Beth Simon 

Why are real world conversations important to children? Children learn best when adults don’t talk to them about abstract concepts. Numbers and letters are part of the “abstract” world. Do we need numbers and letters? YES, absolutely! But children will learn about those things in due course. Children learn best when adults use concrete concepts that they can relate to in the world around them. 

For instance, one of my favorite ways to talk about cars with children as they play is to talk about how they got to school. Some will say, “My mom brought me.” Or “My dad brought us in his truck,” or maybe “I rode the bus.” There’s no wrong answer, just tell me how you got to school today. So, from these responses you can build a dialogue. Well, tell me about your mom’s car. Did it have two doors, or did everyone’s seat have a door? What color is your dad’s truck? How many doors did the truck have? As children are playing with toy cars, you can ask the child to find a car that looks like their mom’s. If they pull out the blue sedan with four doors, you can say, “So I see your mom drives a blue car and it has 1-2-3-4 doors. Tell me more about it.” As you can see this exchange can keep building on itself and the child is beginning to understand number and language concepts without sitting down to a formal math or language lesson. This back-and-forth exchange shows the child you’re interested in, it builds on their knowledge, and it makes a connection to his or her real-world experience that builds a relationship. And we all know that learning doesn’t occur outside the context of relationships. You can try incorporating other children into the conversation to build on the experience and compare the differing modes of transportation children used to get to school. Maybe this turns into a chart where now we have a graph of cars, trucks, and buses that represent how everyone got to school today? You can have children make a check mark or write their name in the corresponding column.  

Take a moment and think about some real-world conversations that you have had with children recently or if this is new to you, how can you incorporate more of this kind of talk with your children? 

The concept of relating to children through their experiences helps you to learn what they know, how their mind is working and how you might be able to expand on concepts that they have yet to encounter. Gaining this understanding about what children know and what they want to learn about doesn’t always have to come from quizzing them “What color is this?” “What shape do you see?” etc. Your understanding about the child can come from within the context of conversations. You can give prompts to get the conversation started, “I made pancakes this morning for breakfast – pancakes are my favorite! What did you have for breakfast? What’s your favorite thing to eat for breakfast?” Then you can build on this nugget of information and go from there. Conversations with children will sound and feel very much like conversations with adults. 

Take a moment to think about the conversations that you currently have with children in your classroom. Are the conversations that you have with children open-ended that allow children to think and respond? Are the conversations that you have currently more quizzical and closed-ended, meaning there is a specific “yes” or “no” response that’s right or wrong? If you answered yes to this question, how might you turn those closed-ended conversations into open-ended back and forth exchanges? And finally, how can you have open-ended conversations related to children’s real-life experiences?  

If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, here are a few other articles that might interest you.  

Teacher Tips: Making Real-World Connections Come Alive at Story Time  

Ten Ways to Help Your Child be a Good Conversationalist 

Conversation Starters to Get Kids Talking 


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