Language is the tool to facilitate interaction every day, with every child, and in every situation. This teaching practice provides ways for educators to turn everyday caregiving responsibilities and routines into opportunities for learning language.
The benefits of language in everyday situations
Everyday situations - including routines, caregiving times, and transitions - occur throughout the day in early childhood settings and are essential for the education and care of all children. They are also perfect opportunities for learning language because:
- they allow for one-to-one and small group interactions between children and educators
- they take a significant amount of time - so there are opportunities for lots of talk and interaction
- they are repeated, predictable situations that provide opportunities to introduce language, and build upon interactions each time.
Traditionally, these everyday situations may be overlooked as learning and interacting opportunities. It is important that we use every opportunity to interact and communicate with children, to build relationships, and build their language.
Early childhood professionals and families who engage respectfully and responsively with children from birth in everyday routines and experiences promote children’s confidence and empowerment.
- VEYLDF 2016, Practice Principle: Respectful Relationships and Responsive Engagement
Opportunities for language
Everyday routines, caregiving times, and transitions provide numerous opportunities throughout the day for early childhood educators to embed language learning. Here are some ideas for each of these everyday situations. Further down this page are ideas for embedding individual learning foci into everyday situations.
Arrivals and departures
- practice greetings and farewells when children arrive or leave centres
- talk about family and friends using pictures
- encourage conversation about a child’s day, prompting children to bring a sample of their artwork, or a picture of their constructive play.
Changing nappies/toileting/washing hands and face
- talk about parts of the face and body
- play communication games like peek-a-boo, and back-and-forth imitation of sounds/words
- practice eye gaze, gesture and joint attention during nappy changes
- provide lots of time for eye contact and sharing emotions during nappy changes, changing clothes
- repeat words for children to copy (e.g. ‘wash, wash, wash!’ during washing hands ‘up, up, up’ for packing up blocks)
- talk about colours, size and patterns of clothes etc.
- sing or talk about why we wash our hands and face and what the child is doing
- use nappy changes as an opportunity to retell a short story or nursery rhyme
- give children choices when putting on/taking off shoes, jackets, hats and so on
- name different kinds of clothing, as well as the colour, texture, shape
- practice following instructions (starting with one-step like: ‘pick up your shoe’; moving to two- and three-step instructions like: ‘pick up your shoe and undo the straps’)
- use location and spatial language (prepositions like on/off, up/down, in/out) to provide instructions and describe objects and actions
- encourage children to play an active role in the process and work towards them predicting what is coming next
- use temporal language, that is words about time (first, second, then, last, now) when providing instructions/guidance
- provide a choice between two foods and/or drinks, ensuring that children use pointing and/or words to indicate their preference
- talk about the implements and foods/drinks
- talk about the colours, textures, smells, number, size, shapes
- count items of food/drink as children are given them
- encourage children to comment and discuss their food/drink
- ask children about their preferences and favourites, and if they eat this food at home
- talk about the people/place/culture associated with the food/drink
- for older children talk about how the food is prepared, what ingredients are in it
- use songs or nursery rhymes as part of sleep time routines
- provide choices where possible so that children are encouraged to indicate their preference through words and/or gesture
- for older children, encourage them to play an active role in preparing for sleep times
The 'in-betweens' of everyday situations and learning experiences offer additional opportunities to embed language in everyday contexts.
- use clear instructions to guide children in packing up or setting out experiences
- where appropriate, allow children to have a say in what materials/experiences they would like to choose next
- use rhymes and songs to make transitions fun
- use spatial and location language (prepositions like in/out, on/off, up/down) when providing guidance during transitions
Ideas for embedding language in everyday situations
During everyday situations, educators can embed any of the ‘interacting with others’ learning foci. Here are some ideas on how to embed these within everyday situations.
- use language to comment on what you and the child are doing and learning
- Uue repetition of language, routines and songs to allow children multiple opportunities to learn language
language stimulation strategies into everyday situations.
- playing back-and-forth sound games - imitating children’s speech sounds
Concept development and vocabulary
- labelling, describing, and asking questions about objects, places, parts of the body
- using descriptive words to talk about colours, shapes, textures, patterns, smells, tastes
- talking about the size and number of objects and parts of the body
- expanding and extending on what children say, for example:
- child: "on!"
- educator: "the tap goes on!"
- child: "water"
- educator: "feel the water on your hands!"
- modelling examples of advanced language, e.g:
- ‘we are washing our hands after we have finished our meal’
- ‘look at your jacket with the red pockets’.
Conversation and social skills
- practicing turn taking using sounds, words, and whole sentences with older children
- encouraging children to talk about their choices and feelings during routines and transitions
- encouraging sharing and waiting for a turn during transitions
Explanations and sharing information
- helping children to follow instructions starting with one-step, and moving to two and three-step instructions (based on assessment of understanding)
- asking children what is next in a familiar routine
- encouraging children to explain why we do routines like washing hands, cleaning up, or packing up
Visuals to support language in everyday situations
Visuals can be a great way to enhance areas for everyday routines and situations. They can act as a visual prompt for children but also educators, to remind us to always use language in these situations. You can use some of the following ideas to make these everyday situations more engaging and interactive for children:
- posters of various animals for children to look at during nappy changes (talking about parts of the face and the body, as well as size, shape and colour)
- sign in sheets with children’s pictures and names (using a physical object like a pebble for showing that you have arrived; and later encouraging mark making and early attempts at writing their name to sign in
- posters for washing hands, meal times, and cleaning up, to show visually how these routines work, and to stimulate conversation
- labels (with pictures and words) on containers and tubs for different routines/situations (e.g. on clean vs. dirty hand cloth tubs, clean vs. dirty dish tubs, names/faces on children’s lockers or shelves)
Theory to practice
Children learn language through social interaction with others - in line with Vygotsky’s (1967) theory of socio-cultural learning. We can support children’s language development when we provide interactions that provide multiple opportunities to hear language and be engaged in interaction.
Vygotsky’s theory explains how children learn new language from more capable peers or adults. This is through multiple opportunities to engage in back-and-forth interaction, with adults being aware of the level of language that children are ready to learn: language that is within the ‘zone of proximal development’ (Vygotsky, 1967).
Fellowes and Oakley (2014) note that everyday situations are ideal for providing rich language experiences:
Language development is supported by a variety of sensory experiences - opportunities to touch, feel, hear, taste and see—as part of their schedule of care. The carers’ continual and consistent use of language encourages optimal language learning and development.
- Fellowes and Oakley (2014, p. 74)
By using everyday situations for meaningful and responsive interactions with children, we can ensure that children are engaged in language learning throughout their day (Degotardi, Torr & Nguyen, 2016; Zauche, Thul, Mahoney, & Stapel-Wax, 2016; Zimmerman et al., 2009). These frequent and rich language experiences have a significant impact on children’s early language development, as well as their educational achievement in later schooling (Weisleder & Fernald, 2013; White, Peter, & Redder, 2015; Zauche et al., 2016).
Links to VEYLDF
Outcome 1: identity
Children feel safe, secure and supported
- build secure attachment with one and then more familiar educators
- use effective routines to help make predicted transitions smoothly
- initiate interactions and conversations with trusted educators
Children develop knowledgeable and confident self-identities
- use their home language to construct meaning
- develop strong foundations in both the culture and language/s of their family and the broader community without compromising their cultural identities
- reach out and communicate for comfort, assistance and companionship
Outcome 3: wellbeing
Children take increasing responsibility for their own health and physical wellbeing
- recognise and communicate their bodily needs (for example thirst, hunger, rest, comfort, physical activity)
- are happy, healthy, safe and are connected to others
- demonstrate spatial awareness and orient themselves, moving around and through their environments confidently and safely
- show an increasing awareness of healthy lifestyles and good nutrition
- show increasing independence and competence in personal hygiene, care and safety for themselves and others
Outcome 4: learning
Children develop a range of skills and processes such as problem solving, inquiry, experimentation, hypothesising, researching and investigating
- make predictions and generalisations about their daily activities, aspects of the natural world and environments, using patterns they generate or identify, and communicate these using mathematical language and symbols
Outcome 5: communication
Children interact verbally and non-verbally with others for a range of purposes
- engage in enjoyable reciprocal interactions using verbal and non-verbal language
- respond verbally and non-verbally to what they see, hear, touch, feel and taste
- are independent communicators who initiate Standard Australian English and home language conversations, and demonstrate the ability to meet the listener’s needs
- express ideas and feelings and understand and respect the perspectives of others
Children begin to understand how symbols and pattern systems work
- begin to make connections between, and see patterns in, their feelings, ideas, words and actions, and those of others
- notice and predict the patterns of regular routines and the passing of time
Experience plans and videos
For ages - early communicators (birth - 18 months):
For ages - early language users (12 - 36 months):
For ages - language and emergent literacy learners (30 - 60 months)
Links to learning foci and teaching practices:
Degotardi, S., Torr, J., & Nguyen, N. (2016). Infant-toddler educators’ language support practices during the context of mealtime. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood Education, 41(1).
Fellowes, J., & Oakley, G. (2014). Language, literacy and early childhood education, 2nd Edition. Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.
Victorian State Government Department of Education and Training (2016), Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF). Retrieved 3 March 2018.
Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (2016). Illustrative Maps from the VEYLDF to the Victorian Curriculum F–10. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
Vygotsky, Lev S. (1967). Play and its role in the mental development of the child. Soviet Psychology, 5(3): 6–18.
Weisleder, A., & Fernald, A. (2013). Talking to Children Matters: Early Language Experience Strengthens Processing and Builds Vocabulary. Psychological Science, 24(11), 2143–2152.
White, E. J., Peter, M., & Redder, B. (2015). Infant and teacher dialogue in education and care: A pedagogical imperative. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 30(PA), 160–173.
Zauche, L. H., Thul, T. A., Mahoney, A. E. D., & Stapel-Wax, J. L. (2016). Influence of language nutrition on children’s language and cognitive development: An integrated review. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 36, 318–333.
Zimmerman, F. J., Gilkerson, J., Richards, J. A., Christakis, D. A., Xu, D., Gray, S., & Yapanel, U. (2009). Teaching by Listening: The Importance of Adult-Child Conversations to Language Development. Pediatrics, 124(1), 342–349. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2008-2267