10.1. Short description
Parler Bambins is a prevention programme for early language development for children aged 3-36 months attending child-care facilities. Developed by Dr Michel Zorman and his research team (Zorman M. et al., 2011) in an educational and cognitive sciences centre, it was first experimented during the period 2005-2008 in several day nurseries located in deprived neighbourhoods in the city of Grenoble. The first results, based on individual language psychometric tests, demonstrated significant progress in the language of the children who benefited from the programme. Convinced by this method, the elected councillor for child-care policy for Lille decided to launch an experiment in two child-care facilities in September 2011. After 1 year, the programme has been disseminated to eight other municipal day-care facilities starting in 2012.
Like in Grenoble, the broad objective of the programme is the reduction of social inequalities. Recent studies on the factors influencing educational inequalities underline that differences in language skills are strongly related to social and cultural differences, starting at an early age with an impact on future educational performances. Providing all children equally with early opportunities for the development of language is presented as a way of preventing future school failures. This is why the implementation of the Parler Bambins programme targets child-care facilities first and foremost, including children from disadvantaged and foreign-born families.
The innovative aspects are mainly educational and based on new kinds of language interactions between professionals, children and their parents. The objectives are to create a favourable environment for communication with children by multiplying opportunities for conversations. The programme is based on three actions:
- Daily interactions with children. This involves taking advantage of every oportunity in the day for communicating individually with each child using an adaptive and personal approach.
- Communication with the parents based on discussions of the programme, the child’s language acquisition and her/his development. This parent-based action aims at building the parents’ trust and support and disseminating the practices at home.
- A language workshop targeting children who speak a little with the aim of stimulating expression and the pleasure of communication with the support of books, pictures or toys.
10.2. Types of services and ways of addressing users
Exploring in far more detail the ways professionals address children implies starting with the usual communication practices in day-care facilities. Professionals tend to talk collectively to children rather than individually, speaking in the imperative mood, asking questions that require a simple yes or no answer and formulating questions and answers at the same time. If these unconscious modes of expression have the advantage of helping to manage large groups of children, the disadvantage lies in not focusing attention on quiet children who do not express themselves much. These isolated children tend to fall behind the others in their language development. The Parler Bambins programme helps child-care workers to change their professional practices, which specifically means to stop talking in a neutral or general way to children but to address each of them personally by their own name, formulating open questions and allowing time for the shyest to answer in order to stimulate communication.
According to professionals who used this method, one of the advantages lies in the rapid and positive changes in the children’s behaviour. These new ways of speaking to the children make it easier to capture the attention of introverted children who tend to play alone. Communication often starts with the body and gestural language used by children to show what they want. These more frequent interactions lead progressively to children pronouncing a few words in a second stage. The workshop with a small group of the shyest children is based on fun and pleasure. None of the children refuses to participate. On the contrary, after the first few sessions, the children express themselves and dare to ask to go to the workshop.
Parler Bambins also influences ways of addressing parents. Cooperation between professionals and parents is a key component in the success of the method. Firstly, they are informed about it as soon as they register their child at the crèche. Secondly, language development in the day-care centre as at home becomes a subject of discussion with the professional that is as important as issues such as health, food, sleeping and so on. Parents are generally motivated and rarely reluctant to take part in the programme. Sometimes the programme helps to relieve illiterate or non-native speaking parents and make problematic relationships with reading less of a major issue. Because communication with the child is based less on reading stories and more on picking out words from a picture, the relationship with books can become positive and an educational tool at home. Some parents develop a relationship of trust and can talk about their fears about learning to speak and read.
10.3. Internal organisation and mode of working
As already noted, Parler Bambins changes the ways the child-care workers speak and communicate with children. At the beginning of the programme, certain professionals expressed some reluctance. Once these fears were eased, programmes had globally positive effects on professional practices. They are generally motivated by the programme, which is presented as complementary to other skills. Their personal investment in language techniques consists of a training session of 1-2 days combining the conceptual presentation of the programme by one of the researchers and practices with children. The two first day-nursery directors have been qualified and are now local representatives playing a supervisory role. Parler Bambins generally creates a positive team dynamic centring on this collaborative project.
An unexpected effect for the two directors first involved in the experiment has been the particular interest shown in this initiative, with growing media coverage leading to numerous requests. They find themselves in the position of meeting the Minister for the Family or being interviewed by journalists, which is gratifying.
10.4. Embeddedness of the project in the local welfare system
The experiment of the Parler Bambins springs more from the consequences of the meeting between the strong convictions of two elected municipal councillors, respectively in charge of child care and the eradication of illiteracy, and the motivation of a number of early childhood workers. Following on from Grenoble, Lille and Rennes are part of the second wave of cities testing out the Parler Bambins framework. Originating in a strong political will to take action, Parler Bambins has been integrated in the municipal agenda through one of the actions of what is known as the global educational project. It is interesting to note that the support is partially financed by the child-care budget despite a context of limited spending for qualitative and innovative child-care initiatives. Moreover, the programme is not funded by the family allowance office, which did not select it from among the proposals received for the call for innovative projects in 2012. This partial but progressive integration of Parler Bambins within local child-care policies can also be illustrated by the fact that only municipal services are part of the experiment, which does not concern non-for-profit private providers.
Different channels of dissemination can be identified:
- scientific communication of the results through academic articles but also professional reviews5 for presenting the programme and the first results;
- popularisation of research findings through conferences6, training sessions for professionals, an official website7 and a short film produced by Lille municipality;
- a political interest through networks of elected local representatives that encourage new cities (Lille and Rennes) to apply to join the experiment. A film has been projected to local authorities and institutions (General Council, the family allowance office) in charge of child-care and education issues. Recently, Parler Bambins reached a broader audience with the visit to Lille of the Minister for the Family, Dominique Bertinotti8 in the context of the national child-care and parenthood consultation process;
- growing media coverage with articles in the local press (Bastin, 2011)9 initially but also a television report on a national channel.
Another indicator of the dissemination process is that the two directors representing Parler Bambins to professional organisations cannot meet the growing demand for presentations coming from other diverse child-care services or educational organisations and federations. They lack the time and resources to disseminate the programme beyond the municipal day-care facilities, which remain the municipality’s current priority.
Finally, it is interesting to note that some professionals, child-care educators and speech therapists have taken a critical stance towards the new programme. Their concern is the risk of stigmatisation and categorisation for some children diagnosed too young as having language development deficiencies. Thus, the national federation of early childhood educators10 expressed doubts as to the opportunity of applying Parler Bambins as a national programme, as it is seen to be similar to early detection practices targeting specific children and families. These concerns can partially be interpreted as the result of a major polemic about a controversial programme on the detection of at-risk behaviour at an early age proposed by the previous government