100 Languages of Children – Responsive Caregiving

When your mind is open to questioning what you are seeing, you can see the role you play in the life of a child through the lens of their language. 100 Languages of Children explores the ways children communicate.

boy playing with bowl and spool

First introduced to the early childhood community through the philosophy of Loris Malaguzzi, the Reggio approach to learning allows early childhood educators to expand their understanding of children’s communication through the language of children. 

In fact, children’s language is not always verbal. Children have 100 different ways they communicate. But how do we see all of these languages in children? We can understand children’s languages in a brand-new way through responsive caregiving. 

Join us on January 23, 2023, as we explore the 100 languages of children, a part of the YOU Live Training Series

The Different Ways Children Communicate

girl dancing

We all have experienced the questioning of children. Why is this? What is that? Children are creating a path of learning through inquiry. This inquiry can be seen in art, dancing, music, writing, building, singing, and much more. But it can also look like misbehavior, screaming, kicking, and biting. 

Children communicate in a variety of different ways. The key to quality teaching in early childhood education is to understand what children are trying to say. But how do we begin to understand what children are telling us? Many children have limited vocabulary and verbal skills. As a result, we must use our understanding of each child to interpret what they are trying to tell us through their interactions. 

Building Relationships

Understanding what children are communicating begins with building a relationship with each child. Healthy relationships between children and their caregivers help children develop. As soon as a child is born, they begin to develop important brain neurons that are expanded through a caregiver’s interactions.  These interactions are known as serve-and-return interactions (Center for the Developing Child, 2022). How serve-and-return works is much like a game of tennis. When a child shows a desire for interaction (eye contact, facial expression, babbling, touch) and the caregiver responds, a new brain connection is created. This is how children communicate with us before they develop language. Using a responsive caregiving model, we can determine what children are trying to communicate.

READ: Creating a Positive Environment of Learning.

What is Responsive Caregiving?

When we use the term responsive caregiving in early care and education, we are referring to the way we respond to a child’s needs that is individual to the child. Responsive caregiving lets you get to know each individual child, their strengths and challenges, and allows you to customize how you interact with each child. It also allows teachers to plan for the classroom and home activities that will enhance the child’s abilities and value them as individuals. Responsive caregiving helps children understand that they are important. 

Girls playing with letter magnets - understanding a the 100 languages of a children leads to responsive caregiving

Using the Responsive caregiving model begins by observing with purpose. Observation allows us to create meaning in children’s play. With responsive caregiving, we recognize that every child has unique needs and languages.  Using this method, when we observe play, we can participate in back-and-forth social interactions, called serve and return, that enhance each child’s abilities and development that is unique to that child.

READ: How to Monitor Growth Over Time

Guiding Children Through Responsive Caregiving

Responsive caregiving allows us to observe more intently when children are playing. Thinking of yourself as a researcher will allow you to approach your role as a teacher differently. Teachers typically document children’s behavior to assess developmental learning outcomes, each according to a standard and then use these observations as a guide for their curriculum. But when using the responsive caregiving model, we use observation as our starting point. The next step is to expand our observations to include explaining what children are trying to communicate with their play. As a researcher, teachers can use their knowledge of child development and logical processing to expand a child’s understanding of their importance.

Implementing the responsive caregiving observation model includes:

child holding a plant in hands with parents - observation is key to understanding the 100 languages of children
  • Recording children’s words and actions
  • Applying meaning of the play observed
  • Adding developmental outcomes and standards to our observation notes
  • Expanding our meaning to include what the child may be trying to communicate through their play.
  • Use these observations to create a plan to expand and guide the child’s inquiry further. 
  • Plan your environment and interactions to include how you can expand what the children are learning and expressing.

When we use our observations and assessments to expand the inquiry cycle, we expand learning, connection, and understanding the 100 languages of children, and how children communicate as they learn and grow. Most importantly, we let children know that what they have to say is important and that we are listening.

READ: What Skills Should My Preschoolers Learn?

Working with children can be challenging, rewarding, and let’s face it…. Stressful! But with confidence, proven techniques and strategies you can start each day with the knowledge and understanding ready to succeed.

Join us each session as we tackle a new area of professional development. Perfect for all educators to build confidence and strategies to support their work every day.

Schedule and Topics

  • Monday, December 5, 2022, 1 pm EST- New staff, LOADS of nerves
  • Monday, December 12, 2022, 1 pm EST- Health, Safety and YOU!
  • Monday, December 19, 2022, 1 pm EST- The Importance of Play
  • Monday, January 9, 2023, 1 pm EST- Scheduling Routines
  • Monday, January 23, 2023, 1 pm EST- 100 Languages of Children
  • Monday, January 30, 2023, 1 pm EST- Oh Me, Oh My! Circle time has gone Awry!
  • Monday, February 6, 2023, 1 pm EST- Hot Buttons: How will YOU React?
  • Monday, February 13, 2023, 1 pm EST- Time Management and YOU
  • Monday, February 27, 2023, 1 pm EST- YOU Can Stop the Burn out: Work-Life Balance for Child Care Professionals

Save your Spot here. Missed the live training? Find the YOU series here.

Kathy Banks

Kathy Banks, Educator Support Specialist for Experience Early Learning, has 35 years of early childhood education experience. She has held various positions, including teacher, director, multi-site director, Head Start director, CCR&R, and QRIS Director. She currently adjuncts at several colleges and universities and continues to support and inspire educators through training and practical strategies. Kathy is working on her dissertation to complete her Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education. Kathy is also a nationally certified Family and Consumer Science Developmental Educator. Her experience and education make her a scholarly expert in child development and the realities and challenges of teaching and directing every day. 


Broderick, J., & Hong, S. (2020). From children’s interest to children’s thinking- Using a cycle of inquiry to plan curriculum. National Association for the Education of the Young Child. IBSN: 978-1-938113-63-5.

Center for the Developing Child. (2022). Serve-and-Return. Harvard University.https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/serve-and-return/

Curtis, D., & Carter, M. (2011). Reflecting children’s lives. 2nd edition. Redleaf Press. ISBN:978-1-60554-039-9.

Gadini, L, Hill, L. Cadwell, L. & Schwall, C. (2005). In the spirit of the studio. Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia. Teacher College Press. ISBN: 0-8077-4591-X.

Wurm, J. (2005). Working in the Reggio way- A beginners guide for American teachers. Redleaf Press. ISBN: 978-1-929610-64-8.