Communication-friendly environments in the early years

The schools’ forum-funded Schools Support Partnership employs a Speech and Language Therapist working with Rutland Early Years settings, developing practitioners’ knowledge, understanding and confidence to support Speech Language and Communication skills.

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The programme considers creating communication-friendly physical environments, alongside improved understanding of how staff can create opportunities for adult-child interaction, facilitating children’s Speech Language and Communication (SLC) skills development. 

The Speech and Language Therapist led project included site visits to 12 early years group settings initially (more recently, childminders have accessed support too). The visits involved managers and SENCOs, focusing on environmental adaptations to promote better communication between adults and children, and between children during play. 

Staff training was also provided to enhance practitioners’ understanding of their roles in supporting children’s SLC skills acquisition.

The challenge

The challenge was to improve confidence in the ability of settings’ staff to support the development of speech, language and communication skills in children, particularly in the wake of the disruption caused by the pandemic. 

The solution

In recognition of the impact of early speech, language and communication needs on later learning and development, the Schools Support Partnership employs a Speech and Language Therapist to work with Early Years settings in Rutland. A  programme of setting visits and staff training was developed to optimise both the physical environment and practitioner confidence in enabling speech, language and communication (SLC) development.

In addition, since November 2022, the Children’s Centre has facilitated drop-in and consultation sessions with the speech and language therapist for parent, carers and settings. The purpose of these sessions is to provide early language and communication advice and reassurance so children are not missed, misunderstood or misidentified.

The impact

The project has received 100 per cent positive feedback from practitioners involved in the training, all of whom reported a better understanding of the ways in which they can help children to develop SLC and who have proactively considered the ways in which the physical environment can also help.

Initial feedback comments

‘‘The training was really useful and very enjoyable. I have already used some of the signs within nursery during our singing sessions. The children were really engaged and enjoyed joining in with the signs!”

“Since the training we have introduced sign of the week to the setting and have been implementing simple signs throughout the day for all age ranges”.

To date, 15 families have accessed specific advice and support. 

Discussions are underway to identify methods for measuring the impact of early language support on the children involved. 

How is the new approach being sustained?

Additional training is to be offered via the Speech and Language Therapy element of the School Support Partnership. The remaining settings in the county, inclusive of childminders, are being offered a site visit to enable them to benefit from the learning thus far. 

More recently, early years providers have had the opportunity to access Signs and Symbols training. 

Lessons learned

Specialist input from the SLC team has been a catalyst for sustainable, sector-led improvement and peer support around the support provided to children in the acquisition of SLC skills and identification of SLCN at the earliest opportunity.

Contact person for the project

Caroline Crisi, School Support Partnership Coordinator