Nonverbal communication is a pivotal skill for children to develop in a therapeutic preschool program. When a child understands and communicates through non-verbal language, they can interpret the thoughts, feelings, desires, and interests of others. With this skill, they can also use gestures, eye contact, and other nonverbal communication to communicate their needs with classmates and teachers. Nonverbal communication is a key component of speech and language development in all children, not only those who do not have verbal communication skills.
Communication (either verbal or nonverbal) dramatically impacts the way a child interacts with others in the world around them. In a therapeutic preschool program, children have many opportunities to express themselves through nonverbal communication. Teachers and staff in the classrooms will strongly encourage the children and will use certain strategies to help increase their nonverbal communication. These strategies, which are used in a group setting, can also be implemented by parents at home for additional one-on-one practice!
Step 1: Do less, so that the child does more
All children need to learn to use gestures, eye contact, expressions, and sounds to make choices. These skills are important, as they can be used to indicate needs, feelings, and wants. In a therapeutic preschool classroom, for example, teachers will give children a few different options of toys for playtime, rather than give access to all toys in the classroom. Teachers may also facilitate situations to encourage their students to use verbal or nonverbal communication. For instance, they may ask a child to try to open a (difficult) container, so they have to ask for help. In another situation, the teacher may place just a few crackers on the child’s plate during snack time, so that the child needs to ask for more.
Step 2: Wait a little
Waiting can be a hard task for adults, because they usually know what their children want before the child can express it. To practice waiting, a parent or teacher can start to wait for the child to communicate with them what they want. By doing this, they are helping the child expand their communication skills. A child will gain skills by using their gaze, hand gestures, and sounds. They will quickly learn that those methods of communicating will help them to achieve their goals. For instance, in a therapeutic preschool program, teachers will wait for a gesture or eye contact before giving the child an object that they appear to want.
Step 3: Create many opportunities to practice
In order for a child to understand how to use their body to communicate, they will require extensive practice. This is a critical reason why therapeutic preschool programs are great! Children in the classroom have several opportunities throughout the school day to practice their non-verbal communication skills, not only with adults, but with their peers, as well. Snack time is a great example. The teacher can give snack options to a child: one that they like and one that they don’t like. This causes the child to gesture towards the one that they will enjoy.
Step 4: Consistency
Sometimes, children become frustrated or confused when an adult first introduces new routines of communication behavior. However, it is important for the parent or teacher to persist, in order for the children to continue growing and learning. To reinforce positive behaviors, the child should receive the object that they are requesting, as the end result. This consistency will help build (and maintain!) positive behaviors.
Step 5: Position yourself
When interacting with the child, teachers and parents should ensure they are physically facing toward the child. This is especially important for eye contact. Communicating with children in this manner helps them understand the concept of directing their eyes, voice, and gestures to the adult. For example, when in the classroom, teachers can sit on the floor face to face with the child, while reading a book. The teacher can capture the child’s attention through pointing, using words, and creating sound effects throughout the book. Keeping eye contact ensures that the child stays engaged in the exercise.
If you have further questions about nonverbal communication and its use in a therapeutic preschool program, contact us at 773-620-7800 to learn more about the program and schedule a free tour! Our program also incorporates ABA therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and feeding therapy techniques to address a range of needs for all children.