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As seen in Little Learners

Attention, listening and social skills

Having limited opportunities to interact with peers has naturally created challenges for children's social communication abilities, such as learning how to initiate play and practice joint attention. These early interaction skills support the understanding of back-and-forth communication and pave the way for turn-taking and sharing skills. These skills impact a child's ability to create and maintain friendships.

Less frequent interactions and social distancing have also caused difficulty for children to understand and regulate their emotions. Group experiences allow children to learn emotional vocabulary and coping strategies for managing difficult feelings. There have also been concerns surrounding the impact of mask-wearing on children's ability to view and recognise facial expressions to understand others' feelings.

Receptive and expressive language

Our early years learners develop receptive and expressive language skills through playing with those around them and observing and listening to others. The lockdown restrictions significantly affected children's exposure to new vocabulary as they prevented access to alternative environments where children could experience new words. This early vocabulary is crucial to language development which has been identified as a predictor of later literacy skills and academic attainment.

In the UK, speech and language therapy services continue to face a substantial demand for support. Many referrals are made based on social communication and early language development. The good news is that we can help support the development of these skills with a range of communication-focused activities. Here are some examples:

1. Blowing bubbles

Start by grabbing the children's attention using an animated voice to explain that you will be playing with bubbles. Blow the bubbles, then pause to wait for the children to show their anticipation. This may be through eye contact, nonverbals such as jumping/reaching or by verbally requesting "more!". Accept any form of anticipation and try to make eye contact with the children, modelling the word "more" before blowing the bubbles again. Try to provide specific praise for children who share joint attention with you or with each other. 

2. Who said that?

Using a range of toy farm animals, model the sound that the animals make alongside naming the animals. Place the animals in different areas of the room, having the children close their eyes, wait and listen for you to make an animal sound. Make a range of animal sounds corresponding to the animals you have modelled, instructing the children to open their eyes and run to the animal they can hear, shouting the animal's name to support vocabulary. 

3. Make a meal of it

Using a range of toy foods (or even real foods) placed in a bag, set aside a bottom slice of bread/pizza base or a toy/paper plate. Have the children pass the bag around, taking turns to place an item in the centre to create your feast. Support language skills by naming the foods and action words linked to cooking, such as chewing, mixing, stirring and eating.

4. Sensory stop and go

Using a box filled with sensory toys, sit the children in a circle and say "go!" for them to begin passing the box around. When you say "stop!" the child holding the box can take out a sensory toy to play with. Continue passing the sensory box around until all the children have experienced listening for the word 'stop!' and had the chance to play with a toy. Model simple language around the toy, describing its features as well as nouns/ verbs linked to the item. 

 

About The Yorkshire Speechie

My name is Rachel, and I'm a Paediatric Speech and Language Therapist and owner of my independent practice, The Yorkshire Speechie. I'm based in West Yorkshire and love all things sensory and early years!

As well as owning my own practice, I have years of experience working with school staff and families to help develop children's communication and language skills that will support them academically and in their everyday goals. I also work clinically within the NHS service part-time to support the post-covid demands.

For more about The Yorkshire Speechie, head over to linktr.ee/theyorkshirespeechie to find the links to my website and social media. Or, you can get in touch with me directly at [email protected]

 

 

Enjoyed reading this blog? We've got loads more ideas and inspiration for early years teachers in our Little Learners magazine. This article has been taken from our latest issue. Click here to check it out.

Did you know you can also subscribe to receive all future issues of Little Learners for FREE? Click here to subscribe

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