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Language development in Early Years

Produced by Speech and Language UK/NEU: 4 key things you can do to enhance early years school children’s communication.

Primary school children, one with his hand up

Supporting language development

Classroom resources on key actions to aid language development in school.

View the resources

Young children learn to talk through play, by adults modelling new words and extending utterances, by observing and interacting with each other and through guided learning and direct teaching.

Enabling environments where there are opportunities for back-and-forth interactions and conversations are key.

Some children need additional support to develop their language so having staff who are skilled and resourced to deliver targeted language support is important in the early years sector.

This leaflet outlines four key things you can do to enhance all children’s communication as well as provide effective support for those who need a more targeted approach.

1. Know about typical language development

Communication and language skills develop rapidly in the early years.Understanding typical language development and knowing what to expect when is important. If you know the progression of language you can scaffold a child to achieve the next steps. You can also identify children who may need some additional support.

Development Matters checkpoints set out the pathways of children’s development in broad ages and stages, which help practitioners to be aware of each child’s level of development. 

Here are some further resources that show what to expect at different ages and stages in more detail: 

2. Identify children who need a more targeted approach

Find out more - There is a wide variation in language development, but all children should have reached certain stages by certain times. If you become aware through your observations and professional judgment that a child is not meeting milestones, then explore further. Finding out more will help you to determine which aspects of communication and language the child is finding difficult and help you provide more focused input.

A helpful resource is:

The Progression Tools Early Years Set. These can help with identification and also be used to track progression of these skills over time or following interventions.

Speak sensitively with the parent/carer – they know their child better than you and can provide information about early development and how their child understands and uses language at home. Share play ideas with parents to help them support their child’s language development and make sure that they know what to expect and when so that they can make sure their child is on the right track.

It can be helpful to direct parents who have concerns about their child’s language development to Speech and Language UK’s Enquiry Service. This is a call back service where parents have an opportunity to talk about their concerns with a Speech and Language Therapist and receive some useful ideas for supporting their child to move onto the next stage.

English as an additional language (EAL) – Parents should be advised to use their home language with their child so that they can develop the important foundations for language learning on which to build English. Speaking English as an additional language is not a cause for concern and can be a real benefit.However, children with EAL are just as likely as their monolingual peers to have a difficulty with speaking and understanding.

For key messages to share with parents: Speaking more than one language

For more information about EAL and Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) visit: Bilingualism London Clinical Excellence Network

3. Know how to support all children’s language development

There are strategies and approaches that you can use to support all children’s communication and language. These ensure quality face to face interactions, communication enabling environments and

opportunities for talk both with adults and peers. Some of the effective key strategies and approaches can be found on Speech and Language UK’s Talking Point.

Some children with language difficulties benefit from a focused language intervention group to accelerate their language skills. This enables them to learn and practise skills through quality interactions in a small group.

For those children who need a more targeted approach the assess, plan, do and review cycle works well.

If there are concerns about a child’s communication and language, then making sure this is highlighted when they transition to reception or year 1 is very important so that staff understand the child’s difficulties and can plan appropriate support.

4. Work with outside agencies

If the child does not make more progress when a plan and support are put into place, then seek further advice from your SENCo. Through discussion a decision may be made to refer to outside agencies. They include speech and language therapists, specialist or advisory teachers, educational psychologists and area SENCos. Services vary depending on location but planning carefully and working closely together has been shown to be important to achieve the best possible impact.

These resources provide tips on what to consider before making a referral; how to provide effective information in a referral and what the decision-making process might look like.

Making effective referrals – Considering the whole child or young person

Making effective referrals – Building a communication profile

Making effective referrals – The referral decision-making process

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