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Communication: An Introduction

This lesson provides an introduction to communication during the preschool years. A key learning point is the significance of communication skills for children’s overall development and learning.  

  • Define communication and discuss its importance for our lives.
  • Reflect on your own ideas and experiences associated with communication.
  • Discuss how communication promotes development and learning in young 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 the words “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, 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 make meaning out of the information. 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, 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?

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, p. 27). Communication is more than just the exchange of information; to be effective, there must be a shared understanding of the message and it meaning between the person sending the message and the person receiving it. Communication is missed when we fail to interpret the correct emotions or intent of the message.

Effective communication involves a variety 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 additional 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 (1989), 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 in Preschoolers?

Preschool-aged children are natural communicators! They soak up the details of the social world around them. As they play, they take on roles of moms, dads, teachers, and other people important to them. Sometimes the “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. Now 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 preschool teachers consistently respond to children’s communication, preschoolers learn to rely on language as a tool for meeting needs, solving problems, and learning about the world.

Each preschooler’s communication is unique. At three years old, most children communicate in simple sentences and can be understood 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 teachers 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: An Introduction

Watch this video to learn about the importance of communication for individuals' lives

Communication and Young Children

Watch this video to learn about communication in preschool


Preschoolers 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. The quality and variety of experiences offered in the classroom contribute greatly to their development and learning. Preschoolers 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. Take time to review the strategies listed below which highlight ways to support communication for the preschool children in your care:

  • 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.”
  • Remember that “Why?” is the favorite question of most preschoolers. Answer patiently and use it as an opportunity to talk about ideas and concepts.
  • Explore the sounds in language with preschoolers; 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.”
  • Read aloud daily allowing children to be interactive with the story by asking and answering questions and making predictions rather than only listening to the book being read.
  • Introduce new words to the children and add them to your daily vocabulary in the classroom. For example “ I“I see outside the window that we are having some precipitation today, who can tell me what kind it is? Is it snowing or raining?”

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 Preschool 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.


Read and review the Exploring Communication activity and take a few minutes to respond to the questions. Then, share and discuss your responses with a trainer, coach, or administrator.


Communication and sharing of ideas are central to our lives. Take a little bit of time to learn more about one of the digital spaces where ideas are shared: TED conferences. In its own words, TED is a nonprofit “devoted to ideas worth spreading.” World-famous artists, scientists, and inventors share their thought-provoking ideas in short multimedia presentations.

Challenge your own thoughts on communication by watching a few of these videos. Follow the links to the videos listed in the activity, Communication Ideas Worth Spreading. Watch some great thinkers share their views on communication and answer the questions within the activity. Share your responses with your trainer, coach, or administrator.


The process of exchanging information


Finish this statement: Preschool children’s communication skills…
True or false? All cultures do not view communication in the same way.
A parent asks what she can do at home to support her 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.

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 ages 3-8 (3rd ed.).

Nurani, Y., & Utami, D. A. (2017). Early childhood education teachers' effective communication based teaching skill. In Proceedings of the 9th International Conference for Science Educators and Teachers (pp. 723-728). Atlantis Press.

Siegel-Causey, E., & Guess, D. (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.