Language

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Early years language pathway

This is a multi-agency pathway for children who have language and communication needs. Language and communication needs are very common, affecting about 10 per cent of children.

It’s important that children with language needs are able to make good progress with their learning. We support by:

  • making sure early years settings are accessible for children with language needs
  • working with a child to improve their communication skills.

In East Sussex there is language and communication support available from many different agencies.

Health visitors can provide general advice and signposting on communication. They can help parents and carers identify whether or not their child’s language development is progressing as it should.

Early years settings practitioners are at the heart of everyday support for children’s communication development alongside parents and carers. We recommend all practitioners access extra training on speech, language and communication as part of their continuous professional development (CPD). The Communication Trust has an excellent free online course. We contribute to CPD events as well as offering language training such as ELKLAN.

The Children’s Centre Early Communication Support Workers help with early speech, language and communication development and have extra knowledge and skills on early communication. They are supervised by CITES speech and language therapists. You can access them through your local children’s centre.

The ISEND Early Years Service support children from birth to five-years-old with special educational needs and disabilities where there is a significant barrier to learning or inclusion. This often involves supporting early communication, for example visuals and signing.

What can we do for you?

Sometimes a more detailed understanding of a child’s language and communication is needed, for example to work out which communication system will work best for a non-verbal child. Sometimes the therapist may be needed to introduce a therapeutic approach, such as intensive interaction. A CITES speech and language therapist can help with these types of communication needs.

How we work together

Most support for language and communication can be provided by the early years setting or an early communication support worker with extra signposting and advice available through health visiting. If you’re a parent or carer reading this, find out what your child’s setting is doing to help with communication so that you can share resources and work on the same things together.

A speech and language therapist can help where a child needs a detailed assessment or a specialist approach that the setting cannot provide.

We work very closely with our ISEND partners and if a child is already known to ISEND Early Years they will be able to advise about referral to a speech and language therapist.

Settings, parents and carers are always welcome to ring in to our Therapy One Point if they need advice or think a child may need a referral.

Information for parents/carers – early years

What is language and communication?

Early interaction

Some children need support to develop their early communication skills before learning to talk. They might have difficulty with:

  • eye contact
  • taking turns
  • joint attention
  • listening.

Play

Some children find it hard to develop their play skills. They might:

  • find it hard to play cooperatively and share toys
  • mostly enjoy cause/effect toys or repetitive play
  • organise or line up toys rather than playing with them
  • find it hard to use their imagination or problem-solve.

Understanding language

Some children find it hard to understand what people say to them. They might have difficulty with:

  • understanding words and sentences
  • following instructions
  • answering questions
  • understanding stories.

You may hear this called comprehension or receptive language.

Using language

Some children find it hard to get their message across to other people. They might have difficulty with:

  • using single words
  • using different kinds of words, for example naming words, actions, descriptive words
  • putting words together into sentences.
  • word finding difficulties
  • telling stories or relating events

You may hear this called expressive language.

Using visual supports

Some children use visual supports to help them communicate and understand the world around them. Visual supports can include:

  • signing (such as Makaton)
  • gestures
  • pictures and symbols
  • objects.

You may hear this called AAC, which stands for augmentative and alternative communication and covers all the ways we might communicate outside of using speech.

Social skills

Some children find it hard to use communication in social situations. They might have difficulty with:

  • making eye contact
  • understanding and using facial expressions and body language
  • taking turns in conversations
  • following someone else’s lead in play and conversation.

You may hear this called social interaction.

Language resources

Using visual supports

Choice board

What is it?

A choice board is a board with a selection of visuals that your child can choose. These could be visuals of foods at snack time or toys for free play time. They are a great way to encourage increased independence and communication.

Why is it important?

  • encourages your child to try to communicate
  • encourages your child to imitate or repeat sounds, words, and gestures / actions
  • helps to improve your child’s vocabulary
  • teaches the concept of cause-effect (something your child does causes something else to happen)
  • helps in finding out what your child likes/dislikes
  • encourages interaction
  • gives children the chance to have more control in their world (especially for children who have difficulties talking).

How to use the choice board

  • start with a choice of two pictures – one motivating and one not motivating
  • name the pictures as you offer them one at a time such as: Would Jack like teddy (show teddy) or boat (show boat)?
  • encourage your child to point or touch the picture they want
  • give the item to your child immediately after they have made their choice
  • frequently move pictures to different positions on the board
  • gradually increase the number of choices as they become better at making choices
  • encourage your child to say the word as they make a choice. If your child is not using the word for the item the adult should label it for them.

Now and next boards

What is it?

Now and next visuals are two activities presented in the sequence that they are going to happen. They can be represented as objects, photos, pictures or symbols. This is a useful strategy to use as it visually communicates and reinforces instructions, routines or expectations to a child.

How to use a now and next board

See our tutorial on how to create and use a now and next board:

  • start by introducing the now and next concept by choosing two activities your child enjoys. This is a gentle and fun way of teaching it
  • try to only have the activity that you are doing first accessible and remove it immediately before you begin the second activity. This helps the child to focus on one activity at a time
  • once your child understands the concept of now and next, you can use the now box to represent an activity which is less motivating and the next box to represent a preferred activity. This can help them complete the first activity with the second activity acting as a reward
  • show your child the visuals. Point to and name each activity using simple language such as now puzzle and next bubbles
  • if at first your child is having difficulty accepting the now activity, don’t spend long on it. For example, the now activity can be fitting together just two pieces of puzzle rather than completing all 12 pieces, next moving on to bubbles. You can then build up the time spent on the now activity as they become more tolerant.

Helpful tips

  • the type of visual or symbol you use will depend on your child’s level of understanding. A speech and language therapist can help you choose the best type of visuals such as objects, photos, pictures or symbols
  • always have the board accessible and where your child can see it throughout the activities. Keep referring back to it as much as they need
  • use Velcro or sticky tack to secure pictures as they can be removed easily
  • laminated pictures will last longer
  • use your child’s interests in the design of the board that the symbols are stuck on to such as a butterfly with a picture presented in sequence on each wing. This helps to keep it personal and motivating for your child.

Traffic lights and key ring symbols

Why use traffic lights?

  • traffic lights are a form of communication/behaviour support that supports change and transitions by the use of coloured cards.

They give a warning to children who do not pick up on adults’ social cues or environmental cues that an activity is about to finish. If a child is engaged in an enjoyable activity they may become upset if this suddenly stops.

  • this system helps adults use consistent instructions; the language used is structured and predictable. It also helps adults use shorter instructions and repeat instructions less.
  • as the cards are on a keyring, it is a convenient and accessible system.

Who to use traffic lights with?

  • children who have difficulties with transition, even if they understand the language. Too much language can overload children
  • children who seek negative verbal attention from adults
  • children who do not understand single word instructions.

How to use?

  • everyone involved with the child must have a set of these cards readily available, for example attached to an extendable keyring.
  • everyone involved with the child must use the cards in the same way.
  • everyone involved with the child must use the agreed colours for each card (see below)
  • everyone involved with the child must use specific language with each card (see below)
  • everyone in contact with the child should use at all times needed when an activity changes for example in class, at break times and on educational visits.

Card colours and language

Green card: now or activity now to use to indicate the beginning of an activity or transition.

Amber card: nearly finished or activity nearly finished to use to indicate that an activity is about to end.

Red card: finished or activity finished to use to indicate activity is finished.

Purple card: rest time to use when a child needs a time out or rest. This is the only one of these cards that children can potentially use themselves to indicate they need rest time.

You can print out your own traffic lights kit here:

Word webs

Word webs are an evidence informed way of developing vocabulary skills. They support comprehension and recall of new words through exploring features of the word, such as its meaning, its categories, the first sound in the word, the number of syllables, where you would find it.

This PDF is a ready-made template for you to create your own word webs.

Supporting communication and sensory needs in the classroom

Watch our short video to get ideas on how to make your classroom fully inclusive for children with communication and sensory needs.

Information for schools/ nurseries/health professionals – early years

What is language and communication?

Early interaction

Some children need support to develop their early communication skills before learning to talk. They might have difficulty with:

  • eye contact
  • taking turns
  • joint attention
  • listening

Play

Some children find it hard to develop their play skills. They might:

  • find it hard to play cooperatively and share toys
  • mostly enjoy cause/effect toys or repetitive play
  • organise or line up toys rather than playing with them
  • find it hard to use their imagination or problem-solve

Understanding language

Some children find it hard to understand what people say to them. They might have difficulty with:

  • understanding words and sentences
  • following instructions
  • answering questions
  • understanding stories

You may hear this called comprehension or receptive language.

Using language

Some children find it hard to get their message across to other people. They might have difficulty with:

  • using single words
  • using different kinds of words, such as naming words, actions, descriptive words
  • putting words together into sentences
  • word finding difficulties
  • telling stories or relating events.

You may hear this called expressive language.

Using visual supports

Some children use visual supports to help them communicate and understand the world around them. Visual supports can include:

  • signing (such as Makaton)
  • gestures
  • pictures and symbols
  • objects.

You may hear this called AAC, which stands for augmentative and alternative communication and covers all the ways we might communicate outside of using speech.

Social skills

Some children find it hard to use communication in social situations. They might have difficulty with:

  • making eye contact
  • understanding and using facial expressions and body language
  • taking turns in conversations
  • following someone else’s lead in play and conversation.

You may hear this called social interaction.

Early years helpful websites and links

Using visual supports

Makaton This website has information on Makaton, links to training opportunities and some free resources to use.

Makaton YouTube and Facebook Watch and learn Makaton sign of the week plus many more.

BBC website Something Special featuring Mr Tumble for Makaton signs, songs and activities.

PECS This website gives information on PECS, along with resources and training opportunities.

Practical AAC This website has many tips and resources for children using alternative and augmentative communication.

General information / resources

Speech and Language Link Parent Portal Speechlink and Languagelink are websites used by schools across the county to support children’s speech and language development. There are lots of activities and resources on the parent portal – scroll down to the bottom to see the language activities organised by age group.

Humber Children’s Language Resources Here you can find a selection of downloadable resources specifically designed to help with children's language.

Leeds Speech and Language Therapy Toolkit Contains advice, activities and general resources to help with the development of children and young people's speech, language and communication skills.

Hungry Little Minds There are lots of ideas on this website for activities to do with young children, organised into age groups, to help with general development including communication.

ISEND Early Years Service Information on the ISEND Early Years Service, what it does and how to make a referral.

ICAN This is a children’s communication charity which provides advice and support. There is lots of information available, such as what to expect at different ages, what developmental language disorder is, and strategies that you can use with young children

Small Talk This website has lots of ideas for supporting children in the areas of talking/communicating, playing, and reading. All activities are organised into age groups. There are quick videos which have ideas and written information, and the information is available in some other languages (Punjabi, Urdu, and Polish).  

Tiny Happy People This BBC website has lots of information for how you can support children’s communication development, including how you can do this during everyday activities. Many of the suggestions are provided in easy to watch videos, and there are also more in depth articles to read.

Information for parents or carers – primary school age

What is language and communication?

Attention and listening

Some children find it hard to listen and concentrate at the level expected for their age. They might have difficulty with:

  • focusing for long periods of time
  • processing and following instructions
  • ignoring distractions
  • shifting their attention from one activity to another.

Play

Some children find it hard to develop their play skills. They might:

  • find it hard to play cooperatively and share toys
  • mostly enjoy cause/effect toys or repetitive play
  • organise or line up toys rather than playing with them
  • find it hard to use their imagination or problem-solve
  • find it difficult to communicate effectively while playing.

Understanding language

Some children find it hard to understand what people say to them. They might have difficulty with:

  • understanding words and sentences
  • following instructions
  • answering questions
  • understanding stories
  • understanding non-literal language such as phrases
  • using higher level language skills such as inference.

You may hear this called comprehension or receptive language.

Using language

Some children find it hard to get their message across to other people. They might have difficulty with:

  • putting words together into longer sentences
  • learning new and topic specific vocabulary
  • using complex grammar
  • telling stories or relating events.

You may hear this called expressive language.

Using visual supports

Some children use visual supports to help them communicate and understand the world around them. Visual supports can include:

  • signing (such as Makaton)
  • gestures
  • pictures and symbols.
  • Objects

You may hear this called ‘AAC’. This stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication and covers all the ways we might communicate outside of using speech.

Social Skills

Some children find it hard to use communication in social situations. They might have difficulty with:

  • Making eye contact
  • Understanding and using facial expressions and body language
  • Taking turns in conversations
  • Following someone else’s lead in play and conversation
  • Understanding when it is appropriate to talk about certain topics

You may hear this called ‘social interaction’.

Primary age – links for parents/carers

Using visual supports

Makaton This website has information on Makaton, links to training opportunities and some free resources to use.

Makaton YouTube and Facebook Watch and learn Makaton sign of the week plus many more.

BBC website Something Special featuring Mr Tumble for Makaton signs, songs and activities.

PECS This website gives information on PECS, along with resources and training opportunities.

Practical AAC This website has many tips and resources for children using alternative and augmentative communication.

General information / resources

Speech and Language Link Parent Portal Speechlink and Languagelink are websites used by schools across the county to support children’s speech and language development. There are lots of activities and resources on the parent portal – scroll down to the bottom to see the language activities organised by age group.

Humber Children’s Language Resources Here you can find a selection of downloadable resources specifically designed to help with children's language.

Leeds Speech and Language Therapy Toolkit Contains advice, activities and general resources to help with the development of children and young people's speech, language and communication skills.

Hungry Little Minds There are lots of ideas on this website for activities to do with young children, organised into age groups, to help with general development including communication.

ISEND Early Years Service Information on the ISEND Early Years Service, what they do and how to make a referral.

ICAN This is a children’s communication charity which provides advice and support. There is lots of information available, such as what to expect at different ages, what developmental language disorder is, and strategies that you can use with young children

CLASS (Communication, Learning and Autism Support Service) Information on CLASS as a service, what they do and how to make a referral.

Information for schools/ HPs – primary school age

What is language and communication?

Attention and listening

Some children find it hard to listen and concentrate at the level expected for their age. They might have difficulty with:

  • focusing for long periods of time
  • processing and following instructions
  • ignoring distractions
  • shifting their attention from one activity to another.

Play

Some children find it hard to develop their play skills. They might:

  • find it hard to play cooperatively and share toys
  • mostly enjoy cause/effect toys or repetitive play
  • organise or line up toys rather than playing with them
  • find it hard to use their imagination or problem-solve
  • find it difficult to communicate effectively while playing.

Understanding language

Some children find it hard to understand what people say to them. They might have difficulty with:

  • understanding words and sentences
  • following instructions
  • answering questions
  • understanding stories
  • understanding non-literal language such as phrases
  • using higher level language skills such as inference.

You may hear this called comprehension or receptive language.

Using language

Some children find it hard to get their message across to other people. They might have difficulty with:

  • putting words together into longer sentences
  • learning new and topic specific vocabulary
  • using complex grammar
  • telling stories or relating events.

You may hear this called expressive language.

Using visual supports

Some children use visual supports to help them communicate and understand the world around them. Visual supports can include:

  • signing (such as Makaton)
  • gestures
  • pictures and symbols
  • objects.

You may hear this called AAC, which stands for augmentative and alternative communication and covers all the ways we might communicate outside of using speech.

Social skills

Some children find it hard to use communication in social situations. They might have difficulty with:

  • making eye contact
  • understanding and using facial expressions and body language
  • taking turns in conversations
  • following someone else’s lead in play and conversation
  • understanding when it is appropriate to talk about certain topics.

You may hear this called social interaction.

Links for schools/HPs – primary school age

Shape Coding Information on the shape coding system with links to training and resources.

Using visual supports

Makaton This website has information on Makaton, links to training opportunities and some free resources to use.

Makaton YouTube and Facebook Watch and learn Makaton sign of the week plus many more.

BBC website Something Special featuring Mr Tumble for Makaton signs, songs and activities.

PECS This website gives information on PECS, along with resources and training opportunities.

Practical AAC This website has many tips and resources for children using alternative and augmentative communication.

General information / resources

Speech Link and Language Link This website has links to all the assessment/intervention packages available as well as links to the blog and other information. There is also a parent portal which has links to lots of activities for children at different ages.

Humber Children’s Language Resources Here you can find a selection of downloadable resources specifically designed to help with children's language.

Leeds Speech and Language Therapy Toolkit Contains advice, activities and general resources to help with the development of children and young people's speech, language and communication skills.

CLASS (Communication, Learning and Autism Support Service) Information on CLASS as a service, what they do and how to make a referral.

ICAN This is a children’s communication charity which provides advice and support. There is lots of information available, such as what to expect at different ages, what developmental language disorder is, and strategies that you can use with young children.

Black Sheep Press Loads of resources for all aspects of speech and language work, available for purchase.

Carrie Hughes resources This independent speech and language therapy website has loads of reasonably priced, downloadable resources for lots of aspects of speech and language available to buy.

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