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    • Define communication and discuss its importance in our lives.
    • Reflect on your own ideas and experiences associated with communication.
    • Discuss how communication promotes development and learning in children.


    Of all the life skills available to us, communication is perhaps the most empowering.” - Brett Morrison


    We are by nature social beings, and communication plays a significant part in our daily personal and professional lives. What comes to mind as you think about the word “communication”? Perhaps you are thinking about “talking” or “speaking.” Listening? Understanding? Body language?

    Being able to effectively communicate one’s needs, feelings, and emotions is critical to lifelong success. Effective communication helps us better understand people or situations and enables us to build trusting and respectful relationships, resolve conflicts, and create environments where ideas, problem-solving skills, and empathy can flourish.

    As simple as communication seems, much of what we try to communicate to others—and what others try to communicate to us—gets misunderstood. Our ability to communicate and understand others is dependent upon how we interpret and make meaning out of the information we take in. We take in this information using our senses, including hearing what others say, seeing body language, and experiencing emotional responses. We then process the information to make meaning out of it. Challenges to communication occur when we consider the fact that the ways we interpret and make meaning of information varies from person to person. Miscommunications can cause conflict and frustration in personal and professional relationships.

    The way we make meaning of information is a result of our early experiences, our beliefs and values, and other influences. Pause for a moment and think about situations in your own life where communication seemed successful and unsuccessful. What feelings did you associate with these situations? Perhaps excitement, contentment or relief when communication was effective? Frustration, anger, or disappointment when effective communication seemed difficult to achieve?

    What is Communication?

    Effective communication is more than just the exchange of information; it’s about understanding the emotion behind the message. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards defines communication as “a tool that human beings use to meet their physical, social, and emotional needs” (2012). A goal of effective communication is to find a balance between thinking and feeling. This balance involves conveying your thoughts without letting the emotion behind the message take over.

    Effective communication involves a variety of skills, including nonverbal communication, active listening, emotional awareness, and the ability to manage stress. Communication can be achieved through spoken language, as well as through facial expressions, gestures, movements, postures, and touch. Pictures, images, and written symbols are means to communicate. No matter the method, effective communication can help support and improve relationships, teamwork, decision-making and problem solving. According to researchers Robert Stillman and Ellin Siegel-Causey, people communicate for different reasons:

    • To affect another person’s behavior
    • To offer information
    • To convey thoughts and feelings
    • For the purely social reason of engaging in an interaction with someone

    What are some reasons you engage in communication with other individuals in your daily life?

    What Does Communication Look Like for All Children?

    Children are natural communicators! They soak up the details of the social world around them. Even before they have the abilities and skills to interpret and speak words, they are attentive to sounds, facial expressions, and the world around them. As children play, they take on roles of moms, dads, providers, and other people important to them. Sometimes preschoolers “try on” grown-up language like they try on clothes in the dramatic play area. As their vocabularies grow, language is no longer just a tool for expressing wants or needs. They can use language to learn new things, imagine unknown worlds, explore ideas, tell jokes, create stories, and build friendships (Trawick-Smith, 2014). It is an exciting time of amazing growth. When family child care providers consistently respond to children’s communication, children learn to rely on language as a tool for meeting needs, solving problems, and learning about the world.

    Communication for Infants and Toddlers

    Infants also communicate with their providers through nonverbal engagement cues. Infants might communicate a desire to engage and stay engaged by reaching for a providers. Providers might see an infant’s eyes widen, a smile, or a turn of the head toward the provider. Infants also use disengagement cues to communicate that they are ready for a break from an interaction. Disengagement cues include whimpering, frowning, back arching, turning away, or an increase in the rate of sucking.

    As infants grow older, they begin to babble and talk. They understand words used in combination with their provider’s gestures, tone and facial expressions. Close to 18 months of age, toddlers begin to use action words that express what they see or want, such as “me go,” or “boots on.” They also continue to physically express their needs and wants; what they do physically is just as important as what they actually say. “No,” and “mine,” are words toddlers use to assert themselves and take control over their world. Asserting independence is an early and important step toward a toddler becoming his or her own person. Toddlers also experiment with and begin to learn the basics of grammar. For example, a 32-month-old might say, “I taked a nap today.” Toddlers can continue to understand how language works as their providers respond with the correct form, such as, “Oh, yes! You took a nap today. You were feeling quite sleepy.”

    Communication for Preschoolers

    Each child’s communication is unique. At 3 years old, most children communicate in simple sentences and can be understand by a stranger most of the time. You may hear mispronunciations like “aminal” for “animal” or “pasghetti” for “spaghetti.” Preschoolers are still experimenting with and beginning to learn the basics of grammar. For example, a 5-year-old might say, “I eated all my peas at lunch,” because he is trying to apply grammar rules he has learned. Young preschoolers can continue to understand how language works as providers respond with the correct pronunciation or form, such as, “I see the animal in the farm” or “Oh, yes! You ate all your peas today. You were feeling quite hungry.”

    Communication for School-Age Children

    Communication skills play a role in the way we create relationships and participate in social or academic events. As school-age children and youth develop, their communication skills are typically assessed by families, teachers, and pediatricians in four components or domains. These are:

    • Skills drawingListening
    • Speaking
    • Reading
    • Writing

    These four areas will be used to make sure that children and youth are on track with their cognitive and social development. In a later lesson, you will be provided with more details about these four categories and how school-age children and youth develop their communication skills throughout the years.


    Communication: An Introduction

    Watch this video to learn about the importance of communication in individuals’ lives

    Communication and Young Children

    Watch this video to learn about communication in preschool


    Children watch and listen to the people around them. Communication and language development require other areas of development, such as visual skills, thinking skills, and memory, and the experiences offered contribute greatly to their development and learning. Children learn to communicate not only through the words you use, but by what and how you do things, such as playing with them and answering questions. As a family child care provider, it is your responsibility to provide developmentally appropriate experiences and activities that meet each child’s needs. As you plan and implement your work, you are setting the foundation for children’s growth and success. When it comes to promoting children’s communication, consider the following communication support strategies.

    Communication Support Strategies

    Take time to review the strategies listed below that highlight ways to support communication for all children in your care.

    Infants and toddlers
    • Point to objects as you name them.
    • Hold, cuddle, and rock infants and toddlers to communicate reassurance and comfort.
    • Invite babies and toddlers to make sounds while singing and sharing nursery rhymes. Learn a few simple rhymes like “Hickory Dickory Dock,” “Humpty Dumpty,” and “Hey Diddle Diddle.” Sing simple movement songs like “Pat-a-Cake,” “Row, Row, Row your Boat,” “Where is Thumbkin?” and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
    • Extend the sounds and words used by infants and toddlers; for example, if a toddler says, “Me home,” you might say, “You want to go home—after snack time, Daddy will be here to pick you up and take you home.”
    • Have a conversation with every child every day.
    • Talk about objects and the categories they belong in (i.e., dogs are animals and cars are vehicles). This helps children understand connections between objects, categorization, and part-to-whole thinking.
    • Help children expand their language and cognitive development by using prepositions like “over,” “under,” “in,” “through,” “between,” and “behind.”
    • Ask and answer open-ended questions. Remember that “Why?” is the favorite question of most preschoolers. Answer patiently and use these questions as an opportunity to talk about ideas and concepts.
    • Explore the sounds in language with children; play rhyming games and sing silly songs.
    • Use words to help children solve problems and expressions; say things like, “It looks like you’re angry. Tell Miley why you are upset.”
    • Have a conversation with every child every day.
    • Practice effective communication skills by making eye contact and actively listening.
    • Use formal and informal communication as appropriate.
    • Reflect on your own communication style and build on your skills.
    • Use advanced vocabulary in conversation with children.
    • Encourage children to expand their communication skills in all four domains; listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
    • Have a conversation with every child every day.

    Completing this Course

    For more information on what to expect in this course, the Communication & Language Development Competency Reflection, and a list of the accompanying Learn, Explore and Apply resources and activities offered throughout the lessons, visit the Family Child Care Communication & Language Development Course Guide

    Please note the References & Resources section at the end of each lesson outlines reference sources and resources to find additional information on the topics covered. As you complete lessons, you are not expected to review all the online references available. However, you are welcome to explore the resources further if you have interest, or at the request of your trainer, coach, or administrator.



    How do you define communication? What are your views about your own abilities to communicate? Read and review the Exploring Communication handout and take a few minutes to respond to the questions. Then, share and discuss your responses with a trainer, coach or family child care administrator.



    Follow the links below to watch some great thinkers share their views on communication. Watch at least one video, then review the Communication Ideas Worth Spreading handout and reflect on the questions.


    CommunicationThe process of exchanging information




    Finish this statement: Children’s communication skills …


    True or false? Relationships between providers and infants and toddlers do not affect how children communicate.


    A parent asks what she can do at home to support a child’s communication skills. What do you say?

    References & Resources

    Berk, L. E. (2013). Child Development (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

    Bret Morrison. (n.d.). Retrieved June 21, 2017, from Web site:

    National Association for the Education of Young Children (2015). Communicating Ideas.

    National Association for the Education of Young Children (n.d.). Learning about Language and Literacy in Preschool. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

    National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (2012). Early Childhood Generalist Standards: For teachers of students ages 3-8 (3rd ed.).

    Siegel-Causey, E., & Guess, D. (Eds.). (1989). Enhancing Nonsymbolic Communication Interactions Among Learners with Severe Disabilities. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

    Stillman, R., & Siegel-Sausey, E. (1989). Introduction to Nonsymbolic Communication. In E. Siegel-Causey & D. Guess (Eds.), Enhancing Nonsymbolic Communication Interactions among Learners with Severe Disabilities (pp. 1-13). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

    Trawick-Smith, J. W. (2014). Early Childhood Development: A Multicultural Perspective (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.