Reading toddlers: Noticing and recognising more

Looking for genres

Some genres to look out for

Although not exhaustive, the following set of genres indicates those that teachers, parents and I have experienced in toddler communication. As teachers of very young children, you may come up with others:

1. Inside-out genre

This genre is drawn from toddlers' experiences at home. Iconic gestures, such as thumbs up signals, shoulder shrugging, or words based on valued activities are often copies of actions that family members use or, as illustrated in the earlier footage, come from movies that the family have watched together but largely go un-noticed, until the parent is specifically invited to comment on them.

2. Outside-in genre

Noticed and recognised by teachers, this genre is typically found in the centre and profiled in assessment records. It is based on planned activities that take place in the setting, such as painting, reading books or chanting songs. Toddlers move in and out of this genre at various parts of the day, and even from moment to moment. It is often a welcome surprise to parents to learn of their toddler's involvement, but teachers are very aware of this genre in an early childhood education setting and view engagement as an indication of 'involvement'.

3. Symbolic play genre

Toddlers are able to enter into the domain of symbolic play when they have opportunities to observe their peers or adults utilising everyday objects for non-literal purposes. Toddlers pretend to drink a cup of tea, or invite others to do so, or place bark chips into an egg carton in a pretend shop. Teachers notice and value this genre but in my studies I have found that teachers underestimate the significance of symbolic play in toddlers' relationships with peers and the role they as teachers might play in supporting toddlers in such activities.

4. Intimacy genre

Toddlers need to touch adults and other children, as part of their learning. In this genre toddlers frequently point, fondle or attempt to name body parts. They duplicate sounds and actions in order to achieve a strategic purpose. For example, an 18 month old in my research observed an older peer crying, so she screwed up her face and mimicked crying sounds in order that she might also receive a cuddle. I found that teachers tend to ignore or redirect this genre because it involves a level of intimacy that can sometimes be revealing, potentially confronting, or risky. This genre can also be utlised by toddlers to highlight intentions such as conveying anger or frustration. Biting is a good example of a language form in this genre that tends to generate disapproval in the centre context.

5. Free form genre

Movement and sound is very much a genre that toddlers utilise. They frequently employ this genre when moving between adult-directed activities. Actions involve combinations of gleeful running in wide spaces, loud sounds, dance-like actions, and rhythmical movement of different body parts. This genre is often taken up by peers who join in joyfully. Teachers do not always notice this genre unless it interrupts activities or poses a safety/acoustic risk. In such cases, the genre is redirected or quashed rather than celebrated as a wonderful means of communication.

Last updated: 1 March 2010