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The past 2-years have been incredibly challenging, affecting our children the most. Nurseries and schools have worked tirelessly to support all children and their families through the lockdowns and restrictions. However, the impact is still unknown for our youngest children, who have sacrificed vital interaction and communication opportunities.
This article explores why, now more than ever, communication and language is important in the Early Years. Plus we have 19 activity ideas to develop speech, communication and language in your setting.
Why is communication and language development important in the Early Years?
The importance is visible across all new statutory documentation, the EYFS framework highlighting speech, communication and language as a prime area of learning and development. A misconception surrounding the Early Years is that it is preparation to begin formal schooling. Although this is considered when increasing lengths of time concentrating and eventually table-top activities, the founders of the Curiosity Approach passionately explain that Early Years is a learning time in its own right.
These crucial years should be filled with exploration, measured risk-taking and interaction. Developing language and communication skills are essential for success beyond the nursery into adult life. The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is currently in the spotlight for Ofsted, educational reform, and Special Educational Needs (SEN), finally recognising the positive impact these vital years have on progression. Language acquisition and practice increase confidence for children to engage in conversation, prompting the knock-on development of vocabulary growth and social skills.
What does communication mean in the Early Years?
Communication is so much more than talking; it is the transfer of information from one person to another. You may have heard the phrase, communication play, this is where the main features of the play itself centre around communication: role-play, joke-telling, mime games, and charades. It is important to create language-rich learning opportunities to support all aspects of interaction at an early age.
How to organise an outstanding speech, communication, and language provision
Organising a learning environment where communication and language can flourish doesn’t need to be expensive or difficult. There are simple ways to ensure your setting is optimising all possible opportunities for effective interaction.
The learning environment must be purposeful, with areas for role-playing and exploration regularly changed to meet the needs of the children. Outstanding nurseries follow Ofsted’s 3 I’s (Intent, Implementation, and Impact) when designing and reviewing their nursery environment. Question the role-play opportunities; are they supporting different types of play such as independent, small group and larger group play?
Ensure language-rich activities are a high priority with your team members, running personalised CPD sessions on this can be an excellent refresher for all nursery staff. For staff members who are new to the setting, possibly apprentices, organise for them to shadow an experienced staff member who can model back and forth interactions effectively.
Finally, the activities, consider all aspects of communication when planning engaging activities for the children. You may find it useful to unpick a planned session during staff meeting time or encourage your apprentice to use some of their 20% off the job hours to reflect on the even spread of communication activities. Are there enough opportunities to develop non-verbal communication, potentially dipping into easy Makaton to learn with your children?
19 activities to develop effective communication and language provision in your nursery
As communication and language as a core area of development and learning is so broad, it is useful to create subgroups of activities to ensure full coverage of all aspects. We have collated 19 activities for you to try in your nursery setting to target all areas of communication.
Speech, vocabulary, and discussion
Most commonly, activities designed to develop interaction with peers and adults fall into this category. Encompassing all games where discussion is encouraged, these are excellent short burst games at any point in the day.
Nursery rhymes and repetitive songs with actions are an excellent vehicle for changes of intonation in voice and encouraging simple actions. You can find more information on the developmental progress stages here.
Include all the favourite toys and teddies in their own tea party. This can be including measuring and pouring different levels and liquids for some practical life skills as well as having discussion topics and taking turns when joining in with the conversation.
Would you rather?
Needing no resources, just an imagination, these questions can be as serious or silly as you like. You can begin to see preferences and interests shine through with these questions and they are perfect for any new starters that may be a little nervous. Here are a few to get you going: Would you rather be a monster-sized ant or an ant-sized monster? Would you rather have hands for feet or feet for hands? Extend their vocabulary skills with explanations.
These can be attached to a sound system, a plastic microphone or just a prop. Regardless of the resource you decide on, they have a stage to fill!
This activity is an excellent discussion starter, it can be the hook into an organised phonics or literacy activity. Inside a box, place a mystery object, it can be linked to your story. Give the children clues about what may be inside. They can talk as a group or together with a partner.
An age-old activity, using the middle of a toilet roll or a plastic cup, attach some strong string to the end of the cup/roll. Repeat this at the end of the string to have a 2-way telephone. You can extend this by giving partner one a simple set of instructions to deliver to partner two down their new telephone.
Requiring patience and fine motor skills, this activity includes pompoms (or any small item), chopsticks and a colander. Place the sticks in through the holes of the upturned colander and pour the pompoms on top. The children will carefully pull the chopsticks out watching the pompoms fall.
There are many different types of play, roleplay can include an end goal (catching the baddie), use of imaginary weapons or having a real-life purpose (shopping for food). Ensure your fancy dress box is fully stocked, using different textures of material for open-ended play.
Online free websites such as Once upon a picture are excellent starting points for discussions and vocabulary acquisition missions!
Comprehension of vocabulary
These can be made by the children themselves or can be purchased, here is an example of a story stone pack for purchase. They can be dotted around your setting for the children to find and create a story as they go.
Draw me a…
Truly testing their comprehension of vocabulary, instructional drawing is an activity to develop fine motor skills and listening ability. This works well in small groups, an adult (or child) will choose an object, you can add additional adjectives for extension. They will call out the object and the children will try to draw what they think that object looks like.
Find me the…
When setting up for tabletop activities, you can increase back and forth conversation by engaging the children in the process. Naming the objects you will need in a list and extending the length of the list each time can also increase their working memory capacity.
A timeless game, where vocabulary understanding is key to being able to describe it well. Remind them they can use their senses by linking to rhyming sounds.
This activity works well when the children can physically see the item you are describing. The aim of the game is to guess the object in the least about of clues- the clues will get progressively easier. For example, the first 3 clues for a pencil may be: You can hold me in your hand, I can be sharp, and artists use me.
Senses and concrete experience
Why not link in different cultural music to link with your focus topics? You can play the music very quietly to require quiet feet and careful listening, also working on core strength and balance for the statue pause.
Using your surroundings, find some objects that they are familiar with (you can link this game of I-spy to their current alphabet and phonics learning). You can give clues whether the object may be up high or down low.
Linking to their senses and concrete experience, place an object with texture (spikey ball, jelly, water snake) in a box that is covered with only a slot for their hands to feel. Cue the squeaks and squeals as they find the jelly texture.
This is an ideal use for those recycled plastic bottles. Fill the bottles with dried rice, pasta or beans. Listen to the sounds they make; can they begin to make connections with what the sounds remind them of?
Guess the sound
Allow the children to play with a number of noisy objects (foil, recycled plastic wrapper, pasta in a bottle, wooden blocks). If they are comfortable, they can wear a blindfold and guess which item you make a noise with. This is linking their concrete experience with their senses helping the information to move into long term memory.