced and expressive language can be, but it can also start discussions on the origins of such words and enable children to invent their own and enjoy playing with language.
An environment that inspires curiosity
At Early Excellence, we believe that central to this is also a skilfully planned environment and experiences that inspire curiosity, prompt the need for more complex language, facilitate progression, encourage talk, discussion, conversation, questioning and storytelling – and that’s why we specialise in providing high-quality learning resources including:
● Natural objects and artefacts that prompt close observation, encourage questioning and hypotheses and naturally form the need for specific language and vocabulary to describe them.
● Small world figures, scenery and props that lead to storytelling; re-enacting plot, characters and motives and invariably helping expression of emotions, events and other phenomena.
● Role play costumes and props which further the need to story-tell, including the critical skill of negotiating, co-operating and compromising as other children become involved and the story changes to accommodate them, their experiences and needs.
● Small construction and blocks that enable the complex world of design and problem-solving to become part of children’s experiences, with the necessity of language a key part of any project as it unfolds.
With the power of such carefully selected resources in mind, it is important to consider how well each of your classrooms presents these opportunities, experiences and challenges, and supports effectively the process through which children develop their vocabulary, understanding and use of words in conversation and thinking – the foundations of much success for all.
Transforming learning with Early Excellence
By Laura Rowlands, senior teacher and Joanne Speight, pre-prep coordinator at Yarm Preparatory School, North Yorkshire
“With the help of Early Excellence, we transformed our whole environment, redesigning the space and investing in many of the wonderful Early Excellence learning resources.
“Straight away it was clear to see higher levels of engagement and concentration in our children which led to deeper levels of learning across the EYFS curriculum. The open-ended resources provided so many opportunities to develop children’s communication and language skills – particularly seen in the Block Area, Small World Area and the Transient Art Area (all resources purchased from Early Excellence).
“We are also delighted to work with Early Excellence as a partnership school, enabling all of our team to access high-quality CPD. This has facilitated the early years team to gain more knowledge and understanding about how to organise the environment to promote independence. It ensures that every opportunity, even tidy-up time, is a learning opportunity!
“We love what we’ve done. The transformation of the environment, the provision areas and the new resources have had a huge impact on our children. Our parents also comment on the lovely cosy spaces, the lighting and our displays. It really is a special place to be.”