How to support communication development 0-5 years

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    How to support communication development 0-5 years


    Cartoon image with text below, how to support communication development (0-5 years)


    Every child's ability to communicate develops gradually and at their own pace.

    Language involves understanding and expression of ideas. We need to learn what words mean, how to put ideas into words and organise these into the correct order to build sentences. Children need to learn how to understand words, instructions, questions, sentences and conversation.

    Language helps children to:

    • Learn
    • Meet our basic needs- food, drink, feel safe and happy
    • Join in play and interactions.
    • Build relationships and make friends

    Language is a complex system that involves learning:

    • Vocabulary-the store of words we know
    • Grammar-the rules used to structure sentences and how words change to signal tense, plurals etc.
    • Semantics-the meaning of words and how they link together e.g. categories

    Select the I can picture to learn about the ages and stages of language development:

    I can help children communicate logo

    What can go wrong?

    Some children can be slow to develop words or don't respond to your instructions. Sometimes children aren't motivated to talk or can be difficult to understand. Language difficulties can lead to frustration for you and your child.

    Young children are often described as 'late talkers' and may have difficulty with different areas of language development

    Your child may:

    • Use pointing, gesture and sounds but no recognisable words
    • Find it hard to learn words or make naming errors e.g. says 'cat' for all animals
    • Have difficulty linking words together into phrases and sentences
    • Gets their ideas muddled up
    • Finds it hard to follow instructions
    • Difficulty understanding questions and concepts e.g. on/under, big/little.

    Some children have difficulties with several areas of language and may need lots of help to develop their language skills.

    How to support young children with language difficulties?

    Children learn language most effectively through play, interaction and practical experiences.

    Adults need to join in their play, both talking with and listening to their child using their interests and experiences to motivate them.

    Talking to your child can fit easily into your daily routine:

    • Recite a nursery rhyme at breakfast time
    • Talk about the things you see while you are out and about
    • Describe what you are buying while you are in the shop
    • Sing songs at bath time
    • Share a book with your child before bedtime

    Please watch the videos by selecting the images on ways to encourage your child's language development by sharing books, speaking in your home language and using songs and rhymes.

    Bubble with text Top Tips
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    Supporting understanding of language

    Children can find it difficult to understand simple or more complex instructions and answer simple 'wh' questions such what's happening? Who's sitting? Where's the ball?

    It is useful to have a framework for knowing how much your child understands without situational clues. We use the concept of information carrying words to assess a child's level of understanding of spoken language. See information carrying words leaflet.

    Blue box with text information carrying words

    First words

    Some children need more specific support to develop their use of words. Please select the leaflet below for some ideas to support this at home.

    Blue text box with words, helping your child use words

    Putting 2 words together

    Children need a vocabulary of 35-50 single words before they are ready to start combining words. When your child is using lots of single words to name and ask for things appropriately, they will be ready to start to understand and use two words together.

    Your child needs to hear the phrases lots of times before they will begin to use them. Select the leaflet below for more ideas.

    Blue text box with words, helping your child to put two words together.

    Early sentence building

    Once children are consistently understanding and putting two words together they start to learn the rules of grammar and can build longer sentences. By age 3-4 years children should begin to use 3-4 word sentences to ask for things or talk about what is happening.

    e.g. want more juice now, we went shopping

    They will also begin to use some word endings to signal tense e.g. Daddy is drinking


    Blue text box with words, sentence building

    Some children may need more targeted support with sentence building and understanding 'wh' questions, there is an approach called Colourful Semantics that can help. Talk to your Speech and Language Therapist to learn more.

    Blue text box with words, colourful semantics

    Once children can build sentences they start to link their ideas and be able to tell simple stories, hold short conversations and talk about what they have done. This is when you will see your child's play become more imaginative, they will role play with the characters and join in conversations with you more frequently. Sequencing skills are important when telling simple stories and a leaflet about how to develop this is attached.

    Blue text box with words, sequencing skills


    Some children find it hard to listen to and remember what is said to them. Please see the advice sheet below for ideas you can use at home.

    Blue text box with words, supporting listening and memory with children under 7


    Below you will find some useful website links where you will find more information and support.  Just click the pictures.

    talking point logo
    Words for Life logo
    Small Talk logo
    BBC Happy People logo
    National Literacy Trust logo