other countries, other voices

non-verbal communication and communication strategies

When: July, 8-12 ,  2019

Participants: Giulia (8 years old), Seryka (8 years old), Marlene (9 years old),  Anna (9 years old),  Mattia (10 years old), Ludovico (11 years old)

The group of 6 children (aged 8-11) who attended the week of scintillae summer camp included Seryka, an 8-year-old Japanese girl who didn’t speak either Italian or English.

This unique and special opportunity gave us the chance to reflect on and observe how Seryka related to us and to other children and vice versa and what strategies all of us, adults and children, utilized to support the relationship within the group.

This documentation focuses on the communication strategies utilized both during group work, which Seryka participated in more and more during the camp, as well as during other moments.

Aya, Seryka’s mother, stayed with her during the first two days of the summer camp

Before talking about the fluid and rich interactions between Seryka and the other children, the main strategy we atelieristas used was written language, using Google Translate.

Seryka had brought a device to translate spoken language (Japanese to Italian and vice versa), but she was not comfortable using it, so we communicated primarily in writing with her, to make sure she understood what was happening, the decisions being made by the group and to collect and share her ideas and thoughts so that she could actively participate.

Among the dynamics between the children and the ways they shared ideas and collaborated together, playing together, in pairs or in a group, was an excellent context and vehicle to support communication, socialization and creativity between Seryka and the other children.

A first opportunity to create a shared game was offered by some small traditional papier-mâché Japanese toys (Okiagari-koboshi) that Seryka brought with her from Japan.

Who are these figures? What can we do with them? How can we play with them?

These are some questions we asked Seryka and the other children.

Seryka and her mother told us that these figures,”roly-poly monks” always landed on their feet if moved or thrown.
The group was enthusiastic about trying to see if this was true and we tried to play and experiment all together in what immediately became

a game with rules.

Did these figures always return to an upright position? We decided to try and see. The children experimented with them in different ways (dropped from above, tossed far away, thrown very slowly or with a lot of energy) and the figures always did return to an upright position. Thanks to these experiments, another characteristic emerged: the figures twirled around very easily. This new possibility, discovered through play, gave rise to yet another game: a competition to see which figure would spin the longest.

Another game they played, this time a board game, was Chinese Checkers.
None of the children knew the rules.  Anna suggested to invent some and after lunch on the first day she asked Seryka to play with her.
Using body language, actions/gestures and English, Anna managed to explain her rules to Seryka, and invited Seryka to make up hers.  

They thus invented a new game.

Each person chooses a color and the corresponding group of pawns. The aim of the game is to move as many pawns as possible to the triangle opposite the starting triangle. In turn, each person rolls the die and moves one pawn in any direction, counting out loud in English, possibly all together. If you meet someone else’s piece, you take it.

The use of the English (a lingua franca for both) created a common ground, a space for playing, encountering each other and learning. Counting the spaces out loud in English gave rhythm and meaning to their game and allowed all of us to share in this moment which was both predictable and surprising.

On the last day there was a silent, complex and intense exchange between Seryka and Giulia who worked together to set up an environment, the cave in the unknown world, one of the settings for the story that the children had invented during the week. They built some confetti canons needed for the final, most important scene in story.

They understood each other without speaking, using gestures, glances, creating complicity.

The video clearly shows the moment when Seryka, after having observed Giulia, understands the idea she was demonstrating to her.

Giulia managed to communicate with Seryka without using words,

just with body language and gestures.

They observed each other, they looked each other in the eyes, they pointed to objects, they showed each other how to do things thanks to “practical demonstrations”. Physical proximity was also an important element.

The experience with Seryka was a further confirmation of the fact that communication goes far beyond verbal language, and that it is not necessary to share a language in order to be able to relate to others, make friends, communicate and collaborate.

The context, the urgency to create bonds and mutual understanding, the desire to be together and to realize a shared project all supported the various strategies were used by everyone, all week.

The naturalness with which children created their complicity and the fact that linguistic diversity was not experienced as an obstacle shows how children don’t separate but keep everything together, in a single unity of experience and relationships. They experience and create communication also using non-verbal modalities and these strategies are equally effective in building relationships and promoting shared experiences.

Below: Seryka and Giulia lying on the bench to record the final scene.

“…for example, we spontaneously dance or come to look at the stars in the sky, but in time we must dance with others or look at the stars in a way that we can communicate to others.”

J. Bruner, in AA.VV.,  “The Wonder of Learning – The Hundred Languages of Children”, Reggio Children Srl., 2011, Reggio Emilia, p. 10