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 us some essential advice on how to communicate effectively with young children.
At some point in your career, you are likely to be lucky enough to work with a child with special educational needs. In particular, speech and language difficulties are becoming more of a regular occurrence in the children that we work with. Therefore, getting a child to understand you and you being able to communicate effectively is key to them becoming settled and making progress in your childcare setting. Here are a few tips for communicating with young children, and in particular those with special educational needs.
1. Use as little language as possible. Don’t flourish your instructions with lots of unnecessary words, this is just confusing. Instead use simple, clear instructions. Say the child’s name and the key thing you want them to do. So, rather than saying ‘Come on James, let’s sit on the carpet’, say ‘James, sit down’. This may seem very direct but it’s what the child needs. As their language skills develop you can begin to add more words i.e. ‘James, sit on the carpet’.
2. Use positive, not negative language. Instead of telling a child what you don’t want them to do, tell them what you do want them to do. Often, you will find that children do the last thing that they hear. Therefore, instead of saying ‘don’t run’, say ‘walk’.
3. Be mindful when talking to a group. Many children, particularly those with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder, struggle to understand that they belong to a group. Therefore when calling a group of children, you may well also need to call the name of the individual child.
4. When talking to a group, give them a direct, positive instruction. Negative lines such as ‘if you haven’t been to the toilet yet, please go’ are far too difficult for some children to understand. You need to give them the direct instruction, such as ‘go to the toilet’.
5. Give children time to process your instruction. If a child doesn’t do what you’ve asked straight away, it may not be that they are ignoring you or being defiant. Children with autism can have a processing delay of several minutes. Children with language difficulties may take a lot longer than another child to understand what it is you have asked. Ask the question, then wait. You may be pleasantly surprised when you find the child did understand you, they just needed time to process the instruction.
6. If you do need to repeat your instruction, be careful not to change the way you say it. Saying ‘Katy, SIT down’ then ‘Katy, sit DOWN’ are two completely different instructions to many children, despite you using the same words. The child may have been halfway through processing your first instruction, then you’ve said it in a different way, so they have to begin processing all over again.
7. Use visual prompts. Children learn visually. Have a visual timetable to show what is happening next, or display simple signs such as Widgit(T) symbols as you speak or give instructions. Plus, it saves you speaking!
8. Reinforce your speech with sign language. We already know that children learn visually. Emphasising your words with simple signs really helps children understand what you are saying. Learning sign language doesn’t have to be complicated. Using simple signing programmes such as Signalong help emphasise the main words you are saying.
The main message here is that there are many other ways to communicate other than using lots of words. Try not to over use your voice – it will become ineffective. If a child doesn’t understand what you’re saying they’re eventually going to zone out. Do all you can to keep your words to a minimum and find other ways of communicating. This should really benefit all the children in your setting, and particular those with additional needs.