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Thursday, 8 January 2015

Creative Communication

So what can we do as parents and educators to improve communication with children who have language barriers?

I have tried to be imaginative in my approach. I'm not a speech and language therapist but I have been an ESOL teacher, I am a creative storyteller to children and workshop facilitator in creative writing, and I can see how engaging language in creative context makes a huge difference to children.

And our children can teach us how to teach them. When my daughter was younger she could only understand a limited range of vocabulary. She took this to create a book called 'To the Zoo', where she drew pictures of animals and repeated 'I went to the zoo' - inspired by the book Dear Zoo.

So even when the language is limited a child can use it, use pictures to illustrate their ideas, and feel autonomous in that use.

One of the first things I did to encourage this was to give her some lovely 'Hello Kitty' notebooks and pens, to show I respected her attempts to write and she loved them. Over time her notebooks have become secret diaries, and she will draw lines between pictures to illustrate her understanding of narrative and connection. This way of expressing concepts is so important for her confidence in expressing language clearly.

Drawings are communication, stories and imagination games are communication. Anything that encourages the same action  as the action to use language in literacy or spoken, is a confidence builder. Because of the constraints on time, schools necessarily can't focus on those 'soft targets' but as parents we can.

Over time I have realised that I can't play the part of teacher, because she doesn't like me doing that for her! But I can give her the tools to practice those things by herself.

My daughter is an inspiration to me and I often practice my stories and poems for her to see what she finds engaging, but also because she is my biggest fan and critic. As role models we can do the things we love and also help the children we want to so much.

So pick up a pen and start doodling, read a story you have written, retell a traditional tale, sing songs, have fun, be creative! It's a great stress relief and encourages your child to have a go themselves.

Creative communication in all its forms builds confidence, builds language and is fun - what's not to like? Don't let people tell you it's a waste of time, Minecraft and Lego are great examples of how children can create and it's a great conversation starter too. A child might find it hard to express how they feel about their school day but much easier to talk about their Minecraft world.

Creativity is not a soft option, its sometimes an essential tool to reach children who are on the sidelines because of their barriers to communication.