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Working Together with Children in Sport

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Submitted By rafa212
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Good communication is central to working with children. It helps build trust, and encourages children to seek advice and use services which may be able to identify and help prevent child abuse and neglect (Parton, 2006). In addition, communication is important to establish and maintain relationships (Rixon, 2008). According to Crow et al. (2008) communication is an active process that can involve touch, listening, tone of voice, gesture, playing, observing, reassuring, signing, explaining, receiving and transmitting information and interpreting and reflecting upon what has been communicated to us. Furthermore, communication is fundamental to a child’s cognitive, social and emotional development (Crow et al., 2008). It is essential for a child in order to develop their own communication skills, as well as provide them with a means of understanding the environment around them, for example their society and culture (Crow et al., 2008). This essay will discuss the key elements of communication in work with children whilst also examining what the ‘Reggio Emilia’ approach, an innovative and inspiring approach to early childhood education, contributes to our understanding of good communication with children.

The first years of a child’s life are when good communication between the child and their parent or primary carer is most important (Hart and Risley, 1995). Communication between carer and baby plays a key role in the development of the infant’s brain (Gerhardt, 2004). Children are primed to communicate from babyhood and naturally reach out to connect with others by mimicking gestures, using different facial expressions, gaze following and making noises. These early nonverbal communication skills are thought to provide a foundation for later language development (Strid et al., 2006). The interactions of adult and baby, first dyadic relationships, are the building blocks for connections in the brain which underpins future learning.

In an observational study of communication in families with young children, Hart and Risley (1995) found marked differences in socioeconomic status and the extent and nature of communication with babies of 11-18 months old which could later account for wide differences in vocabulary extent among four-year-olds (Hart and Risley, 1995). Specifically, Hart and Risley (1995) found a higher number of parent utterances per hour addressed to the child occurred in families in which the parents were in professional and managerial occupations as opposed to families receiving state benefits. According to Crow et al. (2008), early exposure to child-directed language lays the foundation for developing language later on in children. Crow et al., (2008) suggests that those children deprived of building early relationships in infancy, particularly those that have suffered neglect or abuse, show restricted brain growth in later childhood. Therefore, childcare outside the family is significant to quickly redress this important imbalance of language and affirmative feedback (Hart and Risley, 1995). In later childhood, Barret and Trevitt (1991) suggest that children with positive relationships at home are more likely to appear confident and can relate positively to adults and peers outside the family home. In contrast, children without positive relationships often find building relationships much more difficult (Collins, 2008). The ability to form positive relationships throughout a person’s life is linked with our communication skills (Rixon, 2008).
When working with children it is important to understand that people communicate in a variety of different ways and communication styles can vary from individuals. Communication can differ based on a person's gender (Boneva et al., 2001), cultural background (Sanchez-Burksand et al., 2003), age (Horton and Spieler, 2007) as well as be affected by personality, the environment, and the circumstances in which the communication takes place (Crow et al., 2008). There is increased anxiety towards modern children with regards to concern that children now have poor language development and are less able to communicate than children of previous generations (Crow et al., 2008). This is thought to be due to the increase of technology and therefore a rise in electronic communication such as email and texting. It is important that children’s experiences of using new technology is not ignored as this may overlook their skills and interests (Crow et al., 2008). A key element of good communication in work with children is the ability to determine the type of communication better suited to a child and to the situation or personal circumstances in order to meet the needs of the child you are communicating with. If a child has in the past or is viewed as vulnerable or margainalised such as a child with a disability in any area of functioning (physical, sensory, cognitive or social), their communication is likely to be affected. In this instance it is essential for practitioners to seek and find ways to connect with disabled children (Sigafoos et al., 2006; Beukelman and Mirenda, 2005). Previous research suggests that listening is a key element of good communication with children in order to build empathy and rapport (Crow et al., 2008). Christensen (2004, p.169) states the importance of developing a determination to not let oneself be interrupted by something or somebody else until a child has completed what he or she wants to be seen or heard. However, it is important that any parent, carer or service provider is open, non-judgmental, non-threatening and acknowledges what has been said, while checking they have heard correctly. Failure to acknowledge or act on what a child has shared has been described as an attribute for the world’s worst health, education and social work professional (Turner, 2003). Communication and teaching methods in early childhood education programs have been greatly influenced by the ‘Reggio Emilia’ approach. Developed after the Second World War by a teacher, Loris Malaguzzi, and parents in the villages around Reggio Emilia in Italy, the Reggio Emilia approach has since become recognised and adopted worldwide in many early childhood education programs (Valentine, 2006). In contrast to the traditional teacher-led curriculum, the Reggio Emilia approach promotes a child-led curriculum to allow children to communicate in a variety of ways. The Reggio Emilia Approach is based on a comprehensive philosophy, underpinned by several fundamental, guiding and integrated principles including; children are capable of constructing their own learning; children form an understanding of themselves and their place in the world through their interactions with others; children are communicators; the environment is the “third teacher”; the adult is a mentor and guide; an emphasis on documenting children’s thoughts and the Hundred Languages of Children.

The principle ‘children are communicators’ refers to communication being a process, a way of discovering things, asking questions and using language as play. Children are encouraged to use language to investigate and explore, and to reflect on their experiences (Kocher, 2013). Children are listened to with respect, believing that their questions and observations are an opportunity to learn and search together rather than being passive receptors of teacher-generated knowledge (Kocher, 2013). Instead children are able to construct knowledge based on their own experiences and interactions with others. In my opinion I believe providing children with the opportunity to lead their own experiences will contribute to greater learning and communication.

Malaguzzi believed that children develop intellectually through the use of symbolic representations, such as words, movement, drawing, painting, building, sculpture, shadow play, collage, dramatic play, and music, all of which lead children to greater levels of communication, symbolic skills, and creativity (Edwards & Springate, 1993). Such multiple forms of representation have become known as the "hundred languages of children," after Malaguzzi's poem (1993a) "the child has a hundred languages, and a hundred hundred hundred more." Under the principle the ‘hundred languages of children’ Reggio educators emphasise a hands-on discovery to learning that allows the child to use all their senses and all their languages to learn and express their thoughts and feelings. This is particularly important for good communication in work with children as it provides opportunities for those children who may have communication struggles through using mainstream learning methods such as reading and writing.

Finally, under the principle ‘the adult is a mentor and guide’ Malaguzzi (1993b) stressed the importance of teachers having a positive image of children and their capabilities. This is achieved through the adults’ role of observing the child, listening to their questions and their stories, finding what interests them and then providing them with opportunities to explore these interests further. The teacher does not control nor dominate the child or their learning, but rather, demonstrates respect for the child’s rights through mutual participation and joint action (Valentine, 2006). A child-led project approach created by Reggio educators allows children to be more powerful contributors to their own education (Kocher, 2013).
In summary, people connecting with children need to understand how and why they communicate and factors that affect communication such as, physical and emotional factors (lack of sleep, anxiety), disabilities, cultural difference and the environment. Communication is key for practitioners aiming to maximise the development and maintenance of relationships with children and their parents. Good communication helps to support positive relationships, child learning and development. In turn this helps to empower and protect children and contribute significantly to their wellbeing. In contrast, poor communication can lead to confusion, conflict, harm and wellbeing problems (Crow et al., 2008). The diversity of experiences that the Reggio Emilia approach promotes helps encourage children to encounter many avenues for thinking, revising, constructing, negotiating, developing and symbolically expressing their thoughts and feelings, in turn contributing to greater communication skills.

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