We often think that a “language rich environment” means buying specialist resources for your setting, but practitioners who have a good understanding of child development and use effective strategies to promote every child’s communication skills are the best resource any setting could hope for.

A free online course from The Communication Trust is available called “Introducing support children’s speech, language and communication” and can be taken by practitioners to help them understand how they can support children’s communication skills on a day-to-day basis.


Reduce the number of questions you ask children

Asking children questions puts unnecessary pressure on them to talk and it is easy to start asking more questions when they don’t answer, which makes them even more uncomfortable. Ideally, you should be aiming for a ratio of 1:4 questions to comments.

Possible comments could start:

I’ve got… / You’ve got… / We’ve got… / Sam’s got…

I’m …looking/digging/colouring/splashing

Now it’s … full/empty/red/bigger

Oh it’s … on/under/in/behind

You’re… filling/dropping/giving/going to

That’s a …. great/interesting/big/little/fantastic

It can be helpful to write out these conversations starters and put them next to key activities as a prompt for staff.

Follow the child’s interests

Children learn best when they are already interested in an activity.  By getting on the floor and playing at a child’s level, you can match your vocabulary to their play.  Photographs and items from a child’s home are good motivators for conversation; you could have some special boxes which go home in turn for families to fill and return.

Use key signs

Signed supportive speech is a wonderful way to support less confident children and those with delayed speech and language skills. However, it also benefits all children including those with limited attention.  Check if your Local Authority uses Makaton  or Signalong .  It’s best to start with 5 key signs which all staff use consistently, then gradually add more.  Many children are used to watching Mr Tumble so will pick up the signs very quickly.  Remember to always say the word as you sign; they are not a replacement for speech and will not stop children talking.

Give children your time and enthusiasm

When planning your session, make sure you have allocated practitioners who are free to play alongside children, as this is when the best language development will take place.  Make sure you spend time throughout the week with every child.  It’s easy to miss quieter children, as they don’t tend to demand your attention.

We know that in some parts of the country, over 50% of children start school with delayed speech and language skills and that a child’s vocabulary at the age of 5 has been found to be the best predictor of whether children who experienced social deprivation in childhood are able to escape poverty in later adult life.  Ensuring your setting provides a language rich environment gives every child the best possible chance of achieving their potential, this is why working in the early years is the best place to be to make a difference!

About the author

Kathryn is a specialist early years teacher and trainer who has worked with children for nearly 25 years, including 10 years as an Area SENCO. She is a licensed Tutor for ICAN Talk Boost as well as an ELKLAN Speech and Language Trainer.  She regularly writes and delivers courses for early years practitioners on all aspects of SEN.  You can find her on Facebook or visit her website for more information.

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