There has been a lot of discussion around the impact of Covid -19 on children’s social and emotional wellbeing and learning, but the debate continues around the effect it is having on young children’s speech, language and communication development.

We are truly living in turbulent times with the responses to the Coronavirus pandemic affecting our routines daily, having to adjust and adapt our provision and practice in Early Years.

Given these challenges, finding the constants within our provision that we know make a difference to children’s language development is key. The following suggestions will support all little ones whatever their circumstances – whether they are in our settings or at home, whether they are acquiring English as an additional language or have SLCN needs.

We acknowledge that some of the activities and experiences listed, will be more or less accessible, depending on your setting’s Covid -19 policies and risk assessments.

Storytelling….

Sharing books: helps to develop language, promotes brain development and imagination and strengthens relationships between the story teller and listener (and also the ‘audience’ of listeners, if there are a group). It is also a joyous thing to do!

Big feelings:   sharing a story can be a fabulous ‘way in’ to discuss emotions and feelings, too. Books like the Worrysaurus by Rachel Bright , ‘Little Meerkat’s Big Panic’ by Jane Evans and ‘Ruby’s Worry’ by Tom Percival are all very topical, given the current climate.

Oral storytelling (without a book): this can be either the re-telling of a story using props, or, a made up one! This form of storytelling can capture our little ones’ attentions in a different, but really positive way; firing their imaginations and encouraging creative thinking skills. Anything can be a story!

Songs and rhymes: singing nursery rhymes supports little ones’ language by exposing them to repetition, rhythm, rhyme and new words such as ‘action’ words.  Listening to the sound and rhythm of words builds strong literacy skills. Making and using household items as musical instruments enhances this experience.

Roleplay & imaginary play: Role play helps to develop little ones’ communication skills in a safe environment experimenting with the feelings of others in different situations. It also helps to boost the development of problem-solving and self-regulation skills.

Language and Vocabulary Building….

5 minutes of language focused play a day:  dedicating 5 minutes of ‘special time’ a day to a focused, uninterrupted activity, will not only increase listening and attention skills, (the first ‘building block’ of language acquisition), but if coupled with a ‘language based’ theme, will help to develop your little ones’ communication and language skills.

There is currently a series of daily tips for practitioners and parents to use. Each tip gives an activity related to areas of the EYFS and has language development interwoven into each activity. It uses the WhatsApp platform, and can be accessed here.

Screen time: whilst there’s a saying, ‘there’s no app to replace your lap’, technology can be used as a very effective way to support children’s speech and language development. If watching TV or playing a game on a tablet/PC, ensure that you are watching and playing together, discussing the content.

Chatterboxes: chatterboxes, chatter-jars or chatter-bags are a wonderful way to encourage and entice a little one to want to talk and become engaged in conversation on a one- to- one basis. You can use any sized or shaped container, as long as it has a lid or top. Spend time observing the little one’s interests, then fill the box with related objects. Watch how they play and follow their lead; mirroring their actions, talking about what they are doing and naming the familiar and unfamiliar objects. Hearing language linked to their play instantly makes it memorable as it’s related to something they find interesting, so all the vocabulary heard becomes significant.

What’s in the bag: this is another great way to develop single word vocabulary. Place a variety of objects, e.g. farm animals, in a bag. Encourage the little one to pull out an object. You say, “it’s a …” leaving a pause for the child to fill in the missing word. Model the language to them if they are unsure after ten seconds. Holding the object in front of the little one and labelling it, is more stimulating than showing them a picture or a photo when building specific vocabulary.

Fun and Games…

Memory games: memory plays a huge part in our little ones’ developing communication skills. Being able to hold what was has been said and then to think of ideas ready to form a response is a complicated skill, so playing games such as ‘The shopping game’ “I went to the shops and bought a…..”, ‘Kim’s game’ and matching card games help to develop short and long term memory.

Turn taking games: when children learn to take turns, they learn the basic rhythm of communication, the back-and-forth exchange between people.

Obstacle courses: these are a great way for little ones to hear and use new words. Talking about their actions and movement as they do it creates a meaningful link to the language heard.

Early Years settings and practitioners continue to show their ability to adapt and overcome difficulties, with a willingness to find innovative and creative ways to reach all families. Whilst we’re living in the moment, whatever you manage to achieve supporting children’s communication and language, must be applauded.

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