Communication starts in the very early days of your child’s life. From looking at others, to communicating their needs through vocalisations such as crying and babbling to later using words and having conversations.

The pre-school years are an important stage in a child’s language development. It ensures the foundations are in place for later learning,literacy and forming relationships. Children will learn to communicate, understand and use language at different rates and stages. There are many different areas and skills that need to develop for a child’s language to grow.Below are strategies that support the different areas of language development.

Speech and language development tree

Roots of the tree

The key roots and foundations include their attention and listening, their desire to communicate and their play as, “the roots of the tree”.

Attention and listening

  • be face to face
  • use the child's name
  • keep activities short
  • remove distractions
  • use visual support
  • give specific praise
  • The 4 i's
  • use your child's interest

Social communication

  • encourage eye contact and face watching
  • take equal turns
  • create communication opportunities e.g. for child to request more
  • create a need to communicate - pause and wait
  • sabotage
  • create routines


  • choose an activity at your child's level 
  • comment on play
  • label key words
  • copy child's action and add another


Trunk of the tree

As this becomes established and develops so does the understanding of language, “trunk of the tree”.

Understanding language

  • use objects, signs, pictures, and gestures
  • keep language simple
  • repeat
  • talk about things in the here and now
  • say information in the order that things happen
  • visual supports
  • create routines
  • slow down when talking and allow time
  • say what you mean


Branches of the tree

Once a child understands words, they are likely to start using words and sentences, “branches of the tree”.

Using language

  • copy +1
  • interpret 
  • use comments rather than question
  • offer choices
  • give time to your child to speak and communicate
  • create routines
  • visual supports


Leaves of the tree

The finer details (speech sounds), “leaves of the tree” develop as their language develops.


  • model correct production of words and repeat often
  • be face to face

Parents play a key role in supporting their child’s language and communication skills in everyday life. Children learn about the world through their experiences and interests particularly within their play. The evidence highlights the importance of joining our children in their play and following their interests to provide them with opportunities to develop their ability to understand and use words and later sentences.

Strategies and advice

There are many ways to support language development. Watch this key top tips video, provided by Kent Community NHS Foundation Trust for further information.

Using visual support can help children’s understanding and communication as their language is developing. Watch this next video on using visual support.

Useful websites

  • National Literacy Trust website - has resources and information for parents, early years settings, and schools to promote language and literacy development.
  • NAPLIC website - an organisation for teachers and other professionals aimed at promoting awareness and understanding of children and young people with language and communication needs.
  • Tiny Happy People (from BBC) website - Tiny Happy People is here to help you develop your child's communication skills. Explore the simple activities and play ideas and find out about their amazing early development.