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1st November Childcare Seminar - The Child is Our Focus


On 1st November 2019, all the FES Childcare Staff attended the bi-annual seminar dedicated to enriching the professional output of childcare assistants and centre coordinators. The seminar, titled ‘The Child is Our Focus’, hosted three speakers who treated different aspects of a child’s early education in the acquisition of literacy skills.

Nitħaddtu mat-Trabi u Naqrawlhom’ by Miriam Schembri

The first three years of a child’s life are of utmost importance for the development of language skills and the acquisition of vocabulary. From birth, a baby absorbs a huge amount of information about words and talking, just from listening to and watching adults talk. Babies and toddlers need to hear words and communicate with adults to learn new vocabulary. 

The amount of exposure to language a child experiences makes all the difference. It is well-documented that the number of words children hear in the first three years of their life is linked to the size of their vocabulary at age three. Repetition is key as the more times children hear a word, the more likely they are to learn it. But it is not only the quantity of words that matters. Also, of critical importance is the variety of the language that children experience.  It is often difficult to distinguish quantity from variety, because they are closely related. The more words the child experiences, the more likely they are to hear some of the rarer words in the language.

It is imperative that adults hold meaningful dialogues with babies and toddlers.  Use daily routines like nappy changes and play time for this. As carers try to get some time alone with individual babies as baby talk is most beneficial when it is one-on-one between carer and child. Look the baby in the eyes as babies respond better to speech when they are looking right at you. Make conversations lively and engaging and be descriptive to bring the conversation to life.

Singing to babies is playing with the rhythm and musicality of language. Sing lullabies and familiar nursery rhymes to promote language development. Babies and toddlers love repetition, therefore repeat the same songs and nursery rhymes.  Singing can have a calming effect on babies and is also a fun way to bond.

​Sharing books is a wonderful way to help a child learn to talk. Babies love the undivided attention, and cuddling up makes them feel safe and secure and ready to learn. As well as reading the story, talk about the pictures.  If there is a picture of a dog, talk about a dog that you know to provide a real context and allow the child time to respond to your chatter. Use animal noises or sound effects as this helps to bring the story to life and makes itfun.  It is good to share favourite books again and again.  Repetition helps children to understand and remember the language they hear.  Reading aloud is the single most important thing a carer can do to help prepare a chil​d for reading and learning.

Miriam Schembri is a Senior Manager with The National Literacy Agency, where she coordinates Reading for Pleasure programmes like ‘Aqra Miegħi/Read with Me’ for babies, toddlers and their parents. She has a vast experience of teaching in the Early Years. 

Nurturing play occupations and sensory processing skills in young children by Ms Nathalie Buhagiar

This interactive session focused on a deeper understanding of play; its benefits as well as a focus on children’s participation in play looking at play activities, play abilities and the importance of the environment. The session allowed Child Care Centre Coordinators and Assistants to reflect on play in their settings and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their centres .The aim was to explore solutions based on a deeper understanding of the child and the environment. The session also allowed educators to reflect on the play spaces in their centres and whether these provided the necessary opportunities for risk, mastery, sensory needs and social interaction. The session also gave participants an overview of the most important sensory systems and their functions as well as insights into potential red flags to identifying children with emerging sensory processing difficulties.

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Nathalie Buhagiar qualified as an Occupational Therapist in 1989 ,obtained  a masters degree in 1996 and was responsible for setting up the main Paediatric OT service in Malta. In 2001, she was awarded a scholarship by the University of Southern California to attend OT610 , a specialised intensive training  course in Sensory Integration and was  the first OT to practice  and promote Sensory Integration Therapy in Malta. In 2008 Nathalie was awarded the Allied Health Professions Award for excellence in healthcare.

In 2009, after working in the health sector for 20 years, Nathalie took up a post in Education   embedding her OT skills in her job as an Inclusion Coordinator. She providing supervision to local and foreign Occupational Therapy students on practice placements in the school.​​ 

In April 2013 she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The title of her project was “Occupational Therapy, special needs and inclusion: serving children in home, school and community”.

Nathalie became a full time resident academic member of staff within the Faculty of Health Sciences,UM  in September 2015 and is currently reading for a doctoral degree in Occupational Science at University College Cork, Ireland .She also continues to support educators in the school system though university community partnerships, professional development, collaboration and consultation. 

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Actively listening and talking with infants and toddlers by Dr Chairmaine Bonello

The Language Policy for the Early Years in Malta and Gozo states that “Parents and caregivers are to engage in meaningful dialogue with their children” (Ministry for Education and Employment, 2015, p.11). This statement was unpacked during the 1st of November 2019 FES Childcare Seminar through my presentation titled ‘Actively listening and talking with infants and toddlers’ followed by a hands-on workshop. All carers were introduced to the term Sustained Shared Thinking (SST) first coined by Siraj-Blatchford et al. (2002) following the research project Researching Effective Pedagogy in the Early Years (REPEY), the sister project to the Effective Provision of Pre-school Education (EPPE) longitudinal study (Sylva et al., 2004). SST is linked to talking with children and actively listening, a key skill of carers in childcare settings to support children’s socio-emotional and cognitive development. SST is defined as:

An episode in which two or more individuals ‘work together’ in an intellectual way to solve a problem, clarify a concept, evaluate activities, extend a narrative etc. Both parties must contribute to the thinking and it must develop and extend. (Sylva et al., 2004, p. 36)

During the workshop, practical examples were shared and discussed, and all carers had the opportunity to reflect and explore ways of how they can follow the young children’s lead when they tune-in and interact with them. For example, we argued:

  • Do we interrupt thinking by often questioning: What colour is that? What are you doing? Can you count them?
  • If we wait for the children to come to us so that we know what they are thinking, would that change the nature of the interaction and sustain their thinking?
  • Do we allow enough time for children to respond while challenging their thinking?

The session concluded by gaining a deeper understanding of how SST can be promoted with infants and toddlers in practice and also how it can support play and all areas of learning and development. For carers to ensure that SST happens, they were strongly encouraged to reflect on their daily interactions with the children entrusted in their care.

Did you look for opportunities to talk to and actively listen to your children today?

On the 3rd of February 2020, Dr Charmaine Bonello will be joining the Faculty of Education at the University of Malta as a Resident Academic Early Childhood and Primary Education. For the past twenty years, she has served as: an Education Officer Early Years within the Ministry for Education and Employment (MEDE); an Education Officer Quality Assurance Department within MEDE; a Senior Manager at the National Literacy Agency; a Kindergarten Educator; a Primary school teacher; and a Literacy teacher in the Maltese education system. Furthermore, she has worked as a policymaker at European level in areas concerning quality in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) and delivered various presentations on themes related to quality ECEC (0-7 years - Maltese ECEC context), the Emergent Curriculum and Literacy. Dr Charmaine Bonello is also the co-founder and Vice President of the Early Childhood Development Association of Malta (ECDAM) and one of the Members of the Board of Administrators of The Malta Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society.  dr CHARMAINE BONELLO.jpg