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Ta-da!!!

Greg Bottrill, author of Can I Go Play Now..? and early years thought leader outlines a powerful alternative to ‘intervention’, and all of the adult-centered implications it can conjure. Instead, through co-play and juts a smidgin of silliness, we can share simple joys with children and encourage them to experiment and play with speech, language and exploration, while enabling them to own their sense of learning and wonder.

When I was a KS2 teacher, life never seemed to travel far until the word ‘intervention’ popped up. The word is a little bit like fingernails down a chalkboard for me because I associate it with the Adult World’s remarkable ability to turn children’s days into a series of endless hoops to jump through. There’s nothing wrong of course in wanting to support children in their learning development but to my mind there is something wayward about how intervention ends up happening.

Most of the time is seems to involve removing children from the hum and buzz of their day to sit with an adult while they perform for them in some kind of flashcard tsunami or try to interpret badly drawn pictures to show adults what vocabulary they know, all the while confirming to children that learning doesn’t belong to them or their own experiences especially when they are dragged out of PE to go and take part in it.

Hopefully in nurseries we don’t necessarily see too much of this type of intervention but there probably are times when we have children who require some additional layers of time with an adult to explore and develop skills that they may need to build confidence in. I’m a real advocate of looking at the role of co-play first for this type of work before we consider withdrawing children to do it, since I greatly believe that co-play holds the key for childhood and skills.

If we do have children who we feel need some quieter time away from other children then we also need to consider the subtle messages they are receiving when we do this – separation, feeling different, having a sense of not fitting in can all begin to form for them. In an early childhood context I’m really thinking about speech development and how we might strengthen children’s confidence within the hum and buzz of play as an extra layer over any formal intervention programme that might be requested for them. It’s why I created ‘Ta-da!’ something super simple but giving all children the opportunity to have a go at making speech sounds as well as hearing them modelled and enunciated clearly by the adults around them.

Simplicity is something that I think childhood wants and ‘Ta-da!’ has it in bucketloads.

Essentially it works like this: within our co-play when we as adults build, draw, mark make, paint, chase, climb and so on, we take time to make a triumphant phrase to herald what we have done. The phrase includes the sounds that we know children are not so confident in. So for example I may have children who are not yet confident in saying ‘s’ at the beginning of a word and I have as part of co-playing helped build a tower of blocks. As the final block gets placed, with a flourish I announce ‘sausage!’ or ‘Superman’ or ‘spaghetti’ as a way of declaring the achievement. To begin with the children may not mimic the celebration but over time something extraordinary can happen.

Not only do they begin to say your phrase, they also start using their own. It can travel like wildfire because the word is being said as a simple statement and stands out against the typical flow of chat and conversation.

Several things are happening with ‘Ta-da!’. Children are seeing your joy, hearing you enunciate words, seeing that success is celebrated and failure can also be delighted in (e.g. saying a phrase when the tower falls down) and being immersed in the playground of language and its play-fullness. All of this is being done unconsciously– the ‘intervention’ becomes part of the play, as though it acquires a simple soundtrack that isn’t demanded but instead it is just shown and shared.

The simpler the phrase the better and examples might be (all said with high drama by the way): dum dum dum, swoosh, boing, happy birthday, abracadabra, jellybeans, flip flap flop, babblejab – the list can go on and on depending on what speech sounds you have identified as needing to work on with your children.

‘Ta-da!’ is a mini moment of playfull-ness, all the while acting as a connection to children and their play, as well as showing them the joy of language and how we can play with this too. So why not give ‘Ta-da!’ a go – not only will it make your children feel good I can pretty much guarantee as you proclaim ‘flapjack!’ to the children around you as your toy car travels at breakneck speed down the ramp , you’ll feel good too….

Curious Question

Can you identify the speech sounds that may be missing for your children and begin to piece together some phrases that you might ‘Ta-da!’ with? Can you think of opportunities across the day to experiment with its simplicity? How might you share the joy of ‘Ta-da!’ with home so that parents join in too?