Georgina Grahame has had 8 years experience teaching both mainstream and special education. She has created her own website www.sensupport.com which makes learning resources to help children with Special Educational Needs. Here, she gives her advice on ways to support language development for children in your own childcare setting.

One of the most common problems that we see in children starting school these days is poor language skills. Parents tell me that their child talks all the time, but that does not necessarily mean than they have a vocabulary range that is appropriate for their age. During their early years children need to develop a broad and rich vocabulary, not just for speaking, but to also help them develop in a variety of areas – good achievement in mathematical development; personal, social and emotional development; understanding of the world; and expressive arts and design all require children to be able to speak competently.Children will struggle to develop their confidence and social skills if they do not have the ability to speak clearly to a friend. As a result, children who struggle to communicate can often develop behaviour problems due to the pure frustration of being misunderstood.

Here are a few simple ways to help develop children’s language in your childcare setting:

1. Provide experiences: Children with limited language often find it really hard to describe things. They aren’t able to describe a kitten’s fur as soft or smooth. Some even struggle to say what colour something is. We all know that experiences inspire children. Wherever possible allow your children to stroke a guinea pig, smell a flower, experience leaves rustling beneath their feet. Only then are they truly going to have an exciting reason to learn new words.

2. Technology: We have no doubt that children these days are better at using technology than most of us. They grow up with it - so go with it. Allow children to use communication devices to encourage them to talk. We already know that they love it. Ask parents to send in any unused mobile phones. Give children microphones and let them pretend they are on television. Basic video recorders are becoming increasingly affordable – let children record themselves talking. You’ll be amazed how well they can manage them. Another great idea is talk cards – postcards with a ‘record’ and ‘play’ button. Stick a picture of something on the front and ask children to record themselves talking about it.

3. Questioning: This is one of the most simple  ways of promoting language skills without you having to resource a thing. Whatever a child is doing question them about it – what are you making? Why? Can you tell me all about it? Language is not only important for the EYFS area of Communication and Language. In order for children to achieve in Shape, Space and Measure they need to be able to say which of two objects is bigger / taller. Likewise children need positional language - a great simple circle game is to have a teddy with a blanket and ask children ‘where is the teddy?’ Train your staff to use good quality questioning in all aspects of their work.

4. Allow children to speak: This may seem like a really obvious one, but when you are the adult in the childcare setting it is all too easy to ask the children to be quiet and teach them that they should listen to you. The danger is that you may not then allow them to speak enough. I know I am often guilty of this. The fact is though that you don’t need to practise speaking – they do. Allow the children to share their news at circle time, or show something, or tell you about something that is important to them. Ask them questions and encourage other children to do the same. If children have a positive experience of speaking they are going to gain the confidence to do it more.

5. Read. Read, read, read! As  a childcare practitioner, you’re bound to share stories with children all the time. Do it more! Read anything, and as you do, question the children. What do you think is going to happen next? How do you know? What’s happening in the pictures? Also, read anything. Reading doesn’t have to be confined to books. Although books are brilliant, show the children that you are reading signs around the building – point them out. Share a child’s magazine or comic book with the children. Tell them that you like to read books in your spare time. If children are interested in books, despite not being able to read yet, they are going to be experiencing more language.

And finally, remember, it is NEVER too early for a child to begin their language development. Most parents instinctively talk to their child from birth, but sadly not all do. Talking to children and allowing them to talk is going to give them the grounds to excel not just in spoken language, but in many other areas of development as well.

If you are looking for additional advice and support on SEN, you can follow @sen_support on Twitter and on Facebook or email Georgina on admin@sensupport.co.uk.

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