Exploring young children’s peer to peer communication in an early years setting

  • Jo Horner

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study explores the peer-to-peer communication of 27 toddlers aged 2-3 years in a local authority maintained early years nursery setting focused around different materialities. The importance of children’s communication is recognised and assessed in terms of the Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage (EYFS) (Department for Education [DfE], 2017a) curriculum and the non-statutory guidance that supports the statutory guidance, Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage (Curriculum Guidance) (Early Education, 2012) that informed practice in the English early years setting where this study was based. Ethnographic observation was used to collect multimodal data including field notes, audio and visual recordings, over an academic year, focused on activities common to many early years settings to develop a rich description of how children communicated their ideas and made-meaning around different materialities. Five groups of play materials were selected as follows: small world; construction; early literacy; socio-dramatic resources and painting. The analysis utilised Halliday’s (1975) functional categories identified in young children’s emergent language, and is informed by the assumption that children are rich, capable and have many skills made visible through an openness and actively listening to their multimodal communication. This study found that 2-3-year-old children’s communication includes gesture, eye gaze, pointing, talk, action and vocalisations that differed between activities, mediated by socio-material artefacts. In addition, there are themes that emerged from the data across activities including the prevalence of self-talk; and differences in how some children communicate during peer interactions compared with more structured, adult-led interactions. Findings support Flewitt (2005a), Peterson (2017) and a neo-Vygotskian, socioconstructionist perspective that children construct meaning together during multimodal communicative interactions. Ethnographic observation facilitated flexibility and reflexivity that enabled a range of communicative behaviours to be captured, some of which might have been missed by more traditional assessment or other methodologies. This is important because communication makes children’s thinking visible and accessible to others. The findings offer a way to explore children’s nuanced, contextualised communication within the early years environment considering the communicative possibilities afforded by different materials. This study concludes by considering the findings in relation to early years practice and how practitioners under pressure from the demands of the curriculum, might be enabled to more fully document, assess and celebrate the multimodal communication our children use to make and share meaning together.
Date of AwardJan 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorSandra Williams (Supervisor)

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