Communication, as I’ve mentioned before, is usually considered something that will just develop – yet we know that large numbers of children are starting school without the ability to talk in sentences or even understand key words.
The question is why as a society are we not placing more focus on ensuring our children have the key foundations to access any curriculum, as after all everything is taught through spoken language? ‘Speaking and listening’ used to be part of the National Curriculum, when it was recognised that a large majority of children were starting school without the necessary foundation skills for learning. Sadly, more recently this was removed in the revised National Curriculum and yet, there are now potentially even more children starting school with lower levels with references to ‘the Word Gap’.
Encouragingly there have been recent surveys that show teaching staff and early years educators do recognise the importance of focusing on speech, language and communication skills. They also see language as being foundations for reading, writing, learning and fulfilling their potential. Communication & Language is a Prime area in the Foundation Stage (early years) Curriculum if not in Key Stage 1 and above curriculum.
So how as practitioners do we ensure our children are school ready with the skills they need to learn? We need to make certain our children have strong ‘roots’ or foundations to speech and language – including their attention and listening, communication and play skills from which understanding and use of words grows.
One key part of this is ensuring our pre-school and then school environments are ‘communication friendly’. Take time to think about, for example, how the set-up and layout of the rooms encourage opportunities of not only child adult interactions but also interactions with peers. As we know it is through interaction that language and communication grow. What additional visual support do you use alongside spoken language, to make it more concrete? It’s also about taking the time to think about the skills of the practitioners – your greatest assets – and ensuring they have the skills to actively support all children’s speech, language and communication development through their everyday interactions and identify those that may need additional support. If we can identify these children early and ensure support is in place, then our children are more likely to succeed. It’s also around a carefully planned transition ensuring we share with the new school what has worked for the child, so they can pick up where you left off.
Parents often hold the key to their child – they are experts on their child and as practitioners we need to ensure we place enough value on this and find ways to work as partners together to discover the child’s strengths and needs and what works for them as individuals. We also need to be mindful, that often children present differently in different settings (e.g. Pre-School/Nursery compared with Home), so we need to build a full picture of the child and not just one focused on how they are at pre-school. As a parent and therapist, I know however, this can be a real challenge, when I’m dashing in to drop off my child as I’m going to be late for work to dashing back to get my child at the end of the day. Time is short in all our busy hectic lives, but we need to be able to prioritise our child’s needs, knowing that at regular intervals we’re able to touch base with each other knowing we’re having a significant impact on our child’s future.
It doesn’t stop there, there is so much school staff can do to support children’s speech, language and communication development right through to secondary and college. It is essential that we make sure the workforce does have an awareness of the importance of speech, language and communication and are skilled in responding. Not all is lost if a young person presents in secondary with language and communication needs as there is an additional window of opportunity to support young people as their brains are undergoing rapid reorganisation. This is the time to equip them with the key strategies and skills to independently steer themselves through life.
Young people’s Communication skills are after all the top-rated skill by employers required for their first job.