What infants talk about: Comparing parents' and educators' insights

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Children's first words are eagerly anticipated and celebrated by their parents and others in their lives. Their first words reflect the context in which children live, words that are heard frequently, and things that may be important to children (Hart 1991; Hoff-Ginsberg 1992). There is some evidence to suggest that young children's language development varies by situational context and in direct response to what is spoken to them by their parents (Sabbagh and Callan 1998; Snow 1984). In this chapter, we explore the possibility that children's first words may also provide insights into important aspects of their lived spaces in early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings.We use the term lived space in this chapter to refer to the "spatializing space" (Merleau-Ponty 1962, p. 284) of human experience where "being is synonymous with being situated" (p. 294). This space is not uniform or the same for each infant and is characterised by qualities such as proximity, connection, separation, attainability, unattainability, and it is particularly influenced by social relations and meanings (Fuchs 2007). Moreover, lived space is 'dynamically connected with movement and development (p. 426); for example, the lived space of an infant who has developed the skill of crawling offers different affordances than if the infant is less mobile. As a result, lived space is continuously shaped by each infant's ongoing interactions with their environment. It comprises all living and non-living things the infant comes into contact with, is influenced by, and has potential influence on, for example, interactional partners (educators and other children), curriculum, pedagogy, policies, parents, other children, language, toys and objects.Interactional partners within the infants' environment interpret verbal and gestural attempts as communicative overtures even before children begin to use conventional expressions (Bruner 1983; Snow 1984). ECEC settings frequently contain a number of interactional partners (Katz 1998). Different interactional partners can vary in their attribution of meaning to infant behaviours. For example, different carers can interpret a gesture as meaningful, or as a meaningless physical activity (Degotardi, Torr, and Cross 2008), and a vocalisation can be interpreted as a word or as meaningless babble (Meins and Fernyhough 1999). In this chapter we explore similarities and differences between the number and type of infants' spoken and understood words and gestures as identified by their interactional partners: educators and parents. However, it is important to note that reports of infants' comprehension, gestures, and first words need to be interpreted cautiously, since they comprise a mix between infants' capabilities and experiences as well as the interactional partners' perspectives, interests, and interpretive tendencies (Law and Roy 2008; Tomasello and Mervis 1994).The main intent of this chapter is not to provide definitive answers. Rather, what we hope to achieve is to expand possibilities for thinking and talking about infants' lived spaces, and how infants' receptive and expressive language may provide insights into these spaces. Interpreting the meaning of similarities and differences in the infants' receptive and expressive vocabularies is complex and uncertain. Indeed, when contrasting parent and educator responses we have relied upon our own personal knowledge of the infant, our theoretical understandings of infants' development, language and capacities, and our knowledge of possible home and ECEC contexts (including policies and pedagogies) (Elwick, Bradley, and Sumsion in press). Therefore, although it is possible to write as if we may know the meaning of differences between parent and educator responses for particular infants, it is impossible to know with any certainty whether our interpretations adequately reflect the infant's lived space.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLived spaces of infant-toddler education and care
Subtitle of host publicationExploring diverse perspectives on theory, research and practice
EditorsLinda J. Harrison, Jennifer Sumsion
Place of PublicationDordrecht
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9789401788380
ISBN (Print)9789401788373
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Publication series

NameInternational perspectives on early childhood education and development

Grant Number

  • LP0883913


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