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The Power of Adult-Child Interaction

Published by The Mulberry House School on Tuesday 3rd of January 2023

The early years of a child’s life can be a period of rapid and profound change. It is important therefore that we realise the potential that the education we provide for our children has on their all-round development. The Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education project has found that high quality early childhood education and care is linked to long-term improvements in outcomes.


We know that young children need rich, varied opportunities to learn through play. Once our enabling environments are set up to provide a safe place for our children to play and stimulating objects are included in these, we must then consider what else our children need from us whilst in our care. The top three things are secure relationships, attentive interactions and quality talk.


Secure Relationships


Secure relationships in which the children feel safe are the foundation of early learning. This is the core idea of attachment theory and the driving factor behind the Early Year’s Key Person programme. Young children need strong attachments in order to have the confidence to explore the environment that they are in.


“The relationship with the young child is the one learning tool that trumps all other”, writes Erika Christakis. She goes on to discuss the concept that a secure relationship between an adult and a child is the building block of that child’s brain development. All we need to do is be present, responsive and show them that we care.


Effective strategies to promote secure relationships:



  • Consistency is key in building relationships with young children. The child must feel secure and know that they can rely on you to meet their needs.

  • You should be approachable to the children when building bonds with them. They should feel like they can approach you if they are worried or need reassurance.

  • Being a positive role model for the children will encourage good relationships, having an impact on the way the children will behave and learn.

  • Before you can build a strong relationship with a child, it is important that you understand their needs. Take into consideration their nature and the approaches they respond to.

  • Always allow time for the relationship to develop and ensure that you are considering your communication skills to allow for effective interactions.


Attentive Interactions


Interactions matter! Responsive, warm and supportive interactions between adults and children build the foundation for learning. Interactions include how an adult approaches, responds to, communicates with, and supports children in all areas of life. Research shows that quality interactions boost children’s thinking skills and knowledge. Particularly when we provide emotionally supportive, responsive interactions and instruction.


At The Mulberry House School, we are firm believers of the fact that each interaction we have with the children can influence how they learn, grow and feel about themselves. Therefore, we strive to ensure that each interaction is positive, intentional and reciprocal in order to allow for the best outcomes for the children. This allows us to build nurturing relationships with all of our children, which in turn has a significant impact on our children being happier, healthier, confident and holding a true love of learning.


 “Any setting that intends to advance development and learning outcomes for children and youth must carefully craft the nature of experience it provides…” (Pianta, Hamre and Allen 2012)


 Effective strategies to promote meaningful interactions:



  • Non-verbal gestures such as a warm smile or a wave hello

  • Using a calm tone of voice and body language

  • Recognise children’s signals, cues and unique temperaments, as well as their likes and dislikes

  • Engage children in conversations full of rich vocabulary to support their language skills

  • Introduce new vocabulary and use it throughout the day

  • Expand on what the child says to stimulate thinking

  • Ask open-ended questions to support thinking and comprehension

  • Follow the child’s lead and choose phrases that build on what the children wonder about and want to explore

  • Use prompts that help children connect to developmental skills, stretching their experiences and encouraging them to think deeper


Quality Talk


Julie Fisher discusses the importance of recognising whether we are interacting or interfering during our Early Years interactions. She encourages us to think about the importance of quality talk for children – of real, interesting, varied conversations with both adults and peers. In fact, she promotes talk as the key feature of high-quality early education.


When we are interacting with children, the talk we have, as well as the way that we have it, can be transformational for their learning. We must adopt the same characteristics of quality exchange between any two adults must be applied to a quality interaction with the children we are teaching. We must have high quality interactions with children without taking over. We are there to be their partners in play: to listen to them the way that we would to any adult, give them real answers and ask them real questions.


Effective strategies to promote quality talk:



  • Genuine exchange

  • Warmth and affection

  • Eye contact

  • Coming down to the child’s level

  • Using a language style that matches children’s language level

  • Responsive to the child

  • Focused on the child and note distracted

  • Be encouraging

  • Acknowledge the child


Children are born to communicate and will seek out interactions. By providing strong interactions and conversations, we are showing the child that we are tuned-in to their needs. A well-planned language rich environment is important to facilitate good interactions. Planning and reflecting on the quality and time available for conversations will increase opportunities for learning language and communication skills. Central to this is listening, asking open questions, commenting, repeating, extending, adapting, and valuing non-verbal communication will support children’s development.


“Children benefit most when engaged in stimulating interactions that support learning and are emotionally supportive. Interactions that help children acquire new knowledge and skills provide input to children, elicit verbal responses and reactions from them, and foster engagement in and enjoyment of learning.” (Yoshikawa et al. 2013)

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