Early Childhood Education/Early Years

Debra Laxton and Marilyn Leask with inputs from the MESH Early Years Editorial Board | View as single page | Feedback/Impact
Early Childhood Education/Early Years
Effective learning
Activities and Types of Play
Case Studies

Communication, language and speech

Element Experiences/ Strategies/ Knowledge
  • The most fundamental life skill for children is the ability to communicate. It directly impacts on their ability to learn, to develop friendships and on their life chances (ICAN & RCSLT, 2018).

  • Communication is one of the most empowering ways to improve the lives of children and their families (Kolucki & Lemish, 2011)

  • The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child includes a variety of communication rights: the right to be heard and to be taken seriously; to free speech and to information; to maintain privacy; to develop cultural identity; and to be proud of one’s heritage and beliefs. Yet, whether girls and boys live in deprived and resource-poor societies, or in overwhelmingly commercialized and profit-driven ones, their voices need to be heard and taken seriously; the possibility for expressing their needs and opinions and their access to important information should be expanded (Kolucki & Lemish, 2011).

  • Social and emotional development is inter-connected with communication and language so when skills in communication and language (C&L) are lacking social and emotional (S&E) well-being is commonly deficient (Bercow, 2008).

Non-verbal communication
  • Using Makaton - a language programme using signs and symbols designed to support spoken language by use of signs alongside signs and symbols (Mistry, & Barnes, 2013; Gross, 2013)

  • Facial expressions are significant, they provide social referencing for children e.g. still face paradigm (Tronik, 2007) and visual cliff experiment (Sorce et al., 1985)

  • Use gestures with language e.g. waving goodbye, hand washing

  • Action songs and rhymes

Language Rich Environments:

Spaces & places to communicate

  • The role of the environment in supporting language by providing safe, secure places where children feel relaxed. Creating spaces inside and outside for children to talk e.g. dens, boxes, screened areas (Jarman, 2013).

  • Create quieter areas, free from bustle & distraction (DCSF, 2008)

Language Rich Environments:

Creating opportunities and reasons for talk and conversation

  • Provide time - General listening, valuing input and responding with great interest

  • Sustained shared thinking – positive, skilled interaction where individuals work together thinking critically and creatively that enables natural conversation (Brodie, 2014; Early Education, 2012; Siraj-Blachford, 2009)

  • Offer provocation  – exciting play opportunities and objects that naturally excite children to be curious & engage in talk (DfE, 2017; Ephgrave, 2018)

  • The EYFS characteristics of effective learning – Playing & Exploring; Active Learning, Creating & Thinking Critically (DfE, 2017)

  • Display pictures and/ or make simple books e.g. children’s families, shared experiences between children and adults that hold meaning, local environment. Making these available can create talking points & support children in initiating conversation

  • Provide the opportunity for meaningful imaginative role play with others (Gussin-Paley, 1991)

  • Share stories

  • Helicopter stories/ story scribing – where children dictate their stories which are written down verbatim by the adult (Gussin-Paley, 2004; Lee, 2015; Ephgrave, 2018)

  • Engage in songs and rhymes

  • Possibility pockets & chatter baskets – contents created to enable varied possibilities for ‘chatter’ and can be developed to meet interests (DCSF, 2009)

  • Tune into environmental sounds e.g. go on a listening walk

  • Use musical instruments to distinguish and identify different sounds

  • Use familiar routines e.g. meal times to encourage socialising and conversation

Adult role

Clearly the role of the adult is key in all the above but here are some top tips:

  • Value talk

  • Tune in to children – get to know the children so you can manage this effectively

  • Wait, watch & wonder – children will often initiate conversation if given the time, pondering e.g. I wonder statements are less threatening than direct questions. Children are more relaxed and more likely to respond (Fisher, 2016).

  • Thinking time – young children need time (up to 11 seconds) to process before responding (DCSF, 2009)

  • Foster positive relationships based on trust and mutual respect. If children feel safe and comfortable and know you care about them they are likely to want to communicate with you

  • Share your experiences

  • Avoid asking too many questions – Instead hold a conversation. When you do ask questions make these open and purposeful.

  • Allow children to lead play and follow their interests – engaged excited learners will want to tell you about their play and exploration

  • Use a sing song voice (Motherese) with babies – easier for babies to distinguish sounds/ tune in (Abbott & Burkitt, 2015)

  • Use commentary – model language through describing what children are doing (Early Education, 2012)

  • Use Gestures – in conjunction with spoken language

  • Repeat children’s language – using correct pronunciation and extending vocabulary/ sentences as appropriate

  • Be a play partner – share the experience

Be a positive role model – using correct spoken language & listen actively to others