Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Language of School

Recently I had the opportunity to attend an afternoon training session on Speech & Language Development with other nursery staff in my area. It was facilitated by an ex teacher who now advises schools on how to develop language & writing within schools. She was a very inspiring speaker & her advice was all very practical & doable. The 3 of us from my setting were pleased to realise as we listened that we are doing everything she suggested to help the children in our class develop as competent speakers & hopefully then eventual writers. We ask lots of open ended questions, especially in the 30 minute whole class story time when the children will often be asked to problem solve how a scenario might be reached, for example, How would a tiny goat manage to get up onto a high bridge. Children as young as 3 will come up with amazing suggestions if allowed time to think & to become comfortable at putting forward suggestions.
The trainer also lamented the fact that children no longer get to just play outside with open ended resources to help develop their imaginations. Again we could all feel a little smug as we thought of our class spending time outside every day creating their own little worlds using sticks, pine cones & tyres to represent anything from boats to fairy wands.

Then she spoke about how the language of school is so different to that of home and how some children will really struggle with this.
It really got me thinking, I am quite aware that when a child starts nursery they have to learn a lot of new words & I always stress this on the information night in June before the children start. It is one of the reasons that our settling in time is probably one of the shortest session wise (2 hours) and the longest time wise (4 weeks). There are so many new experiences & vocabulary for the children they need time to absorb it all & adjust.

I have been in the same school now for 12 years & therefore I am used to all those words & sometimes it's hard to remember that to the 3 year old child it is all new. We talk about getting a ticket to have snack, let's face it at home you don't need a ticket if you want something to eat & unless the children have come from another child care setting before they start nursery they won't have come across this before. They will hear new phrases like the craft table, loft, block corner, puzzle table etc. We ask them to wear aprons at the water & paint and I bet very few have heard that word before nursery. 
I remember one year after about a week, I had a group in the story room & was calling them by name & saying 'OK x you can go & play in the classroom' when one little girl asked me, 'What's a classroom?' - we as adults assume too much sometimes!
In my setting we talk about rain gear all the time & yet I have had a child ask why we wore reindeer at Windmill once!

Teachers also use words & phrases that aren't that familiar to others outside the school environment or is such common use, we need to be very careful we don't bombard parents with words we are used to but will just confuse them. As a teacher of preschool children I talk about fine & gross motor skills all the time but I have to remember to give examples when talking to others outside of the school environment. Schools also love to use acronyms, so it is usual to hear us talk about IEP's, the CoP, SPD, ASD etc. Sometimes it takes someone asking what does that mean to make me realise I am using 'school speak'. I was talking about siblings one day when someone asked me what it meant & I realised it's not a term in common use outside of application criteria for schools.

But every so often some phrases pass into common language & I think that the internet & social media has a lot to do with this - a key example would be loose parts. 3 years ago I would have had no clue what this meant & yet now I seem to see & hear it everywhere.


  1. A lot to think about! Thanks for sharing this!!!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to leave a lovely comment xx


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