Child dancing in a field at sunset

Dance whilst you talk

By Kylie Dawson

It’s not just how much we talk with our children that impacts their current and future development, but the way we talk with our children that impacts their verbal and literacy skills, and the relationship that we create with them.

Two researchers, Hart and Risley (1995), conducted in-depth and important research into the culture of talk between caregivers and children, and what they learnt can be used to enrich the conversations we have with our children, support their growth and development, build deeper relationships, and create more enjoyable interactions.

They found that in families where ‘dancing talk’ dominated, children have larger vocabularies, a stronger grasp of rules that govern speech and conversation, and they start school with deep and varied language experiences.  All of this contributes to these children developing and advancing their reading and writing skills.

So, what is ‘dancing talk’? When we engage in ‘dancing talk’ with a child, we are responsive to the child, use interesting and varied language, use longer words and sentences, ask questions, make comments, and offer opportunities for turn taking. When we use ‘dancing talk’ we are interested in the interaction, and we are naming, explaining, asking, providing demonstrations, giving guidance, and sharing ideas.

The flip side of ‘dancing talk’ is ‘business talk’.  ‘Business talk’ is task oriented; it stops and starts with one turn, it is simple and straightforward, and is not very interesting or engaging.

To give you an example:

Dancing talk Business talk
“Oh, look at how dirty our hands have gotten playing in the sandpit.  Let’s go and get them all bubbly and clean so we can eat some yummy lunch”

In this approach the person is using lots of different words, providing an explanation, and striving to engage in a conversation with the child.

“Go and wash your hands”



In this approach the person is giving a very simple and clear direction.  There is no offer of engagement and no depth of in terms of vocabulary.

Don’t set a crazy and unattainable goal of trying to engage in dancing talk whenever you speak with your child; but maybe do set yourself a challenge to use more dancing talk during one or two key routines, such as the breakfast and the bath time routine.  Maybe turn “Sit down and eat your cereal” into “Hey, there is this yummy cereal all ready to go in your belly over here and a comfy chair to sit on to enjoy it – let’s fill your grumbly tummy”. Or you can turn “Hop in the bath now” into “Oh, there is nothing better than slipping into a bubbly bath at the end of a long day and getting all fresh and clean – why don’t you come and play and get clean and bubbly before we snuggle in for some stories”.

‘Business talk’ can and does have its place.  When you need your child to ‘STOP!’ as they come to the side of the road, you are going to just yell ‘STOP!’.  Or, when you see your child about to touch something hot, you are going to say “No, don’t touch!”.  But there are also lots of opportunities to increase the use of dancing talk in our regular routines and day to day experiences with children, and including more dancing talk can make the experience more enjoyable for you, and your child, supports their language development, and can spark lots of great opportunities for interesting, funny, and engaging conversations!



If you are keen to find out more about ways in which you can create engaging and communication rich environments for your child, check out the links below:

Serve and return:

Serve and return interactions shapes brain circuitry:


Hart, B., & Risley, T.R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Boston: Brookes Publishing.


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