Identifying and addressing issues with children’s language development at Hormead Hedgehogs
Communication skills are critical to a child’s ability to progress in their learning and form relationships with those around them.
Catching it early
Speech and language remains a key area of focus to ensure that young children are ready and able to learn in school.
Currently, the EYFS involves observation and assessment of children’s development through play-based activity. The criteria are often focused on areas such as a child’s ability to form complete sentences, which can be subject to interpretation by individual practitioners. If problems remain undetected, a child can fall under the radar as they move through the early years and into primary education, and this can have an impact on their future achievement in school.
Early identification of communication problems is essential to ensuring children get the help they need to develop their language skills.
Children who lack good communication skills can be difficult to identify, especially if they have no other related health issues or special educational needs. If a child has profound difficulties with speech they are easy to spot as they are hard to understand. However, some children may have underlying issues with comprehension that are not so apparent and would benefit from further support from a speech and language therapist. At Hormead Hedgehogs, screening programmes are introduced in the early years and designed to highlight where a child might be having issues with speaking as well as understanding language.
Children often develop sophisticated coping strategies early on that can keep their communication issues hidden from view. A child experiencing speech and language difficulties could come across as quiet and well-behaved, for example, giving key workers no cause for concern. Some children will display signs of bad behavior because they are not able to comprehend what a teacher or another child is saying to them. There are also those children who simply copy their peers when they have not understood what they are being asked to do. At Hormead Hedgehogs, we bear this in mind when observing young children so that any underlying issues with speech and language are properly identified.
Good quality observation is key to identifying communication problems in young children. We assess a child’s speech and language ability on a one-to-one basis and also when they are interacting with others. We look at how the child is using language in different areas of play. Do they ask questions? How many words are they using to form a sentence? Do their sentences include pronouns such as ‘he’ and ‘she’, verbs (doing words like ‘jumping’) and adjectives such as ‘long’ and ‘tall’? There are a wide variety of difficulties a child can experience relating to speech and language development. Observing children in as many different situations as possible will give us a broader picture of their speech and language capability. This will help flag up those children who might benefit from more intensive support.
Joining in with social situations or games involving imaginative play can be particularly challenging for many children with impoverished communication skills. These children will often be desperate to interact with their peers but simply don’t know how to make a connection. This can result in them feeling isolated, which can have an impact on their happiness and wellbeing. At Hormead Hedgehogswe consider what pastoral support can be put in place to address this, as language and communication skills are the bedrock of social relationships.
There is sometimes an assumption that children will start to speak when they are ready, when, in fact, further intervention from a speech and language therapist may be required. This can make it difficult for those working in the early years to ensure a child receives the help they need quickly. Hormead Hedgehogs foster a strong partnership with parents. This will give us a shared understanding of a child’s ability to communicate effectively. Parental involvement can be particularly helpful if a child has English as a second language, as parents can reveal whether they are experiencing difficulties communicating in their mother tongue.
Children need to understand words before they can start to use them. Here are five tips for strengthening children’s communication skills…
Build vocabulary: Group pictures or objects into categories: animals, things to play with or objects that are soft, hard, cold. Talk about the differences between them with the child and expand their vocabulary by introducing new words, e.g. the doll is wearing a jumper; the doll is wearing a red jumper.
Reinforce: Keep sentences short and exaggerate intonations. Also, activities like gluing and sticking pictures in groups will help to underpin learning and hold the child’s interest.
Support future learning: Start introducing words in activities with children that they will need to understand in subjects such as maths: more than, less than, increase, decrease, heavier, longer.
Encourage listening skills: Ask the child what sounds they can hear. It might be a clock ticking, a car outside, children playing or an aeroplane overhead. Encourage them to talk about them.
Sing: Rhymes and songs are fantastic for encouraging speech and language development. Incorporate them in regular activities.
What we will do…
Wellcomm Speech and Language
Our continuous aim is to support all our children with Speech, and Language. Wellcomm is a speech and language screening and intervention in the Early Years that is supported by professional speech and language therapists. Practitioners will be using this tool for all children in the setting and a report will be given to all parents and carers of each child after the screening has been used.
The system deploys a unique traffic light system that clearly identifies children requiring immediate intervention, as well as those who show potential language difficulties. There are over 150 bespoke intervention activities to meet individual needs as identified through the screening process. The activities are designed to be fun, engaging and appropriate for individual children from 6 months old to 6 years old. If your child is in need of additional support they will have small group activity sessions, on a weekly basis, where they will be supported within Wellcomm Speech and Language in the setting.
Hormead Hedgehogs have strong partnerships with speech and language therapists and health visitors in the area and support each other to ensure both your child and family are supported.
Please do not hesitate to speak to Roxanne if you would like more information.