Teaching without words

One of the biggest challenges in training our play centre volunteers is the language barrier. None of our Play Centre volunteers speak English and we can only speak a few words of Dagbani, therefore all of what we say is translated via an interpreter. This method of communication is not ideal as it is time consuming and sometimes miscommunications occur between the speaker and the translator.

A method we experimented with in today’s training session was teaching without using any words at all. We informed the volunteers that we would be using gesture, body language, facial expressions and demonstrations in order to teach them the games and how they should be teaching the children these games. It was explained that this is also a useful strategy to use when they are teaching children, as using less language will take away the pressure of processing verbal instructions at the same time as trying to learn a new game.

We started by demonstrating how building blocks should be used with children by sitting with a group of children and allowing them time to explore the shapes with their fingers and to experiment with putting different shapes together. If the children were not participating, the Lively Mind’s volunteer would build a tower of blocks and then give some to the child so that they could either copy or make their own tower. The play centre volunteers were able to see that no language was needed for the children to participate in this sort of play.

Gestures, such as pointing or hand movements, were used to teach the volunteers how they should teach the other games, such as the shape sorter. When the volunteers had difficulty putting the shape in the right position for the matching hole, time was given for them to work the correct position. If help was needed the Lively Mind’s volunteer used another shape or their fingers to show which way the shape should be turned. Praise was given by hand clapping, smiling whilst making eye contact and giving a ‘thumbs up’.

Even though these methods of communication are very simple, we can take for granted how effective they can be when they have to be depended on alone. As English speaking volunteers we felt we added real value today, especially as we were able to demonstrate how learning can be enhanced in a calm and less pressured environment.

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