Communication, Language and Literacy from Birth to Five


Avril Brock & Carolynn Rankin

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
    • Chapter 1: Early Language Development
    • Key Elements in Effective Practice
    • An Exciting Journey
    • Babies' Communication
    • A Year's Development at Nursery – Miranda's Case Study
    • The Learning Journey
    • Chapter 2: Babies are Clever
    • Babies are Thinkers
    • Brain Development in the Early Years
    • Schemas
    • Babies are Imitators
    • Babies and Dads
    • Babies are Communicators
    • Babies Enjoy Massage
    • Babies Signing
    • Twins
    • Environments for Babies
    • Babies Love Stories, Songs and Rhymes
    • Babies and Books
    • Bookstart – Modelling Books with Babies
    • Babies Visit Libraries
    • Babies are Readers
    • Watching Television, Videos and DVDs
    • Babies are Socialites
    • Parents as Partners
    • Chapter 3: Children's Needs: Diversity and Identity
    • Supporting Children, Families and Communities
    • Social Context and Language Learning – The Role of the Adult
    • Language Learning Through Play
    • Supporting Bilingualism
    • Code Switching
    • Bilingualism in Wales
    • Supporting Bilingual Children in Educational Settings
    • Supporting Bilingualism at Home
    • Gender and Identity
    • Promoting Self-Esteem and Positive Behaviour Through Language
    • Communication Difficulties
    • Supporting Special Educational Needs
    • Chapter 4: Getting Young Children Talking in Early Years Settings
    • Getting Children to Start Conversations
    • Prompting Children's Talk
    • How We Use Questions
    • Pausing: Let the Silence Do the Work!
    • Changing the Adult's Role: From Director to Facilitator
    • Building Vocabularies
    • Increasing the Number of Communication Opportunities
    • Working with Large Groups
    • Sustained Shared Thinking
    • Story Time
    • Working in Small Groups
    • A Whole Team Approach
    • Willingness to Reflect
    • Working with Parents
    • Chapter 5: Stories, Storytelling and Books
    • What's So Important about Stories?
    • Listening: ‘If You're Sitting Comfortably, Then I'll Begin’
    • Understanding Language
    • Why Picture Books and Illustrations are Important
    • What's So Important about Storytelling?
    • Children as Storytellers
    • Family and Heritage Stories
    • Turning the Pages Together
    • Story and Role-Play
    • Involving Artists
    • Story and Foreign Language Learning
    • Children at the Library: Selecting Information Books
    • Chapter 6: Rhyme, Rhythm, Sound and Song
    • First Sounds
    • Communicating Through Making Music
    • Communicating Through Song
    • Rhymes
    • Metalinguistic Awareness
    • Playing with Words
    • Early Phonemic Awareness
    • Phonics
    • Chapter 7: Emerging Literacy: Playful Reading and Writing
    • Early Years Foundation Stage and Literacy
    • What is Emergent Literacy?
    • How Did You Learn to Read?
    • A Multisensory Approach to Reading
    • Guiding Readers
    • The Writing Process – What is Involved in Writing?
    • Encouraging Fine Motor Control for Writing
    • Involving Parents in Children's Emergent Literacy
    • Role-Play and Emergent Writing
    • Playful Literacy
  • Copyright

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    Key of Icons

    • Learning objectives
    • Questions for reflection and discussion
    • Further reading
    • Case studies
    • Useful websites
    • Key points for practice

    About the Authors

    Avril Brock is a Senior Lecturer in the Carnegie Faculty of Sport and Education at Leeds Metropolitan University and is the Award Leader for the MA Childhood Studies and MA Early Years, lecturing on Early Childhood Education. She is in the process of completing her PhD thesis on early years educators' thinking about their professionalism. She published Into the Enchanted Forest: Drama, Science and Language in Primary Schools for Trentham Publications in 1999. She has also contributed three chapters to Jean Conteh's (2006) book Promoting Learning for Bilingual Pupils 3–11: Opening Doors to Success published by Sage. Avril has been involved in European Union International Projects – Tempus, Socrates, Comenius and Erasmus – for 16 years. She has also formed international partnerships with colleges in California and Boston. Prior to joining Leeds Metropolitan University Avril worked at Bradford College for 15 years lecturing on primary and early years programmes, and before that her teaching career was in schools with linguistically diverse children aged from 3 to 13 years. Her hobbies include travelling and walking and she enjoys being outside in the fresh air as much as possible.

    Carolynn Rankin is a Senior Lecturer in the Leslie Silver International Faculty, School of Applied Global Ethics at Leeds Metropolitan University. She is a Chartered Librarian and a Member of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). Carolynn worked as an information practitioner in a variety of library sectors before joining the School of Information Management at Leeds Metropolitan University in 2000, where she was the Postgraduate Tutor for the CILIP-accredited MSc Information Studies for five years. She has lectured on the management of information and library services and the role of the information professional in developing services to meet community needs. Her current research interests include the role of the early years librarian in multi-disciplinary teamwork and the development of information literacy in communities. She loves giving books as presents and the arrival of a new baby to family or friends is always greeted with delight, as it means a great excuse to spend time in the children's section of her local bookshops.


    Carol Potter is a Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University, lecturing in the areas of children with disability, autism, language development and engaging fathers in the early years. Carol initially worked as a residential social worker with children with disabilities before training as a nursery teacher, going on to teach young children with autism for several years in the Midlands. Carol then moved into research, first at Northumbria University and then at Durham, where she spent nine years, undertaking a range of projects in the areas of autism as well as language and communication development. Whilst at Durham, Carol worked as a research fellow on a six-year evaluation of a number of local Sure Start programmes in the north of England.


    This book would not have been written without Jackie Brock, so it is dedicated to her for her perseverance and enthusiasm. Family members, friends, neighbours, colleagues, students, teachers, nursery nurses, managers, early years librarians, parents and staff in many early years settings have contributed to this book.

    Particular thanks go to:

    Annabelle, William and Claudia; Bev; Branwen; Alana, Carolyn and Richard; Joan; Cynthia, Jamie and Harvey; Darrington Mums and Toddlers Group; David, Kirsty and Melissa; Vicky and George; Dr Sama; Jed and Holly; Jo and Theo; JJ; Maggie Power; Simon, Jackie, Joe and Tom; Stuart, Pauline, Alex and Jack; Susan, Martin, Terrie and Ethan; Denny and Gwen; Emily, her mum and grandma; students at Bradford College and LeedsMet University; Wakefield Libraries and Information Service; Rose Farm Nursery School

    What kept the authors going during this journey –

    ‘How do you tell a story? One word at a time …!

    How do you write a book? One word at a time …!

    Now it is written, we hope you enjoy it – one word at a time …!’

    How to Use This Book

    With the introduction of the Early Years Foundation Stage in 2008, practitioners need to put the principles into practice and meet the diverse needs of all young children in the six areas of learning – one of which is communication, language and literacy. This book helps readers develop their knowledge, skills and practice in encouraging and promoting communication, language and literacy for babies and young children.

    It includes:

    • activities, examples, case studies, scenarios and ideas from actual practice
    • guidance on how to meet children's diverse needs in an inclusive environment
    • advice on involving parents as partners in their children's learning
    • information on resources, useful websites and suggestions for further reading.

    This book is for practitioners and teachers at all levels – BTEC, NVQ, undergraduate, postgraduate and managers working with young children from birth to age 5. It will help the practitioner to develop partnerships with parents and carers, to provide answers and promote language and literacy experiences, encouraging them to be involved in promoting and understanding their child's language development. This vital link with parents is a recurrent theme and where ‘parents’ is used throughout the book we mean this to denote ‘parents, carers and families’.

    The book is full of multilingual ideas and activities as most practitioners work in ethnically diverse settings which constantly have to adapt to support different intakes of children and families. The case studies and scenarios in the book are based on real families interacting with practitioners in a variety of settings, but we have changed all their names.

    Each of the seven chapters starts with a boxed summary, and you can see at a quick glance what that chapter will cover. You can also use the contents page to see the sections included in the chapter. Each chapter concludes with ‘Questions for reflection and discussion’ which can be used for individual review and personal development or as part of a group discussion in a workplace setting or classroom. To encourage your understanding as a practitioner each chapter also has Key Points for practice.

    The reference list at the end of the book provides full details of the publications referred to in the chapters so that you can follow up key authors, sources and areas of research. Each chapter also has suggested further reading as a starting point to help you develop your knowledge on the topics, and we have also provided addresses for some useful websites.

    Chapter 1 sets the scene on early language development and focuses on why language is so crucial in young children's development and why it is important to build relationships with parents. You will be encouraged to reflect on and evaluate your professional role and its practical application when working with young children.

    Chapter 2 demonstrates how intelligent babies are and how they can be very effective communicators from the day they are born, and you will explore first steps into literacy. The importance of parents as partners is featured.

    Chapter 3 looks at ‘Children's needs: diversity and identity’ and will help you to understand how the language and values of home impact upon their learning, to consider gender issues and the special educational needs that affect language development.

    Chapter 4 is about the importance of creating high-quality opportunities for communication between adults and young children in early years settings. It will inform you why it is necessary to encourage young children to take the lead in conversations.

    Chapters 5 and 6 ‘Stories, storytelling and books’ and ‘Rhyme, rhythm, sound and song’, provide a wealth of ideas and practical activities supported by the underpinning knowledge about their importance in practice.

    Chapter 7 Reading and writing should be fun, and the final chapter, on emerging literacy: playful reading and writing, helps you to make the link to Early Years Foundation Stage.

    Appendix 1 provides an introduction to theories of language acquisition. Communication, language and literacy should permeate your provision and Appendix 2 shows a plan for long-term planning in an early years unit.

    The index references specific topics and we have provided a glossary to help the reader access the terminology associated with this multi-disciplinary area.

  • Appendix 1 Theories of Language Acquisition


    The behaviourist view sees the processes of stimulus/response and imitation/reinforcement as the key factors in the acquisition of language. The association of an object with the word and the reinforcement provided by the adult when the child tries to say the word was one explanation. More complex language behaviour is said to result from an increasingly complicated pattern of response chaining. Clearly, some aspects of our first language are acquired through imitation and reinforcement or we would not acquire the sounds and the vocabulary of those around us. However, it is unlikely that language acquisition is such a simple process. While it is true that children appear to imitate some aspects of adult language, they seem to choose what and when to do so. Professor B. Skinner is the man most often associated with this view of language acquisition.


    Nativists criticised behaviourist accounts of language acquisition. They maintained that behaviourism could not explain the speed with which children acquired language, since most children have already acquired virtually the whole system by the age of 5 or 6. In addition, they asserted that it could not account for certain types of behaviour, for example, children at a certain stage seem to adopt a new rule and generalise it (‘goed’, ‘sawed’ etc.). They seem to use their own grammar rules and gradually enlarge their system as they develop. They are also resistant to correction if their current set of rules does not fit with the adult's. Nativists believe that we must be born with a language acquisition faculty of some sort. This has been called a language acquisition device or ‘LAD’. The nature of this LAD, is the subject of some debate among nativists. Some believe it to be a specific ‘human language faculty’ which might contain the rules of a universal grammar and also procedures for responding to human language. This is the strong form of the theory. Some believe that the LAD is simply a set of faculties for processing experience in ways which are particularly appropriate to human language. In other words, the language faculty is part of a larger mental system. This is where the views of Nativists and Cognitive theorists may overlap. Professor N. Chomsky was a powerful figure in proposing a nativist view of language acquisition to counter that of the behaviourists.


    Cognitive theorists are concerned with the intellect and how it develops. They see language as part of and dependent on the development of our thinking skills. Jean Piaget was a psychologist working in Geneva who developed the idea that our thinking follows a number of stages in each of the areas of our experience. He believed that our intellect grew as we interacted with and acted upon our environment. As our mental faculties develop, we come to acquire language as a symbol system to help us to code and communicate our perceptions and understandings. Language also, in Piaget's view, exposed us to how other people viewed the world and led to the need to negotiate or re-negotiate our understanding. Piaget believed, as do many cognitive theorists who are not followers of Piaget, that language is dependent on intellectual development. Vygotsky, a famous Russian psychologist who has many strong supporters, stresses the point that language and thinking processes must interact in order for intellectual development to go beyond the most primitive level. This is an important debate: does language follow behind thinking or must the two go hand-in-hand?


    In recent years, researchers into language development have begun to stress far more than previously that the roots of language lie in the early attempts of infants and carers to interact and communicate with each other. For this reason, we have labelled them interactionists although the theorists who have contributed to this view come from many different backgrounds. They see the beginnings of language in early conversation; what is sometimes called ‘proto-conversation’. Carers, usually mothers, in everyday routines and play, behave with infants as if they are taking part in conversations. Infants seem to be born with the propensity to be sociable. They pay particular attention to their carers and learn to respond, at first with face and body movements, later with gesture and intonation and ultimately with words. Carers provide a kind of scaffold in which the child can become familiar with routines of communication and can gradually take more initiative. When the child comes to use their first words, they fit readily into an established pattern of communication. Jerome Bruner and his associates have been instrumental in propagating this perspective.


    Socio-cultural theory was first established by Vygotsky and is connected closely to the history and culture of communities, including minority groups. Every community has distinctive characteristics defined through cultural practices, relationships, norms and expectations. Children develop their emotional attachments and social relationships, learning language and communication strategies through interacting with significant others. They learn through social situations, and their development evolves through being embedded in their immediate environment and society. Children's behaviour and understanding therefore occur within social relationships mediated by cultural practices, which are shaped by knowledge and beliefs about what is culturally expected. It can be seen that cross-cultural diversity – how adults and children interact – is crucial in the co-construction of learning and for ensuring equity for individual children, who will each have experienced particular cultural values within their personal families and communities. Adults need to examine their own cultural practices, expectations, communication strategies and how these affect their teaching and relationships with children – how they instruct, cue children into and scaffold their learning.

    Appendix 2 Long-Term Planning: Early Years Unit: Continuous Provision – Literacy Areas – Indoors and Outdoors

    Key Learning Opportunities

    • To share, empathise, respect and listen to others' ideas through story and role-play experiences
    • To extend Vocabulary – through everyday conversation; using the language of storytelling and acquiring new words connected with topics, themes and play activities
    • To show an interest in illustrations of all books and know about title, author and illustrators
    • To understand the meaning of fiction and non-fiction
    • To explore and identify rhyme in songs, story and everyday activities
    • To find and read familiar words in the immediate environment
    • To use writing as a means of recording what they see and do and to communicate with others


    • Alliteration: where the same sounds appear in the first syllable of two or more consecutive words, e.g. tongue twisters
    • Bilabial sounds: such as [p], [b], [m] in English where both lips are used as articulators to produce the sound
    • Bilingualism: fluency in two languages
    • CGFS: Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage. The curriculum from 2000–2008 for children aged 3 to 5 years
    • Circle time: a group activity where children sit in a circle, learning more about themselves, each other and communication or emotional literacy skills
    • Co-construct: when an adult and child are both involved in the learning process and understanding, thinking and meanings are jointly shared
    • Code switching: when an individual switches between formal and informal language or even between two languages in the course of a conversation
    • Cohesion: when conversation is fluent
    • Contextualise: to place a word or idea in context
    • Conversation: an act of communication between two or more people involving turn-taking, listening and talking
    • Cuing systems: what readers use to be able to decode/understand the meaning of unknown words in a text, e.g. via semantics, syntax or the grapho-phonemic cues
    • Deixis: language fixed in the time and place of conversation, such as instructions on where to put things or directions
    • DfES: Department for Education and Skills. This is now superseded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which brings together education and children's services
    • ELGs: Early Learning Goals
    • Emergent literacy: initial reading and writing skills that children develop, which lead to them becoming competent readers
    • Emotional well-being: awareness of one's own emotions; the feel-good factor about oneself that contributes to healthy personal esteem and self-values
    • Environmental print: words and symbols found in everyday life such as signs, advertisements and product packaging
    • EPPE: Effective Provision of Preschool Education. A major longitudinal study (1997–2002) that researched the quality of pre-school education in England
    • EYFS: Early Years Foundation Stage. The new curriculum from birth to age 5 delivered in settings from September 2008
    • Fine motor skills: movement involving small muscles within the eye or hand, such as in holding a pencil or brush
    • Gross motor skills: movement involving the larger muscles or whole body, such as walking or lifting the head
    • High/Scope: the High/Scope curriculum is an approach to education used widely in the USA, specifically designed in the 1960s to improve intellectual performance of children in disadvantaged inner city areas. It is a cognitively-oriented curriculum, based loosely on Piagetion theory with a pedagogy built upon a ‘plan-do-review’ sequence of activities
    • Intertextuality: how the meaning of one text is shaped by the meaning of other texts
    • KEEP: Key Elements in Effective Practice. An evaluation and training tool for local authorities to develop effective practice in early years practitioners
    • Key worker: the person in the educational setting primarily responsible for particular child/ren
    • Kinaesthetic: a hands-on approach where people learn from touching, feeling and doing
    • LAD: language acquisition device
    • Language delay: when a child is learning language at a slower pace than their peers
    • LASS: language acquisition support system
    • Lateralisation: left- or right-handedness
    • Madrassas: Islamic schools
    • Metalinguistic awareness: the ability to understand the nature of language, i.e. the structure and systems
    • Makaton: A system of signs and symbols to teach communication, language and literacy skills to people with communication and learning difficulties. It is an internationally-recognised communication programme, used in more than 40 countries worldwide
    • Modelling language: being a role model for children in terms of language used
    • Motherese: adapted or simplified language used by the child's mother in order to communicate with her child or baby
    • NC: National Curriculum. The official state curriculum that sets out the stages and core subjects children aged 5 to 16 will be taught during their time at school
    • Ofsted: Office for Standards in Education. The official body for inspecting schools in England
    • Onomatopoeia: words that convey meaning through sound, e.g. pitter-patter (of rain), crash, bang, swish
    • Operators: the first words used by babies, which can usually convey a whole range of meanings
    • Overextension: when a child is applying a wider meaning to the word than is usual in adult language, such as ‘car’ might refer to all road vehicles or ‘cat’ to all animals
    • Paralinguistics: the study of paralanguage, i.e. non-verbal forms of communication such as intonation, pitch and volume, and how they influence meaning
    • Parentese (or infant directed speech): adapted or simplified language used by the parent, carer, guardian, relative or friend in order to accommodate the understanding of the child or baby
    • Phoneme: the smallest unit of speech that distinguishes meaning and may be made up of one or more letters that make one sound, e.g. [th], [sch]. There are approximately 44 phonemes in the English language
    • Phonemic awareness: the ability to distinguish and utilise sounds in a word
    • Phonetically ‘decodable’: materials that use only vocabulary and sounds that have been taught to the children
    • Phonetics: the science of speech sounds
    • Phonology: the study of the way in which sound is used to express meaning and an analysis of the variations that arise
    • PNS: Primary National Strategy. The official state strategy that supports teachers and schools to raise standards across the whole curriculum
    • Playscape: playscapes extend the context of builder's trays, through providing landscapes and environments that can extend children's storytelling and problem solving through contextualising play
    • Pragmatics: relates to children acquiring the social rules that govern the choice of language in terms of vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation
    • Pronunciation: the way in which words or sentences are spoken
    • Scaffolding: assistance provided by an adult in context to aid a child's learning
    • Schemas: repeated actions or behaviour from experiences that gradually develop into co-ordinated and assimilated activities
    • Segmentation skills: breaking up a word into its individual sounds, e.g. c-a-t
    • Semantic learning: the process of understanding concepts and putting vocabulary together to make sense and meaning
    • Semilingualism: when a child fails to acquire the first language to the same standard as would be anticipated in a monolingual child because first language acquisition is interrupted or insufficient
    • SEN: special educational needs
    • SLT: speech and language therapist
    • Socio-culturalism: how children develop their language, emotional attachments, life expectations and significant relationships in the context of the community in which they are brought up
    • Special educational needs (SEN): learning difficulties or disabilities that affect a child's ability to learn
    • Stakeholders: those who have an interest in children's education such as parents, teachers and school governors
    • Story sack: a large cloth bag which contains a story book and various props to bring the story to life
    • Storying: occurs as we make up our own stories from anecdotes, personal experiences, written stories, events, culture and history
    • Sustained shared thinking (SST): sharing intelligent conversations with children and encouraging joint construction of ideas
    • Syntactic learning: the process of stringing words together to make meaningful sentences
    • Syntax: the rules or grammar of sentence structure
    • Telegraphese: when young children omit the small grammatical words such as ‘is’ or ‘are’, word endings such as ‘ing’, or the definite or indefinite article
    • Timbre: quality and tone of sound
    • Transliteration: the practice of transcribing a word or text written in one writing system into another writing system
    • Treasure baskets: a collection of everyday articles that can be used to stimulate a child or baby's senses
    • Underextension: the limiting of the meaning of a word to the child's own narrow worldview


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