Our brains seek patterns. It’s the way we make sense of our world and it is also the way we learn. Conversational patterns are an important part of our world, particularly as they govern the nature of our interactions. As we learn language initially from our earliest interactions, the ongoing conversations between parents and young children have a strong impact on not only our language development but of our view of the world and our place in it.
We know that children of parents who speak to them a lot develop larger vocabularies. This seems like common sense. However, as Bari Walsh from Harvard Graduate School of Education (https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/15/02/smart-talk) explains, it’s not just talking that’s important. It’s a conversation. In this sense, it is the quality of those words that’s important. This is not just about using ‘big’ words, it is about the quality of the larger conversations. Walsh explains that besides a wide assortment of words, using complex words, interactive words, and words to tell stories, explain and imagine are all important.
In terms of patters, the use of questions is very important in the interactions. To take the example of using words to wonder, if a child is in conversations on a regular basis where they are asked their thoughts on what things might be like (e.g. When looking at the sky at night, ‘I wonder what it would be like to walk on the Moon?’) and are given time and space to explore these ideas, they will sense patterns across conversations and these patterns will explain things about their world. From these patterns, they will learn that;
- they are valued as individuals, as their thoughts add meaning to conversations
- imagination is important, for why else would time be spent on such conversations
- perceptions differ, but these differing perceptions don’t need to be right or wrong
- people need time to gather their thoughts and patient listeners wait
- ideas can be explored at varying degrees of depth
- we make meaning by building on each other’s ideas
In this sense, it is not just the words that are important, it’s the way we use them. From the type of conversations, they encounter and the patterns they see, children learn their place in the world. Conversation, in this sense, can be a valuable gift to a child.