Saturday, November 26, 2011

Supporting Communication Through Simple Exploration

So, what do you do while enjoying simple exploration with young children who don't yet have much (or any) verbal communication?  Do you sit around the table silently?!  Hopefully not!  Do the adults all carry on conversations about their favorite holiday shopping!? Hopefully not often...or at least briefly!  What should adults be doing to support
communication while engaging in simple exploration with children?

We often use communication books and/or voice output devices with the children during the day.  But with very young children, I've found that attempting to use a communication book AND fully explore a new item, painting, cutting or gluing is a bit much to handle!  Therefore, I find that simply naturally and incidentally supporting communication during these explorations allows them to stay focused on their work and keeps their hands free.   (simple Boardmaker pictures or a simple Boardmaker board focused on the activity can be incorporated easily and simply placed on the table.)
The communication during simple exploration often starts off very one sided!  I generally start by simply commenting on something I see or notice: "Wow, looks like you are going to paint the BIG pumpkin!" 

Often, when we're asking children with limited language/understanding or those who need more time to process information to DO something ex. "wash hands", "sit down" etc., it is preferable to limit the unneeded words so the child can focus on what truly needs to be done. 

But, I always want to model natural language as much as possible as well!  Therefore, during our exploration, I use complete sentences and often emphasize words that a child may want to use to 'jump off of' to hold up their end of the communication.  (Ex. BIG)

I also use simple sign language or point to picture supports for important or descriptive words along with verbally saying them. 

As well as providing the communication support, I use my own materials to explore along with the children.  In this way, I can comment on something I'm doing or simply model self-talk.  Ex.  "Hmmm...maybe I should use YELLOW paint now!"  (Caution:  I have a little guy who now says "hmmm" each time he turns the pages of his communication book...be careful what you model!  :)

Here's an example of communication I may support during pumpkin painting: 

ME:  "Wow, looks like you are going to paint the BIG pumpkin!"  another child looks up and says "baby" and points to her pumpkin.  I could continue:  "Yep!  You're painting a baby pumpkin!  It's very SMALL." (I would sign 'baby', 'pumpkin' and 'small' while saying and emphasizing these words) 

Child points to pumpkin and then to the color she is using in her container.  "Oh, you're painting your baby pumpkin PURPLE!"  (I would sign 'purple' as well as say it)  Child signs "purple" and points to her friend who is also using purple paint for his pumpkin.  "Oh my!  TWO PURPLE PUMPKINS?!...how silly!"  (I would point to each pumpkin as I say two and sign purple and pumpkin)

At this point, the two children may smile at each other, switch paintbrushes, paint each others pumpkins or interact in some other way.  This is usually my clue that the conversational turns have ended and the children want to communicate with each other. 

I may then have to switch to 'translation' mode :) and simply watch the two children to assist them in communicating with each other. 

**Of course, it is important to tailor the talk to the level of understanding the child has.  It's important to know the children very well and simply work on extending and expanding the children's communication.  The above example is of a child with good receptive language and the knowledge of some simple sign langauge.**

I think sometimes we get stuck in the idea that a communication book always needs to be used when a child has very limited verbal language!  Keep in mind all the GLOBAL ways a person can communicate!  (pointing, gesturing, signing, eye contact/eye gaze, grunting, screaming, crying, laughing, single words or parts of words etc.)  We want children to be able to focus on and attend to truly exploring new objects as well as communication!

This is just a very simple and natural way to make the most of those super simple explorations by assisting the children in communicating about their experiences!

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