- Identify the components of the environment that can support communication skills and development.
- Describe the importance of encouraging a love for language in school-age children.
- Apply methods of incorporating language and communication skills into the environment, activities, and children’s experiences.
"The basic building block of good communications is the feeling that every human being is unique and of value." - Unknown
Creating a Language-Rich Environment
Language is at the core of all components of communication. Without language, we would have a very difficult time expressing our thoughts and feelings. The learning environment should be filled with elements that support language and communication development. As a school-age staff member, you can help create a language-rich environment by being thoughtful in your activity plans and materials selection. The goal of creating an environment rich in language is to encourage a love of language in school-age children. When children are surrounded by language, they will most likely have positive feelings and emotions about language and literacy.
Supporting Communication Development
The physical environment of the school-age program plays an important role in all aspects of the program itself. There are many factors that allow the physical environment to promote communication skills in school-age children. The environment is not only made up of physical materials, but it is also a healthy and supportive atmosphere (see the Learning Environments course for more information). The combination of the physical space and the feeling of belonging that children can receive from their learning environment will help school-age children continue to develop their communication skills.
The physical environment can help promote communication in a variety of ways. Some examples are:
- The layout of tables, chairs, and seating areas can help facilitate conversation.
- A library area with comfortable seating can encourage literacy and reading.
- Areas with writing materials always available can promote writing skills and language development.
- Dramatic play areas can help spark conversations and imaginative play.
- Board games can boost vocabulary, language, and literacy skills.
- Sight word walls, labels, and descriptions can help develop reading, writing and vocabulary skills.
Creating a healthy and supportive atmosphere for the learning environment can help to promote communication in a variety of ways. Some examples are:
- Create an environment that is supportive and safe for children to express their feelings and thoughts.
- Have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, name calling, teasing, or any other behavior that could make a child feel unwelcome.
- Be a model for communication by displaying good communication and conversation skills by speaking clearly, being respectful, making eye contact, and using positive body language at all times.
- Be clear with expectations by communicating them both orally and in written form.
Encouraging a Love for Language
Without you, the learning environment is just a space. Your thoughtful planning of activities and experiences is what makes the learning environment a place for exploration, imagination, and growth. Encouraging school-age children to develop a love for language is an important part of their communication skills. The lists below will provide you with examples for planning activities and experiences that support language and communication development.
Environments that support reading and literature:
- Create a library that is always available to children. Include fiction and non-fiction titles, as well as magazines, on a variety of topics and reading levels. It is a good idea to switch materials out on a regular basis so that children always have new things to read. Allow children to make suggestions on reading material so that you can provide items that interest them. Depending on your program, there may be limited books on site. If so, you can consider using a local public library to increase your supply.
- Develop a buddy system for reading. Pair older and younger school-age children to become reading buddies. Both children can practice their reading skills with each other. Older school-age children might enjoy sharing their favorite childhood books, or reading small sections from a chapter book with their younger buddy. Younger children can practice their reading and listening skills with guidance from older children.
- Establish a reading period where children are encouraged to read independently or with a partner for a daily scheduled amount of time.
- Share literature every day. Older children still enjoy being read to. Take the time to read aloud to small or large groups. You can read longer picture books that share a meaning or tie into your topic for the day. You can also share chapter books by reading a few pages each day.
- Fill the environment with print. Create labels, schedules, calendars, descriptions, and signs for all areas and aspects of the learning environment. School-age children can help with this as well. Be mindful to incorporate print in a variety of languages that reflect the home languages of the children in the classroom.
Environments that support writing:
- Encourage children to write every day by having writing materials always available. Include a variety of writing utensils (pencils, pens, markers) and materials like journals for each child, blank cards, envelopes, and a variety of papers to encourage children to write letters notes or short stories.
- Don’t forget about technology. Some children have a difficult time writing with pencil and paper and prefer to use a computer. While it is still important for children to establish handwriting skills, we don’t want to discourage these children from learning to love the art of writing. Have word processing programs available so children can type if preferred.
- Encourage handwriting skills by having materials that will help children strengthen their fine motor skills. Items such as stencils can be helpful for children who are learning to write or for children who struggle with letter formation.
- Show off student work by displaying or publishing their writing pieces. You can create collections of writing pieces that can be copied and bound to create a book that can be shared with families. This is a great way to encourage young authors and the love of language. Younger children can also participate by creating illustrations and writing short captions for their pieces.
Environments that support speaking and listening:
- Create conversation spaces. A small café table with two chairs, a cozy corner with couches, or a seating area for two outdoors can all be inviting spots to sit and chat.
- Organize snack times for conversation. Encourage children to eat together, and arrange tables so it is easier to hear one another at a comfortable volume.
- Provide a drama or “open-mic” space. A small stage with dress-up clothes or a prop microphone can help children and youth build public speaking skills.
Developing Language Through Media Literacy
The use of digital technology and non-screen media is quickly becoming an important tool with which we form our personal identities, build relationships, and express our values. Like traditional forms of literacy, media literacy helps children develop new skills and attitudes, expand their creative thinking, and become effective communicators in today’s world. Consider the following actions to promote media literacy skills, knowledge, and habits in children and youth (Rogow, 2022):
|Media Literacy Action||Experience Example|
|Access: You can support children's ability to locate and use media by...||Designating children who are more experienced with technology to teach others and help answer questions.|
|Comprehend: You can help children understand basic media messages by...||Answering questions with a questions in order teach children how to find answers.|
|Communicate & Create: You can encourage children to express themselves using multiple layers of media by… |
Inviting guest speakers via video conference.
|Engage & Explore: You can influence children to use media for purpose and enjoyment by…||Taking apart broken computers or radios to discover their loose parts.|
|Evaluate: You can teach children to ask if media is the right tool for a task by…||Evaluating advertisements (their meaning, feelings toward the message, etc.).|
|Inquire: You can demonstrate for children how to use questions to analyze media messages by…||Discussing the difference between sources such as the internet versus books.|
Communication and language development at all stages is a complex process and involves other areas of development, such as cognitive skills, and is enhanced by input from the environment (family, caregivers, peers, experiences, activities, etc.). Communication and language help us think, learn, problem-solve, remember and understand what we experience.
The learning environment consists of the physical space and includes meaningful activities and experiences for school-age children. To support language and communication development, you will need to be thoughtful about all components of the environment.
- Model good communication skills. Take the time to reflect on how and why you communicate, especially within the learning environment.
- Encourage a love for language as often as possible. Create an environment that is rich in language and literacy.
- Plan experiences and activities that allow children to express their thoughts and feelings in a variety of ways.
One way to create a language-rich environment is to build a library in your program which is always accessible to school-age children. The Building the School-age Library attachment below has additional information to help you make your library enjoyable for all children in your program. After reading the attachment, utilize the following websites to help make the process of selecting appropriate books simple and easy.
This Common Sense Media website provides reviews and rates books on areas such as language, mature content, positive role models and messages. You can search by title, age or subject matter.
Many school districts require students to read books that fall into the reading level appropriate for their grade and abilities. These are typically referred to as easy readers or early chapter books. They are usually set up like a chapter book, but have fewer words on a page. They also contain sight words and age-appropriate vocabulary. Most book publishers will put a “level” number on the cover of the book; however, not all levels are the same across publishers. Use the following online tools to find out the book’s level to help children pick the right-fit book.
Leveled Readers – Comparison Chart:
Leveled Readers -Scholastic Book Wizard:
To check the levels of easy readers, you can use the Scholastic Book Wizard, which is an online tool designed to help find the right- fit books for children. You can look up a book’s level, or even get a list of books on the same level to use when purchasing materials for your program’s library. http://www.scholastic.com/bookwizard/
To check the level of an AR book, simply use their AR BookFinder tool: http://www.arbookfind.com/UserType.aspx
Observing the learning environment for how language is used, encouraged, and incorporated will help you to plan experiences and activities for school-age children. Choose one child to observe on a typical day in your school-age program. What example of each communication skill do you see and hear the child use in the program? How does the environment help or hinder the child from communicating? Complete the Communication Components: Observation activity. When finished, share and discuss your responses with a trainer, coach, or administrator.
As you complete the Supporting Communication Checklist, think about information shared in this lesson, and examine each learning and interest area to determine how your physical environment helps promote communication skills in school-age children. If you need ideas, you can review the answer key which provides sample answers. Share your responses with your trainer, coach, or administrator.
Berk, L. E. (2013). Child development (9th ed.). Pearson Education Inc.
Cooper, P. J., & Simonds, C. (1999). Communication for the Classroom Teacher. Pearson Education Inc.
Copp, S. B., Cabell, S. Q., Gabas, C., Slik, D., & Todd, J. (2022). The Rising Star Scaffolding Guide: Supporting Young Children’s Early Spelling Skills. The Reading Teacher, 76(4). https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.2156
Edwards, C. C., & Da Fonte, A. (2012). The 5-Point Plan: Fostering successful partnerships with families of students with disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 44, 6-13.
National Association for the Education of Young Children (2014). Principles of Effective Practice: Two Way Communication. https://www.naeyc.org/principles-effective-family-engagement
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (2012). Early Childhood Generalist Standards for teachers of ages 3-8 (3rd ed.).
National Communication Association (2014). What is Communication? https://www.natcom.org/discipline/
Ramsey, R. D. (2009). How to Say the Right Thing Every Time: Communicating well with students, staff, parents, and the public. Corwin Press.
Rogow, F. (2022). Start with Wonder, Then Add Inquiry: Developing Young Children’s Media Literacy. The National Association for the Education of Young Children. https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/tyc/winter2022/wonder-and-inquiry
Trawick-Smith, J. W. (2014). Early Childhood Development: A Multicultural Perspective, (6th ed.). Pearson Education Inc.