I’m a great believer that language isn’t ‘fixed’. I prefer to see it as a playground, something to experiment and invent with, to be creative with. It’s why I’ve never been that keen on word banks being put up in different areas of provision since these can often lead adults to become fixated with a small selection of words. This can lead them to try and ‘cram and crowbar’ vocabulary into children’s experiences whilst potentially creating a culture of inauthenticity e.g. we only interact with children in the Water Zone so that we can say the word ‘splash’.
I’ve always felt that this approach also unconsciously limits the adults in how they see language, which in turn becomes a view that can be passed on to the children. There’s so much more to language than ‘vocabulary’, especially when we shape a practice that embraces the full potential of what I call Happy Talk, the ebb and flow of chit-chat, toying with words, being nonsensical and play-full.
Chit-chat is central to my own childhood philosophy because it opens the Adult World’s mind to the idea that language is a shared conversation, that we also need to listen to children and honour their thinking, their ideas and how they express them. It is where Happy Talk gets its name from – the joy of communication, being understood, being shown the delight in wordplay, and knowing that words contain hidden meanings and poetry.
Sharing vocabulary with young children is important of course – we want them to acquire a command of words because to have this is a gift that will stay with them for life and for me, this gift comes through play, nature’s very own gift to us where the landscape of language can open up and flourish.
To overcome Word Bank-ism that can trap language in the different areas of provision, I’m an advocate of exploring synonyms, nonsense and make-believe as a team calling out words as we make ready for the day and mentally noting them like a Library of Language that we might wander through and open up to children as the day of play unfolds. It can have a very subtle message too: to show the adults that they don’t own language and that it belongs to childhood equally, that the adventure of play isn’t only in what can be seen but what can be said and imagined also.
Of course it takes time to develop a culture where language is seen in this way, but once you begin the journey into it, it can be really liberating for your team – you begin to play with language and see its possibilities. This can make our interactions even more authentic because we can take conversation down the unlimited pathways of play that childhood reveals to us, rather than the heavy feeling that can often comes when adults feel like they have to get words to fit into the day.
One way to open up the adventure into language and its joy so that our team can explore synonyms and play-fullness across the day is to play the game of ‘Plop!’ as children come into your setting first thing in the morning – it’s aimed at giving the adults confidence to ‘play with language’.
Plop! is a form of self-registration, each child having a small pebble that they take to then drop into a container of water, the sound of it landing announcing that they have arrived. Plop! gives us the perfect opportunity to explore synonyms around the real sounds of water landing (splosh, plip, splash, kersploosh, plink, kersplash) but also show children how we can play with language too and invent new words (pleep, doink, dink, splip, splop,) as well as pretending that the pebble dropping into the water makes something magical happen (adults say a word completely unconnected to water as the pebble lands e.g. ‘miniature’ or ‘sneaking’ or the adult moves in a certain way e.g. jump or stand on one leg – the child’s act of dropping a pebble has as a play-full influence on the world). We can even ask the children what sound they want their pebble to make too!!
Plop! is a simple way to begin playing with language. In a way, childhood plays with language all the time – it’s just waiting for the Adult World to catch up and join in. The real joy of Plop! is that it can give your team the confidence to invent and explore, a base camp from which they can confidently set out into the learning landscape of the continuous provision knowing that childhood is ready to play and then once your team have got started, who knows where Plop! might lead them to?
Mini Moment – give Plop! a go and as a team look to see how chit chat and conversation can spark to life by exploring synonyms and nonsense as part of your team dialogue. Share moments of playing with language with one another – all of this can build confidence within the team…