We all know how important it is to engage young children in lots of conversation and talk, but sometimes it is difficult in practice. Sometimes adults don’t know how to start a conversation with a young child or how to talk to a child before they are able to talk back. If kids could tell us how they wanted adults to talk to them, they may come up with some tips like these:
I may be teeny tiny, but when you speak to me right away, you are showing me that conversation is for me too.
When I show you that I am really interested in something, talk to me about it. I am more receptive to language at those moments.
I’m talking too!
Even if I haven’t learned to say any words yet, I am talking with you when I move my body, smile and make sounds. Tell me you like to talk to me too!
For Kids Just Starting to Talk
I like big words!
I am able to learn WAY more words than the average adult so I like interesting words. Using two words to describe something is a great way to show me a new, interesting word. “Your bag is so full of books, it is bursting!”
Perfect the pause!
If I am still new to this talking thing, it might take me a while to answer you. I have to hear your question, understand it, figure out what I want to say and make my mouth say it. That might take a while. Silently and slowly count to eight to give me time to answer you.
Ask me about this cool thing!
I am way more likely to want to talk about something interesting so ask me about my light-up shoes, the robot I played with in the program or the horses in the book I picked out.
Repeat after me!
If I am two or three, I’m probably still figuring out how to put my thoughts together to tell you something. If you repeat the last thing I said, I may tell you more. “There was a big slide!” “A big slide?” “Yeah…I went down fast.” “You did?” “Yeah, and then BOOM!”
Help me say goodbye!
I’m four and SO excited to tell you all about my pet, the time I saw a lizard in the yard, all about my green socks which are better than my yellow socks which are itchy, and… I’m still learning about conversations and I need help ending them sometimes. It is ok to tell me that you love my stories and can’t wait to hear one next time.
For All Ages and Stages
Look at me!
Do your best to make eye contact so I know you’re talking to me. If you can get on my level, even better.
Don’t pressure me!
I may be feeling shy or just trying to focus on my play and not want to talk. It’s ok to be friendly, but please respect my feelings.
Of course, these aren’t just important for youth staff – share them with your non-youth staff coworkers too to make sure everyone is empowered to talk with littles at your library!
Stephanie Smallwood is the early literacy specialist at the Springfield-Greene County Library District in Springfield, Missouri. Smallwood wrote this piece as a member of the ALSC Early Childhood Programs and Services committee.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: Commitment to Client Group