Exploring barriers to successful development in Early Years settings

Last month I had the pleasure of hosting a symposium in central London to discuss how early years professionals can strive to achieve better language and communication development in children.

Over the course of a morning we explored a number of the barriers to the successful development of language and communications skills in the early years and identified successful approaches to language and communications development and ways to put these into action.

What stood out for me and most of the delegates was the importance of engaging fully with parents as a way of helping children improve their language and communication skills.

One early years professional said: “When children arrive in our setting their listening and attention skills are very delayed. Much of this may come from being in home environments with consistent noise. They are not able to ‘tune in’. We need to concentrate on getting children to develop pure listening skills.”

Another delegate added: “Parental partnerships are crucial if we are to work together to improve the standards of children language and communications skills in the early years.”

We spoke of the danger of an unbridgeable gap opening up between early years settings and home. For me the discussion reinforced the reasons why chatta is so important in bridging this gap.

At chatta we have tried to make focus on making children’s learning experiences as rich and experiential as we can. We focus on modelling language and the idea that when a child has a memorable experience in their early years setting this can be captured with technology and used as the basis of a language learning experience. The practitioner uses the imagery and recordings to model language and encourage the child to listen and reflect. These ‘chats’ are recorded and shared with parents and are also used to record that child’s progress. This approach is reinforced by effective staff training, practitioner guides, toolkits and a helpline. We have been delighted to present certificates to early years colleagues who have completed the “chatta Champion” training, and their colleagues who have completed the “chatta Practitioner” training.

Several of our delegates spoke about the need to create opportunities for children to verbalise when they were in their early years setting. One early years professional described having a talk table set out with objects that would trigger conversation. Another spoke of keeping key objects just out of reach so that children have to communicate to get what they wanted.

The principle of creating ‘triggers’ to encourage language and communication equally apply at home and that’s why I believe the chatta approach will be so vital, acting as a bridge between setting and home and providing a touchstone for communication between parent and child.

Our delegates agreed. “If you send parents something that shows them what their children have been doing at nursery that will give them something relevant and meaningful to talk about,” said one. “We have to be proactive about this and it is a good start, but it has limitations.”

“However, being able to capture language that children can listen to again and again – including with their parents at home – is even more powerful because it helps children to verbalise their reflections and experiences, and that is a strong direction for the use of technology in improving speech and language.”

It was also clear from the symposium that although good parental engagement was the key factor for early years professionals it is one part of a complex picture. It is also vitally important to have a focus on high quality, regular training and professional education so that early years professionals know which interventions to use and exactly why they are using them. They also need more opportunities to network with their colleagues in other settings and share ideas and best practice – including around best practice for involving parents in children’s speech and language development. Investing in this support will help them improve and refine their approaches back in their settings.