Strategies that can help
A range of practical strategies can be used in an early years setting to identify and support children who may have a speech and language problem.
Some children find using visual clues and reminders very useful in helping them follow routine and learn new words and concepts. Use pictures or photos of the children themselves doing the activities, to represent different activities in the day as a visual timetable. Pictures can also be used to help children to choose activities.
If speaking is a problem, children could point to a picture of what they want to do. Make sure you demonstrate activities before you ask children to do them, so they have practical, visual information on the sequence of actions they need to do to get to the outcome you want.
You could also consider using Makaton or another sign language to help your child express themselves even if they are unable to form the words.
One of the hardest things to do when you are a fluent adult speaker is to be aware of your own language when talking to children, but this is also one of the most important areas where you can help children develop their language skills. Slow down the rate of your speech, simplify your language and repeat new words and ideas often.
Don’t feel you have to fill in silence with lots of talking – some children need more time to think before they speak. Make sure you leave gaps for them to fill in. Try to reduce the number of questions you ask and emphasise the important words in the sentence, the ones that carry the information, e.g. “Look, here’s the big teddy.”
Try to cue children in to what you are doing – say their name, wait for them to look at you. You may need to model language for them by giving them a choice e.g. “Do you want juice or milk?” Or you can repeat what the child has said to confirm you have understood them and to let them hear how the words should sound.
Use simple repetitive language for familiar activities, comment on what children are doing in their free play sessions, and try to expand what they say by adding a few words. For example a child might shout: “Truck!” The adult should reply: “That’s right, it’s a big, blue truck.”
Involve your child’s teachers. It can be invaluable if you give them information which could help develop your child’s communication skills – e.g. tell them if your child has special words or gestures for things. Finally, if you feel your child has significant speech and language needs, your child can be referred to your local Speech and Language Therapist for specialist assessment and advice.
Paying attention and listening
It is vital that children listen to language. Most children are interested in language and will do this quite naturally. However, some children find it difficult to pay attention and listen and this could affect their language development.
Attention and listening skills help develop social skills. Children need to learn to focus on another person and listen to them in order to take turns, make eye contact, and to engage in conversation and play. You can help them by:
- Removing distractions. Children will be more able to focus if the noise level is low and distractions are kept to a minimum, so turn the TV and radio off if you want their full attention.
- Looking at your child when you are talking to them. This reinforces the importance of making eye contact and demonstrates that you are listening to them.
- Praising good attention and listening skills. Positive feedback will help your child know that they are getting it right and developing these skills.