We know young children appear to be starting settings with less developed language than in previous years due to a range of reasons. Understanding the World can be a meaningful and motivating way to really extend the language development of young children, especially if the adults have a wide range of interaction strategies to support this. Young children’s learning is not compartmentalised, and so Understanding the World interlinks with all the other areas of learning in this positive way – yet is important and unique in its own right.
Most young children enjoy learning new words especially if they support the development of their interests. Using the local environment provides many meaningful opportunities to introduce, ‘play with’, and embed new vocabulary. An example of this might be at the local park, where using the male and female names for ducks, being aware of the names of the different types of foul to be found on the water, and exploring the names of the different plants will all extend the young child’s vocabulary in a meaningful context. We recognise there is a 30 million word gap, which has been the subject of many initiatives, and using this type of specific language is one way to support this. We think nothing of introducing dinosaur names but think twice about cloud names, plant names, or names of all but the commonest trees. There is a wealth of geographical terms as well as adjectives that can be used in the World strand which can be used to supplement this.
In addition to this, these statements from the unique child theme are all excellent vehicles for developing language, if careful consideration is given to extending possibilities. From the People and Communities strand, shows interest in different occupations and ways of life, can provide such a deep vein to tap into for widening children’s experiences and vocabulary. This again has been thought of in the experiences menu for going to a printers, experiencing an artist or musician etc, which all lead to vocabulary widening opportunities. The lives of families and friends of the children can open up many varied occupations as well as the local community. The garage on the corner, the DIY shop, a café etc to name but a few. In my experience, during this project, people have been very generous with their time and are willing to let young children visit, if they understand why it is adding to the children’s life experiences and how they may benefit in the future from the experience. I have asked all sorts of occupations if I can photograph them whilst they go about their work and they have been very happy to oblige such as the emptying of the street bins in the Stoke Goes Out booklet. The statement of Talks about why things happen and how things work builds on how some young children are really fascinated in this process and going to see working museums or places of work in action can be fantastic for this. In the clay industry there is a machine called an extruder, which some young children will love playing around with by utilising a garlic crusher in the playdough or clay that will extrude the material, on a smaller scale, and using this label. There are ideal ways to talk about similarities and differences: Notices detailed features of objects in their environment and Develops an understanding of growth, decay and changes over time are equally useful. The latter statement would be great for bringing in terms such as deciduous and evergreen, annual and perennial, and exploring their meanings.
If books and resources are made following these trips out, this will further extend children’s opportunities to rehearse and refine their language use and to have opportunities to be authors and illustrators. This should all help with engendering a love of books and reading. Copies can easily be made and sent home to enable families to support their child at home. Children could be included in the decision making about the grade, shape, and colour of paper to be used, the binding method and whether it should be a paperback or a hard-backed book, or even a zig-zag book, to name a few options. Exploring all forms of environmental print, from road signs to adverts, and shops signs and notices, are all useful opportunities to engage with the written word as they appear in your locality.