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Early communication and closing the word gap

Being able to communicate clearly, process speech sounds, express ideas, and understand and interact with others are fundamental to a child’s development and early years practitioners are pivotal in supporting young children's language and communication development.

It is vital that all practitioners are:

  • Confident in knowing what children should be doing at different ages and stages
  • Able to model and support the development of good language skills
  • Knowing how to spot those children who might be struggling and what to do next.  

This Communicating Outdoors Audit and Positive Communication Audit will help you adapt your setting to be a communication friendly environment.  

Visit the Talk, Listen and Cuddle website for more information and resources to share with families.

Effective practice in early language and communication in early years provision is also essential in supporting the most disadvantaged children and helping to reduce the word gap. 

"‘Word gap’ - these gaps are particularly pronounced in early language and literacy. By the age of three, more disadvantaged children are – on average – already almost a full year and a half behind their more affluent peers in their early language development. And around two fifths of disadvantaged five-year-olds are not meeting the expected literacy standard for their age" (Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential, DfE, 2017).

Top tips for supporting early language and communication

All practitioners need to be able to:

1. Promote speech, language and communication development.

To do this, always make sure that you:

  • Follow the child's lead
  • Join in with the child’s play or mirror their actions
  • Focus on what the child is looking at or doing
  • Wait and allow the child time to start the conversation
  • Take turns to communicate so that adults and children both get a turn at talking
  • Get down to the child’s level – it’s easier to talk if you are face to face
  • Get a child’s attention before you start to talk
  • Make sure you use lots of statements and fewer questions
  • Try to have a conversation with every child every day.

2. Identify children who are experiencing difficulties

Although all children learn to talk at different rates, there are certain things they should be doing at different ages and stages. It’s important for practitioners to know what to expect, so they can check whether children are on the right track and identify those who might be struggling. The links above to the right of this page are dedicated to speech, language and communication and provide a range of useful information and resources.

3. Support children who have some form of transient speech, language and communication delay.

To do this, always make sure that you:

  • Build up a child’s sentences by repeating what they say and adding words.
  • Give choices to increase vocabulary, eg “apple or satsuma?”
  • Acknowledge when a child says something inaccurately and repeat it back in the correct way.
  • Plan a variety of interesting activities so that there is plenty to talk about.
  • Use daily routines to repeat and emphasise basic language.
  • Listen to sounds around you and play games that encourage listening.
  • Have fun together with songs and rhymes. 
  • Share this guidance with parents so they can do the same at home

Need more help?

Children's speech, language and communication skills all develop at different rates and it is therefore vital that we look at the individual child and the things which are influencing their development. It is also important that you seek to allay any parental concern.

Here are some steps you can follow:

  • Try and add more detail to the concerns you or the parent have - the Universally Speaking Checklist from the Communication Trust is very helpful for this.
  • Check the other resources provided by the Communication Trust as these can support your practice and assessment techniques. They also have a variety of resources and research to support you in sharing information with parents and carers. 
  • Contact local services such as speech and language therapy or the Essex child and family wellbeing service - see the useful links list above.
  • You can arrange to talk with a speech and language therapist from children’s communication charity I CAN.

Relevant resources