‘To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.’– Anthony Robbins
Over the holidays, I travelled for the first time in ages. I was struck by many things that are new or feel different, but the most striking was to do with communication. At the airport, people were found to be queuing in the wrong line and some even in the wrong terminal. They were getting angry with the ground staff, but they hadn’t asked for help or looked clearly at the signs. At the baggage drop, people had items in their luggage they shouldn’t, even with the clear, illustrated lists in front of them, and had to discard certain items then and there. There was also a lot of noise and announcements, as well as babies and toddlers crying and shouting – very clear communication that it was all too much. Then, frustratingly, my luggage didn’t make it to the destination with me and the lack of communication was my biggest issue: automated emails from the airlines, no person to talk to and no idea of what was happening (it did turn up two days before I came home, with a random email from a third party).
What does it take to be an effective communicator?
The Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework is the set of government guidelines that determines our primary motivations in early childhood education. The framework sees communication as crucial – it is one of the five outcome areas that we plan, document and assess with the children. The overarching goal is that ‘children are effective communicators’.
My experience in the airport showed how important it is for us to all communicate effectively and to be actively receptive to communication coming from others. So, what does it take to be an effective communicator?
Those babies and toddlers who were crying were communicating their needs, frustrations and emotions in the most effective way they know. It is up to the receiver, as parents, friends and teachers who know the child, to understand and interpret that communication. Sometimes it is easy to forget that communication is a two-way process – the receivers need to be open to the communication, to be present in the moment and to listen to what is being said. It can be through verbal communication – using words to express oneself – but equally we have to be looking out for the non-verbal communication cues too – body language, gesture, signing, facial expressions or intonation – which can sometimes convey even more than words.
The spectrum of communicating
We have many children in the ELC who have English as a second or third language and many have great non-verbal communication skills. I marvel daily at these children and their creativity and ability to communicate their ideas and needs.
Children can learn to develop their communication, express their ideas and convey meaning using a range of media, symbolic play and the creative arts, like drawing pictures or letters. We have several children who do not yet have the confidence to speak in English but are happily writing letters and words and drawing detailed pictures to convey their ideas and meanings – truly amazing communication. As children explore books, listen to stories and sing songs and nursery rhymes, they are engaging with a range of symbols and patterns and beginning to work out what they mean. For example, think of the number of times you have read the same story book to your child, and they learn to repeat it back to you, turning the pages in the way you have done – they have begun to understand those symbols have meaning. When you decide to be creative and change some words in the story, they get cross with you or laugh and say you are silly or have it wrong. These are all important aspects of learning communication.
These days, from a very young age, children are also learning to use ICT (information and communication technologies) to represent their thinking and explore ideas. They can make meaning of their world and explore ideas though roleplay using props and though investigation of information.
We need to remember that children in the early years are like sponges. They are much more sensitised to their environment as they learn from watching and listening to the adults around them. They learn through modelling communication they see and hear – both the appropriate and inappropriate – and they copy it back to us, often when we least expect it.
We have a big responsibility to support their learning as a communicator in the most positive way we can. This includes being a good role model; encouraging their curiosity for stories, art and music; and by empowering them to express their thoughts and feelings.
Director of ELC Kew