How to Have Meaningful Conversations with Preschoolers & Pre-K Children
You’ve probably heard the phrase “kids say the darndest things.” But if you are a teacher, parent, or have spent any time around a child, you know it’s true. Kids will make you laugh, shock you, and surprise you with something incredibly insightful.
I’ve had countless moments like this throughout my years teaching and working in schools. When I very first started out, I had a classroom of 2 and 3 year olds. Whenever friends or family would ask how work was that day, I would think back to a conversation I had with a child (I so badly wish I kept a journal of their daily quotes). I’ll never forget the times where they stopped me in my tracks by saying words like “sensory table,” “chrysalis,” or “frustrated.” Or the times they would respond to questions from daily story reads with our focus vocabulary.
I’m sure many of you have created language-rich environments in your classroom and are involved in meaningful conversations with your preschool and Pre-K students throughout the day. But if you want to keep improving your exchanges and interactions, the Cox Campus has some tips for you using what we call the TALK strategy.
Let’s break it down:
Tune In: Engage in the Child’s Interests
Haven’t you noticed it’s much easier to get someone to talk about what they are interested in? It’s no different with young children. Starting a conversation around their interests is what makes a conversation meaningful to that child. To tune in, watch the child and observe what they’re doing. You don’t have to jump in right away with a question or statement – be patient and take a moment to wait for the right opportunity to start a conversation. Use a question or statement as a conversation starter. It’s usually a safe bet to start with “I noticed…” or “I see…” or “I wonder…” Watch how Joan, a pre-K teacher, starts a conversation with her student, Nathan about what he built during center time.
Ask Questions: Simple & Complex Questions Drive Understanding
Once you’ve started a conversation by tuning in to what the child is interested in, you can ask questions to engage with them. You can ask all types of questions – simple, choice-driven or open-ended, questions. It’s important to vary the types of questions, depending on where the conversation is going, but with the goal being to have the child answer open-ended questions in complete sentences – and even using complex vocabulary at times! Let’s take a look at the young girl in this photo.
She’s coloring a picture – what a great chance to have a meaningful conversation! You could start by asking a simple open-ended question such as, “Can you tell me about the picture you are coloring?” This question not only tunes in to the child, but also opens up the floor for the child to respond however she would like. If the child has a difficult time answering, use scaffolds to support the child in the conversation.
A scaffold in this conversation would be using simpler questions such as fill in the blank and either/or questions to get the child more comfortable and give them confidence in their ability to give an answer. You could scaffold with questions such as: “I see you are making beautiful people. Is this someone in your family? Yes of course, it’s your Mommy and Daddy.” or “”Who will you draw next, Gabby? Your big sister OR your baby brother?” Before you know it, she’ll be able to confidently answer open-ended questions that require her to think deeply about the things she’s seen or heard to understand more complex ideas and events.
Lift Language & Keep it Going: Build On the Conversation!
Now that you’ve started a back and forth exchange by asking questions, it’s your chance to make this conversation as a language-building opportunity by using the last two elements of the TALK strategy: Lift Language and Keep it Going.
Lifting language is modeling well formed sentences, using complex vocabulary in an intentional way, and building upon children’s responses meaningfully. And as you use the last part of the TALK strategy, Keep it Going, you offer more opportunities for learning and meaningful conversation. Just think: the longer you keep your preschool and Pre-K students engaged in meaningful conversation, the more they’ll feel loved and heard and the more they’re able to learn!
Meaningful conversations are powerful reminders of how children are so brilliant – and fun – and I’m forever thankful I get to hear what their little minds are thinking. By implementing the TALK strategy in your classroom, you’ll be able to turn even the smallest moments into opportunities for learning and language development with preschoolers and Pre-K children.
Want to learn more about the TALK strategy? Check out our free course for preschool and Pre-K teachers on the Cox Campus: “Meaningful Conversations.” In this course, you’ll learn more about how to connect with children through meaningful conversations and how you impact their oral language development and all learning.