Non verbal and digital literaciesNeed help?
In this video, teachers Irene Padtoc and Angela Jenkins from Elim International Kids Early Childhood Centre in Wellington talk about ways they support the literacy development of infants and toddlers, and notice and respond to embodied literacies during everyday interactions with children in their early childhood setting.
Click here to learn more about Irene and Angela
Irene Padtoc is the centre manager at Elim International Kids Early Childhood Centre. She had been teaching Infants and Toddlers for more than nine years and loves the times that she spends with the infants and toddlers. Irene is passionate about supporting very young tamariki in developing and learning early literacy skills, and she is a co-author (with Amanda White) of a publication called Supporting toddlers as competent story navigators across home and early childhood contexts. Irene has a Master of Science in Psychology and a Graduate Diploma in Teaching Early Childhood Education, both of which shaped her teaching philosophy and practice in early childhood education.
Angela Jenkins is an infant and toddler teacher at Elim International Kids Early Childhood Centre. She has been teaching infants and toddlers for just over seven years and loves working with this age group. She believes that children communicate and express themselves through 1000 languages and through a range of literacy modes including through their bodies, their gestures, their senses, and their words. Observing so many children grow through this age group has given her a new perspective on ways to extend early literacy development for even our youngest children.
Supporting the literacy development of infants and toddlers
Angela: We try to make a print-rich environment, so that’s setting up lots of domains like a section for them to do their art work, making sure things are within their reach, so that they can go when they want to, as well as a nice, quiet place for reading, if they want to take time to themselves, as well as using different strategies, such as – there’s one called narrating, where while they’re playing, we sort of add meaning to what they’re doing by just explaining what they’re doing, just saying, ‘oh that’s a nice colour you’re using – look, here comes Emma to come play with you’. Just adding that meaning to their play, and extending their vocabulary, so that way, their literacy, and how they make meaning of their world.
Irene: Yeah, and on top of that, maybe we could also talk about giving them enough time to explore – not only time, but space, just like what Angela mentioned about having a space for all the learning – small buckets of learning, and also the relationship that we have with the children. So, we develop that quality relationship – a responsive, reciprocal relationship with the children, so that they feel secure and safe, and that when they feel secure and safe, they are free to explore, and be able to learn from the activities that are prepared for them.
How do infants and toddlers use their bodies and senses to communicate meaning with others during everyday interactions?
Angela: When they’re exploring throughout the day, they use their bodies when exploring, such as where – kind of like with us, where they position themselves. So, when they’re approaching an area to play, you can sort of see in their body language if they’re excited about it, or if they change their mind, they might move away – and even communicating with others, so gestures just like pointing, waving, or come here – you can sort of see what they’re trying to express to someone else, as well as either facial expression, where their eye gaze is.
Irene: So, with all these facial expressions, the sensory stimulation they have, we are able to learn what their preferences are, we are able to learn what they know about, what they are knowledgeable of, what they can do, and what they cannot do. We also learn about their emotions, their feelings at that time. We also learn about what they like and dislike.
Angela: If they keep returning to something, then we can say, that’s something they’re interested in, especially if it’s a group of children, as well – then we can think, okay, yes, we want to extend on this. So, extending on those learning opportunities that we see.
Irene: Yeah, and that also helps us think about planning about how we can extend this further. So, based on what we see, based on what the children are showing us, then we would know what their preferences are, what they really are interested in, and that gives us an idea as to how we can plan to be able to extend on their knowledge, or on the skills that they have from their play.
Why are relationships with parents and families important for supporting literacy development?
Angela: We take an interest from when they first arrive. In the first settling visit, one of the questions we ask is about any aspirations that they have, and during their time with us, during drop-off and pick-up, we always make time to talk to each child’s parent, to see how the child’s feeling that day, as well as just general stories and anecdotes. We’re like, ‘oh, yeah – what did you guys get up to?’ So, we talk to the child about that throughout the day, and we also have pictures throughout the environment about past experiences, so that helps connect – make that connection between the home and centre, as well.
Irene: Yeah, and also, in our learning stories, we always see to it that we involve the parents. So, we ask questions about how they feel about the story of their child. So, they often give us responses, and that’s actually great for us, too, so that we would know what their thoughts and feeling about their child’s time here at EIK. So, we often communicate with them via phone if there’s need, by interview, or just during drop-off or pick-up times.
Angela: Yeah, just sharing those stories. I remember once we had a parent who said that their child kept singing ‘pao pao pao’, and they didn’t understand what it meant, so they talked to us that morning saying, do you know what this is? We’re like, ‘oh, yeah – pao pao pao wiri wiri’. Then, the parent’s like, ‘oh, that’s what they’re saying!’ The child was getting frustrated that the parent didn’t know what the song was. So, we were able to clarify that, and that was really nice, as well, because it’s clear that the songs and waiata we sing – the child’s really enjoying it, so she’s doing it at home, as well – we’re able to share it.
Irene: Yeah, and sometimes parents, when they come to drop off or pick up their child, they often tell us what their child is doing at home, and then they tell us, ‘oh, we haven’t taught this to them, but when they come home, they show us this kind of action’. It’s something probably that they’ve learned from the centre. So, when they mention about it, then we would affirm yeah, indeed that’s something that the child has learned in the centre.
Irene and Angela talk about the many different ways infants and toddlers demonstrate their thoughts, feelings, interests, preferences, and capabilities through their body language, eye gaze, gestures, and tone of voice. As teachers, Irene and Angela describe how they take time to observe and hone in on embodied forms of meaning-making so that they can plan and extend on children’s interests and competencies in their early childhood centre. Angela mentioned their intentionality in setting up a print-rich environment and different domains for embodied exploration and learning, such as art and books. Irene also emphasised the importance of time, space, and fostering relationships in order for infants and toddlers to learn how to communicate meaningfully with others.
Infants, toddlers, and children who do not use verbal communication often rely on adults and peers noticing, recognising, and responding to their embodied literacy expressions. For teachers, this underscores the importance of making time to slow down, observe, and listen to what children are communicating. Some children express themselves in very quiet, subtle, and embodied ways. Discussing your observations with parents and whānau can also be valuable in helping to make sense of what children are trying to tell you. Sometimes parents may need your help too, as in Angela’s example about the child becoming frustrated when her parents did not understand her gestures!
In their interview, Irene and Angela describe the importance of noticing eye contact, body language, gestures, and touch in communicating with infants and toddlers who are not yet talking. Noticing embodied signs of meaning is an important strategy for teachers when engaging with children of any age.
In this video, we focus on the use of digital technologies that Mary and Bill introduced in their interview. Digital technologies include visual, spatial, and tactile modes that can be used alongside oral, auditory, and written information to help children explore ways to make and share meaning with others. Teachers Jodi Tavite and Kelly Ballinger-Tavite from Stokes Valley Kindergarten in Wellington talk about ways they engage in digital literacies as part of everyday interactions with children in their kindergarten.
Watch the video below and then share your ideas in the community.
Click here to learn more about Jodi and Kelly
Jodi Tavite is the head teacher at Stokes Valley Kindergarten. She became interested in early literacy when creating a child-led programme where children are encouraged to plan, manage, and develop their own learning outcomes. She has helped children follow their interests through oral storytelling, conversations, play, imagining, song, dance, and learning to articulate their own interpretations of the developing world around them, all of which are integral parts of literacy in the early years.
Kelly Ballinger-Tavite is a teacher at Stokes Valley Kindergarten. She is passionate about representing children’s culture and identity within the learning environment and through her interactions with them. She promotes the use of home languages because she values the importance of representing a child and their whānau through learning and play. Literacy learning provides a framework for introducing new words, sounds, and symbols to reflect the different cultures within the kindergarten community.
Jodi: In our kindergarten, it’s a child-led programme. So, what that looks like is children can facilitate their own learning outcomes, they can manage … they can plan their own learning. What we do as teachers is we work with and alongside the children, which creates lots of opportunity for rich conversation. When children are planning and facilitating their own learning, we work with them, and encourage the use of lots of language through our open-ended resources, so there’s plenty of opportunities for interpretation. We do lots of oral story-telling, lots of music, lots of dance. We explore a wide range of curriculum areas for children to be really expressive in who they are, and also in how they interpret the world around them.
How can digital technologies support children’s communication and literacy development?
Jodi: We use Storypark a lot. Storypark is really familiar to a lot of early childhood settings, but the way in which we’ve used it is for those relationships with family and whānau, but also with the children. So, what we do is we plan alongside the children. When we’re writing learning stories or documenting assessment, recording observations of children, we will do it in the environment alongside the child, so they’re actually part of that process. When we talk about literacy and how that’s supporting that, we’re having those conversations, we’re story-telling, we’re feeding back to the children, so they’re heavily engaged in those opportunities for conversation, and then children are having their opportunities to facilitate the story to us. So, it’s their own words, their own interpretation, it’s happening within the assessment, in the moment, and then we fire it off to whānau, and then we get an instant response back. So, it’s a three-way literacy, which is absolutely amazing – something that we’re really proud of.
Kelly: With project work, it’s a lot of questioning and investigations. So, we have the iPads on the floor, so if children are asking a question, we can research that alongside them, and then thinking of our teaching strategies again, making sure we use open-ended questions. Something that we use a lot is ‘I wonder’ statements, so saying to children, ‘I wonder’, and that gives them the opportunity to think, and then articulate orally, or even non-orally with their non-verbal communication as well. So, using that on the floor is a way that we use digital technology. And then also, using computers when we’re coming to documentation in our project work. So, we have a lot of documentation in our environment – it’s not in a folder hidden away in our office, it is on the floor. Children refer to it. It starts conversations. They revisit it, and then we have those conversations once again. The whānau are in the environment, they see what’s happening, there’s a three-way conversation again. We’ve had it on Storypark – then we have it again in our environment. It’s just prompting those conversations all the time. So, in each area where we have project work, we’re sitting alongside them, working on project mahi, and then it’s right there, and we can see it. So we use it in so many ways. We’re really lucky to live in a digital world, and use that to help our children’s literacy.
Jodi and Kelly describe some of the ways that they use digital technologies to support literacies in their everyday interactions with children. Using iPads on the floor is one way that children can be involved in the process of writing stories, and doing research and project work alongside and with teachers. Using iPads to co-create stories and document learning on Storypark also helps to connect and facilitate conversations between children, parents and whānau, and teachers. Jodi and Kelly explain how technology is a useful tool that allows them to search for information with children, but they do this in conjunction with other open-ended resources and language strategies such as open-ended questions and ‘I wonder’ statements to help support children’s thinking, questioning, and investigating as they learn together.
In what ways do children learn about and through digital technologies using visual, tactile, auditory, and other modes in your setting? What are some of the benefits of having access to technologies to support literacy learning? How do parents and other stakeholders at your centre react to the use of technology in early childhood education? Share your ideas below, then read some of your colleagues’ comments. Does there seem to be a wide variety in the use of digital technology across centres? Why do you suppose they are so different or similar?