SUSS Public Lecture Series 2022:
Early Childhood Care and Education
The language environment of infants and toddlers in early childhood education settings and its value for learning
Children’s language development in the first three years of life is a key predictor of their subsequent academic achievement. This lecture introduces our ongoing research into the language environment that infants and toddlers experience in Australian early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings and outlines the key factors that foster the development and use of language as a key tool for learning.
Understanding these factors can support policy makers and educators in their quest to provide very young children with the best education and care environments.
We first present findings from a study that employed the Language Environment Analysis (LENA) technology to examine the differences in the language environment experienced by multilingual and monolingual infants (n=181, aged 12-21 months) in ECEC settings.
The study investigated whether infants’ multilingual status predicted adult word count, educator-infant conversational turns, and child vocalisations, and how these metrics interact with other infant, home and ECEC program characteristics. Using data from another recent study, we then discuss some of the main ways in which educators can encourage infants to use their developing language skills to demonstrate and advance their learning.
Finally, we turn our attention to the opportunities for learning afforded by naturally occurring toddler-educator conversations that use decontextualised talk, where ideas are expressed and shared without reference to the immediate physical context and activity.