Speech, Language and Communication
Speech, language and communication skills play an essential part in enabling us all to reach our full potential in life. Effective communication skills enable us to express our ideas, wants and needs. Children need to develop these important skills to enable them to learn, to make friendships, to make choices and deal with change. As they get older these skills are also vital for their careers and well-being. Families play a very important part in helping children to develop these skills and can really make a huge difference to their child’s life chances.
The pyramid below illustrates the building blocks of
speech and language development.
What do children need to enable them to develop speech, language and communication skills?
Pre-verbal and Early Interaction
Before your child speaks their first word there are many other important skills that must be learned. To develop meaningful language, it is important for your child to want to interact with people and be sociable. Babies communicate by watching your face and making noises. They will try to copy what you do, this is how they learn so is a very important step. As you interact they will begin to smile, laugh, coo and babble in response to actions and objects. As they develop, reciprocal play like peek-a-boo will help them to anticipate and wait excitedly. Offer opportunities to interact throughout the day as this stage of development is laying the foundation for rich expressive and receptive language skills.
Attention and Listening
Attention and listening is the ability to look and listen and to focus on specific tasks or sounds. It enables children to make sense of the words they hear, to respond to others and develop their language skills successfully. This skill develops from birth and highlights the importance of talking to your child as soon as they are born. Children progress through stages of attention and listening development and will gradually learn how to focus on more than one task and switch their attention from one task to another.
Play and Interaction
Young children learn to communicate by interacting with others. This enables them to learn the non-verbal rules of communication including listening, eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, body language and understanding how to take verbal turns too. Learning through play is vital for the development of a child’s communication skills and they need lots of opportunities to play and engage with others. As children play, they copy and practise words they have heard others say. This helps them to develop vocabulary and language skills. Symbolic play is an important step in language development. Understanding that a toy cup represents a real cup enables them to understand that words represent things, people and events. They will realise that the toy cup in the tea set is ‘symbolic’ of the real cup they see in the kitchen at home, even though it may look different. Role play involves them using their imagination. Children are able to pretend to be somebody or something else. In taking a role, they also learn to see how it feels to have another point of view, it can help them to learn to empathise with others which helps their social and emotional development too. They will also begin to understand the role of the speaker and the listener in order to know the social rules of conversation.
Children need to understand words before they are able to use them and young children often understand more than they can say. With a good foundation of listening, attention and play opportunities, they will develop an understanding of language and will understand words, sentences and conversations, be able to follow instructions and directions and understand questions. This is called developing their receptive language. It is important to remember that non-verbal communication and visual communication e.g. use of pictures, signs and symbols, are other means that some children may use to communicate with others.
Expressive language is about talking and the use of language. Children will use words and sentences to share their thoughts and ideas and to join in conversations. They start with single words before moving on to joining two words together and then using three and four word phrases before progressing to using full and then more complex sentences. They will also develop the ability to use the correct rules of grammar. Again, it is important to remember that non-verbal communication and visual communication e.g. use of pictures and signs are also important to enable some children to express themselves.
So that they can be understood by others, children develop the use of different speech sounds. These sounds are acquired in a developmental order and some children will progress more quickly than others. The first 3 years of life, when the brain is developing and maturing, is the most intense period for gaining speech and language skills. The best environment for children to develop these skills is one that is rich with sounds, sights, and consistent exposure to the speech and language of others.
Milestones for Speech and Language Development
The first signs of communication happen when a baby learns that a cry will bring food, comfort and attention. Babies also begin to recognise important sounds in their environment, such as the voice of their parents or the adult who is caring for them. As they grow, babies begin to work out the speech sounds that make up the words of their language. By 6 months of age, most babies recognise the basic sounds of their native language.
The development of speech and language skills in children can vary. However, they follow a natural progression and these milestones can help doctors and other health professionals to determine if a child is on track or if he or she may need extra help. Sometimes a delay may be caused by hearing loss, while other times it may be due to a speech or language disorder.
Take a look at the website links below for information about the stages of speech and language development and ideas for how you can support your child during this important journey.
Sign and Symbol of the Week
Makaton is a language programme that uses signs and symbols to help people to communicate. It is used to support spoken language with the signs and symbols being used alongside speech and in spoken word order.
Staff in school use this programme to support the children’s development of speech, language and communication skills, particularly in Nursery and Reception.
We have introduced a sign and symbol of the week and now share these with parents/carers. The sign and symbol is displayed in classroom windows so that you are able to practise with your child at home. We hope that this will help you to support your child. Remember, everything we can do to help children develop these important skills will open up a world of possibilities and opportunities for them, and enable them to reach their full potential.
If you require information or support relating to your child’s speech, language and communication skills, please contact your child’s teacher in the first instance and we will do our best to help.