Communication + Collaboration = Connections
The Importance of Quality Interactions
Amy has more than 10 years of experience as an early childhood educator, both in the classroom and the museum setting. In her current role, she focuses on staff professional development, program evaluation, coaching, and consulting for the Center for Childhood Creativity. Previously, she spent six years directing early childhood education strategic initiatives at the Bay Area Discovery Museum and a large science center in the Midwest. She was a classroom teacher, primarily for preschool, prior to her work in museums. She currently sits on the First 5 Marin Commission and was a founding member of the Leadership Team for the Association of Science and Technology Centers Early Childhood Community of Practice. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in music and a Master of Education degree in early childhood education.
As Director of Research at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, Helen authors original research on creative thinking and child development including the white papers Inspiring a Generation to Create, Reimagining School Readiness, and Roots of STEM Success. She launched and manages the onsite research lab at the Bay Area Discovery Museum and partners with U.C. Berkeley and Stanford University to conduct empirical research on cognitive, social, and emotional development, with a focus on creative problem solving. She brings more than 18 years of experience in research and education settings, including years in the technology and toy industries conducting research with parents and children to develop innovative learning products at Hasbro, Apple, Leapfrog, and LEGO. Helen received her doctorate in Developmental Psychology from Stanford University and has taught at U.C. Davis and San Francisco State University.
The CREATE Framework
E = Exchange of Ideas
- Engage in conversation, even before children can verbally respond. Ask questions and pause for an answer. Acknowledge every effort to respond, whether it’s eye contact, gestures, sounds, or words.
- Build the skill of collaboration and encourage your child to work through conflict on their own: resist the urge to intervene and dictate how to solve the problem.
- New experiences can help children to take a new perspective and make new connections. Try a local museum you’ve never been to before, experiment with a new hobby, go to a different grocery store, or take a trip!
Children enter the world with a desire to communicate. Even before they form their first word, they communicate with babble or body language. And research clearly documents the profound relationship between children’s early language environment and language learning outcomes.
A bulk of this research has been focused on the long-term consequences of large disparities in the number and diversity of words children hear in infancy, but a recent study instead emphasizes the importance of building a ‘strong communicative foundation.’ This type of foundation goes beyond the amount of speech a child hears and focuses on the quality of the interactions the adult and child share.
Researchers coded videos of toddlers for features like joint engagement (e.g., signaling what to jointly focus on by pointing), routines and rituals (e.g., coordinating their activity using a familiar play routine), and fluent and connected communication (e.g., effortless turn-taking). They found that these measures, which were widely variable across parent-child pairs, were highly predictive of children’s expressive language one year later—much more so than just the number of words the parents used.
It is important for adults to model interactivity by initiating and sustaining back and forth conversations with children, so that children understand that their ideas matter. These thoughtful conversations help children learn how to communicate their thinking to other adults and peers, which is necessary for expressing creative ideas.
The benefits of quality, cooperative interactions extend well beyond the verbal domain and early developmental time period. Several studies have tested the effect of peer collaboration in educational contexts by comparing progress on a given task by school-age children working individually, to progress made in peer groups or pairs. Researchers have found significant advantages of peer collaboration over individual work on a variety of measures of problem-solving and creative thinking. Importantly, some studies suggest that advantages of cooperative learning extend beyond academic and task performance to improving social skills and language development. To explain the advantage of collaboration, researchers often point out that peers play a critical role in deepening learners’ engagement with and understanding of a problem by introducing new ways of conceptualizing or approaching it and forcing their teammates to explain their thought process.
With respect to creativity, it is important to remember that collaboration is about more than cooperating in a group setting. Children should be encouraged to be accepting of others’ ideas and to build off the ideas of others. The most creative ideas often come from collaboration, but this type of work needs to be modeled and supported by adults. Ask the child: What does the other child see as the problem? Who has an idea for a solution? Let’s try it out!