Late talkers: how to help a child in your Early Years setting
Updated: Mar 8
Is there a child in your early years setting who is a late talker? Maybe you have more than one.
I regularly receive emails and messages from EYFS settings asking these type of questions:
"We have a number of children in our setting who are behind with their speech and language skills."
"We are looking for ways our staff can help these children improve their speech and language skills."
"We're a nursery and we need some training for our staff on speech and language, what they should be looking out for and what they can do to help the children?"
"When should I refer my child to Speech & Language/SALT?"
If you've been thinking the same thing, then read on. I've worked alongside dozens of nursery, preschool, daycare, childminder, reception class and other education and childcare locations to support children with delayed language skills.
There are five main points for early years settings to focus on:
1. Know what to look out for.
There are typical milestones that children reach in their development of speech and language skills.
This might be a 2 year old using 50+ words or a 3 year old being able to follow instructions with 3 key words, an 18 month old beginning to engage in pretend play or a 4 year old mastering the S and F sounds.
Once you know what level they should be at, you can work out where they are a little behind or identify which skills need some support.
In the Early Years Speech & Language Course , you'll find the Typical Milestones Checklist which is perfect for practitioners to monitor the communication skills of children in their settings (click here for more information).
There's a module dedicated to theory and terminology on ‘Speech & Language’ ‘Communication & Language’ and ‘SLCN’.
The module also includes detailed information on typical milestones for understanding, talking, vocabulary, speech sounds, attention, play and social skills.
Crucially, there's also information on red flags to look out for and indications on when to refer to SALT.
Once you've identified the areas they need a little help with, whether that's comprehension or understanding skills, talking or vocabulary, speech sounds or stammering, you can focus on more precise support.
2. Use strategies to support their needs
Children need adults to be good language models.
They need adults around them to support their development by using a range of strategies.
These include modelling where their words and sentences are repeated back to them.
This helps development of grammar, speech sound awareness, vocabulary growth and building up the use of longer sentences.
Another strategy involves reducing down the amount of words you say to a child at a time.
It’s really hard for little brains to process all of the words in some of the instructions we give to them.
Don’t forget to get their attention so that they can absorb all of the non-verbal cues you’re communicating too, such as pointing and gesturing, body language and facial expression.
Waiting is the most important strategy you can use with your preschool-aged child.
Wait for a few moments after you’ve spoken for them to process your words, gestures and meaning, then wait even longer for them to work out whether they want to reply and if they do, they need some more time to think of the words they want to use in their reply.
There's a lot of thinking their brains need to do when communicating and the extra time really helps.
There's a whole module dedicated to strategies to support understanding, talking, speech sounds and stammering in the Early Years course, along with downloadable PDFs which can be printed and shared with colleagues or used as part of staff training.
3. Share best practise with your colleagues and peers
If you are working in an Early Years setting, whether that’s a preschool, nursery, day care, childminder, reception class or other setting, chat to your colleagues about your concerns.
Some of us have worked with hundreds of children and we’ve all got stories to tell.
There are some great lessons to be learnt from other practitioners and in my Early Years Speech & Language course, I tell you about some of the children I’ve worked with.
We look at their presenting problems, some background information, the speech & language targets and programmes I wrote for them. and how their preschool and home settings helped them to grow, develop and make progress.
None of these children required therapy sessions with me, they all needed to work on their targets at home and at preschool/nursery.
I'll show you how to do this in your setting in the Early Years speech and language course.
4. Play games and have fun!
When you’re little most of your speech, language and communication development happens through play and exploring.
I’m a huge fan of playing on the floor, whether that’s with cars, pictures, puppets, role play games, card games, feely bags and more.
One of my favourite sayings is “if it’s not fun, then it won’t get done” and this is definitely true for lots of the preschoolers I’ve worked with.
In the Early Years course you'll find 15 games and activities that I recommend for education and home settings to boost language skills.
I also include tips on how to alter the activity to suit the age, needs and motivations of the children you’re working with.
This is especially good if you need to carry out interventions for speech and language in your setting or if you need to help parents with some ideas of things to do at home.
Some of the games can be played in the car and I play lots of these with my own kids who are now 10 and 8 years old.
These activities are not restricted to those who need speech and language Intervention and can be played with more able children who can act as a language model for their peers.
5. Take action!
So now you know you need to identify their needs, use strategies, share concerns and ideas with colleagues and play lots of fun games with your children, your next steps are to look at training you can use for yourself and your setting.
Imagine being able to boast that you've had specialist training in speech and language and you're super confident to help children with language delay.
Click here to head over to the course information page to find out more about the Early Years Speech & Language course.
The Early Years Speech and Language Course is also featured in the Preschool Training Package which is available for single users or whole team enrolment, click here to find out more.