Colleagues asked for more information, so I thought I would focus on communication and language and the red flags you might spot when doing your observations, assessments and individual planning for babies and children of different ages. First, though, it's important to look at the learning journey children take...
Before they can learn to read and write, children need to be able to hear the sounds in words – d + o + g = dog
They also need to be able to make rhymes – dog rhymes with bog*
*The children will know what a bog is if they have read ‘Room on the Broom’. It’s usually best to use words they know first.
Then they can develop their knowledge by changing letters and having fun with words and making up new ones that rhyme.
This is known as ’phonological awareness’ and one of the focuses of Letters and Sounds phase 1. Ofsted have stated that ‘there is no place for formal phonics in the early years’ and Letters and Sounds, based on playing games which provide the underpinning skills children need to develop phonic awareness, is an ideal (and free) tool for early years providers to use.
The best age-range to explore letters and Sounds phase 1 is probably the pre-schoolers – however, in a childminding setting all children join in with games when we are sitting round the table at snack time chatting and playing together, so the younger children benefit from the activities too.
How phonological awareness develops –
- Babies: learn to listen to different types of sounds in speech, songs and rhymes and the environment.
- 1 – 2 year olds: start to differentiate and recognise speech sounds as they learn first words and phrases.
- 2 – 3 year olds: learn songs and rhymes and join in with passages and repeated refrains from favourite books and stories.
- 3 – 4 year olds: are starting to recognise and play with rhymes – if they have read enough books and sung songs which contain rhyming words and phrases.
- School age: teachers will start to introduce ‘letter of the week’ and formal phonics teaching.
When should you be concerned?
- If a baby or child does not appear to hear voices, music or sounds in their environment OR if they stop babbling … advise parents to take them for a hearing test.
- If a young child cannot pronounce sounds (remembering some sounds are harder to pronounce than others) ask parents about their home speech and communication… if the concern continues advise parents to ask for a referral to a speech and language therapist.
- If the child does not talk very much or has little verbal communication with parents at home, you might be concerned they are not making ‘typical progress’ when measured against the descriptors in Early Years Outcomes (guidance, not a tick list) … as part of supporting home learning you might suggest songs to sing, books to read, stories to tell together and games parents might play with them at home.
- If a child lives in a noisy environment or cannot seem to differentiate sounds, play games with them to help them listen to one sound at a time. The television programme ‘Melody’ can inspire listening to different genres of music and making up stories linked to the music.
Planning the day
To build phonological awareness sing and read stories and talk to children every day, for example –
- Sing songs and / or read books in the morning to introduce your themed activity of the day / week
- Letters and Sounds phase 1 games during snack
- Introduce a new activity verbally – demonstrate how it might be used – before letting the children play with it to support their understanding and develop language
- Model language during play
- Play a fruit shopping game – b for broccoli, c for cabbage, r for radish etc and introduce some new vocabulary at the same time
- Plan a reading session before lunch – introduce puppets and small world toys to catch each child’s attention and use silly voices, intonation and rhyme to hold their attention.
- Sit with children at lunch time and talk to them – use the ‘Chatting with Children’ cards from the ICan speech and language resources.
- Play a listening game on the school run
- Plan a music and movement session before tea – Ofsted have said they want to observe us singing traditional nursery rhymes with the children.
Keep planned sessions short – as long as children can hold attention – and follow up with an adult guided activity they will all enjoy to extend language and those sustained shared thinking moments you want to promote every day.
If you have any concerns about a child’s speech and language development there are lots of resources to support you including trackers from Talking Point and Every Child a Talker (ECAT).
Any questions? Please ask. Sarah