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A Child’s World and Language Learning


Young children develop language in order to make sense of their world through a process of inquiry. In order to support our children to develop their language, we need to support their inquiry, for it is a parallel journey.


You only have to spend a short time with young children to notice the steady stream of ‘why’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘who’, ‘how’ and then yet more ‘why’ questions. Children develop the ability to engage others in their attempts to make sense of the world and, as inquirers, need to participate in socially authentic ways (Lindfors, 1999). We need to take our children’s inquiries seriously, and engage the conversations authentically, investigating their worlds, as they investigate ours.


The Reggio Emilia approach to childhood education stresses that we must actively seek out the worlds of children, not as limited versions of an adult world they will one day occupy, but as a legitimate ‘estate of childhood’ that is as rich and as meaningful as the world we are guiding them towards (Edwards, 2011). This is a challenge for an adult, a parent or teacher, interacting with a child’s ‘why’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘who’ and ‘how’ questions, as we can be tempted to simply explain, to fill the gaps we perceive in their understanding, when we should be taking these valuable opportunities to explore their worlds.


An inquiry-based approach to education, where a child’s learning is built on their existing knowledge and understanding, respects the legitimacy of a child’s world. For example, if a young child sees a machine and asks how it works, what sort of response would help them to explore? We need to seek an explanation of the world they have constructed, rather than simply explaining ours to them. It is a subtle, yet very powerful difference in the framing of the conversation with a child. Their explanation of their own world will push their language to its limits, but only if we give them the opportunity. As the complexity of their understanding of their world expands, so does the complexity of the language they will need to explain it to us.


My advice is to dive into their world through your own questioning. Ask your child about; form (What is it like?); function (How does it work?); causation (Why is it like this?); change (How is it changing?); connection (How is it connected to other things?); perspective (What are the points of view?); responsibility (What is our responsibility?); and reflection (How do we know?). These are the eight key concepts that the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program uses to guide the process of structured inquiry in the classroom (IB, 2009). Using these concepts to form questions can help you to explore the inherent complexity of your child’s world and in the process, push the sophistication of the language they are needing to use in their conversations with you.

As was mentioned above, these are parallel processes - making sense of the world through inquiry, and building the language needed to explain this world. Children want us to understand their world. We just need to give them the chance to explain, over and over again. We need to be able to ask good questions to support them and above all, we need to be prepared to take the time to listen, to find out more about their constantly shifting, uniquely personal, and utterly complex childhood worlds.


Works cited

Edwards, C. Gandini, L. Forman G. (Eds), 2011, The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation, 3rd Edition, Praeger.

Lindfors, J. 1999, Children's Inquiry: Using Language to Make Sense of the World, 1999, Teachers College Press.

International Baccalaureate, 2009, Making the PYP happen: A curriculum framework for international primary education, International Baccalaureate.


子供の世界と言語学習


小さい子供たちは、探求を通して言葉を発達させていきます。ほんの束の間子供たちと一緒にいるだけで、子供たちが「why(なぜ)」「when(いつ)」「where(どこ)」「who(誰)」「how(どのように)」それからさらに「why(なぜ)」という疑問を常に抱いていることに気付くでしょう。子供たちが自分の世界を築いていく上で、他人や他の世界と交わる能力を身に着け、探求者として関わっていくことは重要です。我々は子供たちの質問を真剣に受け止め、子供たちの世界に興味を示しながら会話に入っていきましょう。

幼児教育の一つであるレッジョ・エミリア・アプローチでは、大人社会の簡略版として子供たちの世界を理解するのではなく、子供の世界を大人の世界と同じぐらい豊かで最も有意義な幼児期の財産として捉え、もっと積極的に興味を示し理解するよう努める必要があることを強調しています。大人にとっては、子供の「why」「when」「where」「who」「how」の疑問に対処するのはチャレンジでもあります。子供たちの理解力を考え、簡単に答えたくなるものですが、これを子供の世界を探る貴重な機会と捉えるべきなのです。


小さな子供がある機械を見ているとします。そしてどのように動くのかを尋ねてきたとします。彼らが探求する手助けとなるにはどのように答えてあげればいいのでしょうか。我々の世界を子供たちに説明するよりも、むしろ彼らが作り上げてきた世界を理解しようと努める必要があります。何に疑問を抱いているのか、このテクノロジーが一体この子の世界では何を意味するのだろうかと。機会さえ与えれば自分たちの世界を説明するため、子供たちは最大限自分の言語能力を使おうとします。自分の世界が複雑になればなるほど、大人に説明するのにより複雑な言葉が必要となってくるのです。


まずは質問をすることで子供世界に飛び込んでみましょう。質問を投げかけることにより、もともと複雑な子供の世界観を探る助けとなることでしょう。そして、少し背伸びをした言葉を使うよう促してみましょう。探求と言葉を学ぶことは並行して発達していきます。子供たちは我々大人に自分たちの世界を理解して欲しいと思っています。大人は子供たちに彼らの世界を説明するチャンスを与えてあげる必要があるのです。変化し続ける、彼らのユニークな発想の、複雑な子供の世界の話に耳を傾ける時間を作ってあげるようにしましょう。


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