Dear All Parents & Carers

accurate-boy-build-298825You may be aware that the Department for Education has brought out new guidance regarding the Early Years Foundation Stage. The new format raises three prime areas above others which reflect the key skills all children need to develop and learn effectively. These are Communication and Language, Physical Development, and Personal, Social and Emotional Development. Through my studies, speech and language training and the experience I have gained as a nursery practitioner I have learnt about the importance of giving children the opportunities to experience a rich language environment; to develop their confidence and skills in expressing themselves; and to speak and listen in a range of situations.

There is a specific path of language development which can be shown in a language development pyramid. This begins with a wide base of interactions and builds layer upon layer through attention, play and understanding to expression.

1. Interaction

– Intent to communicate – people games, adult initiated such as Peek a boo, tickling games, bouncing on knees, songs/rhymes – Row Row

– Imitating actions Clapping hands, shaking, tapping

– Making choices – Grabbing, reaching for both – help to make choice (something they like/dislike – Cause & Effect toy/Wooden Brick)

2. Looking/Listening (Attention)

– Prompts for listening – Ready Steady Go games, Stacking/brick towers, Ball runs/tubes, Prompting/signing

– Prompts for looking – Wearing hats, Holding things near to your face, Prompting/signing, Using puppets, Tracking bubbles/Mirrors

3. Play

– People play

– Cause & Effect

– Early Symbolicrelated to their experiences, Brushing hair, cup to lips

– Larger dolls sequences of play, Pouring/giving, Filling/pouring/stirring/onto table, Brushing baby’s hair, bathing, bed

– Small World toys Duplo, house, park, farm

– Pretend/Imaginative objects representing other things, absence

4. Understanding

– Functionalstand up, come to, coat on – going outside, bath, drink

Word Levels

1 Key Words, Cup, book, sock, duck, car – labelling/ “Give me …”, “Where’s …?” “Give Dolly cup” – still 1 key word/ Actions – drink, sleep, jump

2 Key Words, Object/Person – cup to dolly Person/Place – Dolly on bed Person/Action – Dolly jump

3 Key Words, Introduce big/little, in/on/under, coloursgratisography-160H

– Person/Action/Place – Bob jump on bed

5. Expression

– Vocalising Making symbolic noises – whee, uh oh, Animal noises

– Words Up/splash/ Mum, Dad, Nan, drink, gone, bye, more/ Increase vocabulary of single

– Linking 2 Words Early 2 words – bye ……../ More ………/.. ……. Gone

– Linking 3 Words Subject/verb/object – box game, action pictures

Some useful points that I have gained from the latest research in this area are those relating to the Nine Stars of communication which is an interaction strategy currently in the process of being officially published by The Children’s Society. It asks us to consider how our behaviour as adults, practitioners and parents, can have an effect on how our children communicate. It suggests amongst many other useful comments that we should allow time each day for face to face communication, at the child’s physical level where there are no other distractions from televisions, music, computers or other children, that we follow the child’s interests and lead in any conversation and we have fun in our interactions with them. This can seem difficult to do when a child is one year old and has limited or no speech but early conversation is also about mimicking back the sounds your child makes, smiling and interacting visually and having a giggle together for no apparent reason.

I would like to share with you some of the ways in which at nursery we encourage and support this important area of development for your children’s age group and to give some ideas that you may find useful and wish to incorporate into your home life with your children.

We have group time sessions each day where we sit in a circle facing each other. These aim to promote in the children a sense of growing self-confidence as they learn how to speak in a familiar social group. No-one is forced to participate and these sessions are an enjoyable experience where children can build on communication and language skills without feeling any pressure.

– We sing a “hello” song which is a simple tune and repeated many times welcoming each child into the group. This song is sung slowly and clearly with definite hand gestures. Each child becomes the focus for a little while when their name is sung. The children are encouraged to participate with sounds or movements at a level that they feel comfortable with. Often children begin a little shyly and then become more interactive over time.

– A visual timetable will be shown to allow all children to be aware of the order of the morning session. It will show simple pictures which represent the activities they have done so far (e.g., free play, tidying up etc) and their current activity (group time, register) and what is to come (e.g. singing, story time, snack, outside play etc). As we point to each picture and post it in a box if it has already been done, the children are encouraged to call out the name. It helps the children to join in and vocalise as a group without feeling individual pressure and for those less confident to be reassured that they know what is going to happen during the session.

– The visual timetable will often have representations of the behaviour that is encouraged at group time. This would be used alongside the vocal words and Makaton hand signals. Once again the children are encouraged to participate as much as they can.

– We then use a wand or feather on a stick and a child is led around the circle touching each of the other children with the implement and counting how many there are in the group, ending with themselves. The level of support provided here will depend entirely on the capabilities and confidence of the child. This may be repeated with another child at each sitting and others will have a turn on another occasion.

– The child will then return to their place and all the children and teachers will clap up to the number in the group whilst saying the number.

– The feather can then be passed around the group as the children attempt to blow the feathers and ruffle them. Blowing feathers and bubbles is an excellent way of practising our mouth movements which helps with speech.

art-arts-and-crafts-child-159579– A short story may be told then with assistance from visual props. You may find at home that holding a relevant toy whilst telling a story may help your child to retain focus and make it more meaningful for them; particularly if they can act out what the Car/dinosaur/duck is doing. Stories would ideally be read whilst pointing from time to time to the words and following them along the line with your finger as you read. It is helpful if your diction is clear but mostly stories should be read at a slow pace, allowing time for discussion and absorption before each page is turned. Although it may be difficult to drum up enthusiasm for a book you have read a thousand times, familiar stories serve a great purpose for children as they gain confidence and a feeling of power from their comprehension and knowledge and it enables them to join in with the story and be able to sequence the events. The reader’s voice should display warmth and passion and relevance to the script.

– Finishing group time with a few songs provides an opportunity for children to make noises to familiar tunes even if they are unsure of some words. It gives them the chance to practise vocalising and hear sounds and patterns in words, music and rhythm. Once again, props can be useful here and actions help to give meaning to the words although the demonstration of these actions needs to be clear and at a steady pace to be effective.

– This group time is finished by posting the group time symbol in the box and showing the Makaton action for “finished” which is to cross your flat facing down hands over in front of your body and sweeping them out to the side.

Please do not think I am suggesting that you should have a formal talking session with your children each day. I am merely trying to give you an insight into nursery practice and the reasons behind it. The main points I would like you to take from this information sheet is that in helping children to develop their speech and communication skills it is important to praise all attempts at interaction, using lots of repetition and providing some time each day for uninterrupted 1:1 attention without other distractions.

Above all, have fun with our chatter, as just like us, children need to find communication enjoyable in order to want to do more!

Heather Johns BA (Hons) Early Years