How much we say, what we say, how we speak and how well we listen to the children in our classes tells them whether they are important and competent. Marjorie Kostelnik, Laura Stein and Alice Whiren of Michigan State University, write that the self-esteem of children, particularly young children, is increased or damaged by the verbal environment we create. Children are sensitive to the opinions that important adults have of them and often adopt these opinions themselves.
When we treat children with warmth, acceptance and respect, we increase the likelihood that they will be more receptive to the learning of social values, which is an important part of the early primary curriculum.
Teachers create positive verbal environments by demonstrating sincere interest in children, by taking time to express affection and approval and by listening attentively when they speak. These teachers speak to children as they would to adults; they think before they speak, are courteous and don’t interrupt. Kostelnik, Stein and Whiren observe that they avoid making judgmental comments about a child to him, or in front of other children. They also take advantage of unplanned opportunities for conversation – using children’s interests as a basis for talk.
While the authors are aware of the fast pace of the job, they urge teachers to take the time to talk with children. We should endeavor to consider the impact of our words, for we can discourage children from talking to us if we simply hurry fron one planned activity to another.
Kostelnik, Stein and Whiren remind us that good verbal environments do not just happen. They are created when we remind ourselves of the importance of what we say and how we say it. By listening carefully to ourselves and by making a conscious decision to create a positive verbal environment in our classrooms, we can enhance the self-esteem of our students.
“Children’s Self-Esteem – The Verbal Environment” Childhood Education Fall 1988, pp. 29.
Published in ERN March/April 1989 Volume 2 Number 2