A baby's cooing leads to a wonderful flood of words. As children develop language, they discover and share their ideas. Here's a look at how children learn and use language every day.

by Nancy Balaban, Ph.D., Ellen Booth Church, Sara Wilford, and Susan Canizares

Communicating & Caring 

By Nancy Balaban PhD

As summer wanes and children begin a new year in your program, they need to feel surrounded by trust. Your warmth, your smile, and the way you speak can reassure them that they're in a safe and caring place: "Welcome, Samantha, come right in. I'm glad you and your dad are here. Look around and find something you two can play with together."

What you say and how you say it continue to be important throughout these first weeks and beyond. Inviting parents to stay in the classroom for a while is an important part of helping to ease their child's transition and separation. Hearing the explanation from you can really make a difference to a parent: "Some children need a little extra support these first days, so if you're able to stay awhile before you go to work, I know your child will feel more comfortable here." And when parents do leave, children will also need to hear from you that you will take care of them until their parents return.

In regard to tears, clinging to Mom's or Dad's clothing, or very downcast expressions, parents will be relieved to hear that their child's behavior isn't surprising or unusual. "Children act this way because it's really, really hard to say goodbye to someone you love." Young children, who may not understand what they're feeling or why, also need to hear that it's okay to feel sad and that they can feel free to say "I miss my mom." Sharing those feelings with you means they're on their way to coping with one of life's most common yet difficult experiences.

When children realize you will listen with the same attention and focus you give to adults, they will receive an important message: "What you have to say is serious and important and interests me."

Each day provides endless opportunities for children to explore and talk about their feelings and interests - their families, what animals eat, how babies are born, what makes puddles dry up. Talk flows, offering teachers who listen carefully the chance to reap a rich harvest of children's far-ranging ideas.

Talking and listening are the means through which teachers and children share experiences and interests - all day and all year long. They are also the scaffolds upon which a caring classroom community is built. What you say and how you say it can contribute greatly to an environment that fosters emerging language and literacy.

Nancy Balaban, Ph.D., is a faculty member of the graduate school and codirector of the parent-infant program at Bank Street College of Education in New York.