How a pretend telephone communication can show a child’s level of thinking

PIP Who's Calling

A pretend telephone communication can demonstrate a very young child’s grasp of speaking languages, imitating adult reality and being held in mind, as Anne O’Connor explains…

Jaleel is 16 months old. Both French and English are spoken in his family. He and Steven, an early years practitioner, are sitting together playing games and singing songs. Jaleel wanders off and picks up a pretend mobile phone. He pushes the buttons and puts the phone to his ear.

He walks back over to Steven, who asks him if he’s on the phone to his mam. Jaleel puts the phone to Steven’s ear and Steven pretends to talk to Jaleel’s mother. To finish the conversation, Steven says ‘bye bye’ and waves. As he repeats the words and gestures, Jaleel copies him, saying ‘ba bye’, and waving back. Jaleel then wanders off, saying ‘ba-bye’ with the phone to his ear.

1 Making connections with previous experience is an important part of early learning. Jaleel has had lots of experience of people talking on the phone. He knows how the buttons are pushed and knows that you hold it to your ear while talking and listening.

Exploring the pretend phone helps to consolidate the experience and allows him to behave ‘as if’ he is making a real phone call. The presence of an interested adult close by who is ready to build on this event, reaffirming and extending Jaleel’s interest, makes the experience more powerful.

Jaleel responds comfortably to Steven’s interaction and allows him to join in the play. He keeps hold of the phone, but puts it to Steven’s ear for him to talk, exactly in the way that adults often do to include children in a phone call.

Jaleel is telling us that he is beginning to appreciate what it means ‘to pretend’. Whether or not the phone is a ‘real’ one, he and Steven are ‘pretending’ to have a phone conversation with Jaleel’s mother. The look of involvement on Jaleel’s face shows that he is completely engaged with the game and doesn’t need there to be someone on the other end of the phone line to want to pursue the activity.

2 Here Jaleel is the one in charge of the phone, but it is Steven’s interactions that extend the role play, reinforcing Jaleel’s understanding of language and gesture.

Conversations with interested adults are fundamental to children’s language acquisition. There are many theories about why and how human babies learn to talk. To read them, you wonder how any of us ever managed to develop such a complicated and difficult skill – and at a young age too!

One thing we can be certain of is that our urge to communicate is linked to every aspect of our wellbeing and that it is essential to our cognitive development. Jaleel isn’t just imitating and repeating words and gestures. His interest in the phone, the way he uses it and his interactions with Steven give us lots of information about how well his thinking skills are developing.

Download full article below   Who’s calling?

Article written by Anne O’Connor and published in Nursery World ©

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