Project ELLO: Everyday Language & Learning Opportunities

Posted on December 15, 2020 at 6:00 am

Guest blog by Dr. Allison Wilson

Community spaces and familiar routines offer rich opportunities for meaningful interactions and learning with young children. Everyday Language and Learning Opportunities (Project ELLO) focuses on increasing the number of quality, language-rich interactions between caregivers and young children. ELLO resources encourage caregivers to talk with their children in ways that are thematically tailored to familiar routines and community settings.

ELLO Resources

You will find free downloadable resources on the Everyday Resources section of the Project ELLO website at Available materials can be used by families, early learning professionals, social workers, faith leaders, health care professionals, and local businesses.

Resources are designed to promote language-rich interactions between caregivers and their very young children—starting with children who are just beginning to repeat first words, up to and including children who are kindergarten age.

Caregivers can use the materials as a fun way to inspire conversation and build vocabulary skills. Community members can use materials to promote language-rich experiences throughout their settings frequented by young children and families.

New hELLO Math Resources: Conversation Sets & Poster Series

Places and activities we all experience are filled with everyday language and math learning opportunities, including grocery stores and neighborhoods, mealtimes and laundry duties.

The most recent initiative of Project ELLO, hELLO Math, has a specific focus of promoting math conversations throughout mealtimes, laundry chores, grocery shopping, and when out around the neighborhood.

Through resources made possible by Washington STEM and in partnership with local community organizations, ELLO has introduced four new transportable hELLO Math Conversation Card Sets and a math poster series. The posters and conversation card sets include child friendly aesthetics with thematically tailored open-ended prompts to provide a starting point for intentional, math-rich conversation around your home and in community spaces.

ELLO Math Conversation Card Sets
Four ELLO Math Conversation Card Sets in English

The posters and hELLO Math conversation card sets are available as a free download from the Everyday Resources section of the Project ELLO website. Each are available in English, Russian, Spanish, and Marshallese. The posters can be displayed in the home, early learning setting, or community spaces, and the conversation cards can be assembled on a key ring to take on the go!

More information about the hELLO Math conversation card sets can be found by watching either of the two commercials created in partnership with KSPS Public Television that are available on YouTube: hELLO Mealtime and hELLO Neighborhood.

hELLO Mealtime Conversation Cards, recorded by KSPS Public Television for the hELLO Math Project

How do language-rich interactions promote learning?

Over a million new neural connections are formed every second in the first few years of life. During these early years, it’s not the number of costly toys or alphabet flashcards a child has that is of utmost importance, but rather something that is completely free—talking!

Children whose caregivers talk with them are more likely to use language with confidence and to grow larger vocabularies at younger ages. Hearing language strengthens brain connections, and language is central to all aspects of a child’s development, including attachment, early literacy, early math, and social-emotional development. In fact, research suggests that the quality of interactions and the number of conversational turns between caregivers and young children are most important for brain development.

Conversational turns are simple back and forth exchanges between a child and an adult, like in a game of tennis or ping pong. The most powerful types of conversations are playful, engaging, and connected to interests of children and their familiar experiences.

ELLO tips for talking with young children

For caregivers of young children, ELLO resources suggest simple vocabulary words that can be modeled with infants and toddlers. Caregivers can use these words to label objects or actions throughout routines and community settings.

Even if a young child is not talking back, they are still learning! For caregivers of older children, ELLO resources suggest open-ended questions to promote more advanced conversations with preschoolers and kindergarteners.

ELLO suggests the easy-to-remember QRST strategy:

  1. Question: Start with an open-ended (how, why, what) question that needs more than a one-word answer. This helps to get children talking based on their own interests.
  2. Repeat: Repeat what the child has said to reinforce their response.
  3. Stretch: Build on the child’s response with a longer sentence to include new vocabulary or additional information.
  4. Talk: Talk some more! Continue the conversation by offering another open-ended question.
Laundry Time Conversation Coloring Page

You can download and print a coloring page that shares an example of a laundry time conversation that follows the QRST strategy.

Most importantly, remember that learning language should be fun! Everyday language and learning opportunities are small yet meaningful moments of interaction that have a big impact on a child’s life. When young children and families thrive, community thrives.

Dr. Allison Wilson

Dr. Allison Wilson is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Montana and founder of Project ELLO. She has worked with and on behalf of young children and families for the past 15 years, specifically collaborating over the past 5 years with community organizations and early childhood agencies in Eastern Washington to promote positive outcomes for children and families. She has a PhD from the University of Oregon in Early Intervention, a Masters from the University of Montana in Early Childhood Special Education, and a Bachelors from the University of Idaho in Child Development and Family Relations.

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