To identify how to support children who struggle to communicate, to improve on their social skills and confidence with both staff and children through play.

Coral Barnes


This is my second year as a practitioner in Gearies nursery. Myself and my team have noticed that a majority of children in our setting seem to struggle to communicate at the ages of 3 -5. Speech and language delay can stem from a variety of reasons; from having additional needs, having English as a second language, speech impairments, children having dummies and bottles at a late stage, exposure to a lot of technology, lack of confidence, or just that children don’t feel the need to communicate. As Early Years professionals we wanted to understand what we could do differently in our practice to support the children in our care achieve the best of their ability in their communication and language development.

The way children with special educational needs are diagnosed and supported has changed significantly, particularly following the implementation of reforms to the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) system in 2014.
Government figures show that since 2010, the proportion of children with special educational needs has fallen sharply from 21.1 per cent to 15.4 per cent. However, the proportion of children with Education, Health and Care Plans or statements of special educational needs has not fallen in that time, so the apparent decline is solely among children with less severe difficulties, who may no longer be included on the SEN register.
‘The proportion of children with special educational needs and disabilities has not necessarily changed, but teachers are now looking more carefully at how they may be able to use quality teaching to better meet individual needs,’ ‘If the needs can be met by better teaching, then those children should not be included on the SEN register.’ – Dr Adam Boddison, chief executive of the National Association for Special Educational Needs (NASEN).
For schools and early years settings, these changes have introduced new ways of working and fresh challenges. However, in a research report published by the DFE in 2017, it was identified that these, “new ways” of working are very varied when comparing settings to settings.
The purpose of this network was to provide a supportive, participant driven, learning community through which schools and settings can analyse the effectiveness of their provision for children with Special Educational Needs, enhance their own practice through action research and deepen their understanding of how to best meet the individual needs of the children in their care.

Context of the school

 Gearies Primary School opened in 2013 following the amalgamation of a former infant and junior school. It was awarded National Teaching School status in April 2014 and works with other local schools as part of the Gants Hill Partnership Teaching Alliance.
 The school is much larger than the average primary school, with three classes in each year group. It is expected that pupil numbers will continue to grow.
 The school meets the government’s current floor standards, which set the minimum expectations for pupils’ attainment and progress.
 Pupils from minority ethnic groups make up nearly the whole school roll. The majority of these pupils are from Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and other Asian heritages. The vast majority of pupils speak English as an additional language.
 The proportion of disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs supported at school action is below average. The proportion supported through school action plus or with a statement of special educational needs is broadly average.
 The proportion of pupils eligible for additional support through pupil premium funding is broadly average. This is additional government funding for pupils known to be eligible for free school meals and those in local authority care.

An overview of the practice

These are some of the things we have adapted or included in our practice to support our children;

Language groups

Having language groups is something we discussed as a team, to get a few children of different abilities to participate in small groups, doing fun activities to develop communication and confidence. We tried this at the beginning of the year, but due to lack of time and space, this wasn’t possible. We have a part time nursery so children are only in for 3 hours per day, in this time children have story time, key group time and additional groups outside of nursery.
We then discussed putting in fun activities in to our key group time, to support speech and language, so that it is within the children’s routine. It is a small group so that children feel confident to speak, amongst children they are used to having groups with and it is with a key worker that they have built a bond with already. Our teacher found a great book called “fun with language” which is where we get many of our activities.
Therefore, our key groups now go by this routine:
We say the rules of the group and the routine that we will be doing
Hello song (we sing hello to each child and encourage each child to say their own name)
Singing (each child has a turn during the week to choose a song from a song board)
Activity time (which we get from the book and our teacher plans each week what we are going to do).
Action song (this is a song that encourages children to copy movements from the key worker)
Goodbye song (Once again children are encouraged to sing their own name).

Transient art…624.3884..4249…0.0..0.114.896.13j1……0….1..gws-wiz-img…..0..0j0i10j0i10i24.gzrCj96J9j8#imgdii=eIKSKw8xU_63ZM:&imgrc=8BoYxs2Xtv2StM:

We found transient art a fantastic activity to encourage children to make pictures using loose parts, this opens up the opportunity to children to talk about what they have made to both the other pupils and staff.

“Some benefits of transient art:

Multiple outcomes- I love the individual nature!

no expectations- this is great for children’s confidence!

Mindfulness- this is a calm and relaxing activity. I love watching children become so absorbed in their creations. so much concentration and patience is evident.

endless possibilities with the materials provided.”

This  open ended, non- permanent activity opened up so many communication and language benefits for us, allowing children to talk about what they have done, whether they replied with one word or a whole sentence, it gave them the opportunity and confidence to express themselves with no expectations attached.

On the left this child says to me “Miss Barnes, its a giraffe”

On the right, this beautiful transient art picture was made by a child who came in to nursery with no English. This picture was made in the autumn term she said to me “Train choo. choo”.

Our proud wall

This is our most recent change in our setting; we have changed our entire home corner wall in to Our Proud Wall. Where every child has a frame that they have made, they have the space to display work that they are proud of. This could be a picture they have drawn, something they have written, an image of them achieving a goal they have been trying to achieve, a note from their parents. This has proven to be a great success, children pull their parents over to the wall to talk about their proud moment, or they have even pulled over other staff members to show them. This has made their confidence sore and has opened up great opportunities to communicate.

Co- operative play

We have also been introducing more group play activities this year, to give the children opportunities to bond together and communicate together through teamwork. These activities seemed to work well for us;

Building blocks – where children work on the same project, I got 4 children of different abilities to work on one structure, I would get them to decide what they wanted to make, then I would observe how they get on, together.

Bowling alley – outside we made a bowling alley where children were in competition, who can knock down the most cones using a ball.

Races- children get in to groups and participate in an obstacle course race, boosting children’s confidence as their team members cheer them on.

Ping pong balls in a tough spot – This activity we has at least 6 children join, they had to keep the tough spot off the ground and try to get the ping pong balls to go around the tray in a circle.

Parachute: you could get the entire class involved with this, all the children hold a part of the parachute and follow the staff member’s directions.

There are so many different activities you can do, this really helped the children gain friendships and confidence in the setting.

Theory of change

(click on the image to enlarge)

Review of research

“The Graduated approach” to SEND Support.
In the new SEND Code of Practice the categories of School Action and School Action plus have been replaced by a single category called SEN Support. Where a pupil is identified as having SEND, to enable the pupil to participate, learn and make progress schools should take action to:
 remove barriers to learning
 put effective special educational provision in place.
SEN support should arise from a four-part cycle, known as the graduated approach, through which earlier decisions and actions are revisited, refined and revised, leading to a growing understanding of the pupil’s needs and of what supports the pupil in making good progress and securing good outcomes.
The four stages of the cycle are:
1. Assess
2. Plan
3. Do
4. Review.
The graduated approach starts at whole-school level. Teachers are continually assessing, planning, implementing and reviewing their approach to teaching all children. However, where a potential special educational need has been identified, this cyclical process becomes increasingly personalised:
• Individualised assessment leads to a growing understanding of the barriers to and gaps in the pupil’s learning.
• Continual reflection on approaches to meeting the pupil’s needs leads to a growing understanding of strategies that directly responsible and accountable for all pupils in their class(es), even when pupils are receiving support from a teaching assistant or other specialist staff, within or outside the classroom. The responsibility and accountability for the progress and development of pupils with SEN lies with the class or subject teacher, not with the SENCO or the learning support department.
This is not a new concept. It is firmly embedded in the Teachers’ Standards (2012) and the new Ofsted framework.


Another piece of research I got was from (Language as a child wellbeing indicator September 2017, By JAMES LAW, JENNA CHARLTON – NEWCASTLE UNIVERSITY KIRSTEN ASMUSSEN – EARLY INTERVENTION FOUNDATION)
Here are a few points I got from this research;
• Around 5-8% of children may have a speech and/ or language impairment of which a significant proportion will have a primary developmental speech and/ or language
• Prevalence estimates boys are higher than for girls, at 8% and 6% respectively.
• In the UK, approximately 85,000 – 90,000 children between the ages of 2 – 6 are referred to speech and language therapists each year.
• 18 – 31% of children aged 19-21 months living in disadvantaged communities have been found to have language delays that warrants referral for specialist assessment.

I’ve also read an article called; “Supporting SEN pupils with Speech and Language Difficulties: classroom strategies for teachers and assistance by Linda Evans.”
This is what I have understood from this article;

Be aware of how staff speak and listen
“ ‘Fanks for vat’, ‘they was late again’, ‘must of’ instead of ‘must have’, etc. – incorrect pronunciation and grammar leads to additional confusion for children who are already struggling to understand and get things right. It’s also important to recognise that children with SLCN might not understand non-literal language and sarcasm. ‘I think you’ve turned a corner today’, which I heard recently from a teacher pleased with a child’s progress, actually meant nothing to the child at all.
In terms of listening, teachers and TAs should be offering good models of this all the time: listening carefully when a child speaks to them, asking questions to ensure they understand the child’s meaning, and listening to each other (teacher to TA and vice versa) in a courteous way.
Where members of staff are failing to provide good models of speaking and listening, the issue must be addressed. You can refer to the Teachers’ standards; be sensitive, humorous and non-judgemental; speak to the whole staff rather than single out individuals; plan a focus week.
However you approach the issue, stress the importance of children hearing and being able to use ‘standard English’.”

“The classroom environment
• Seat pupils with SLCN away from distractions and near to you so that they can see your face clearly when you speak.
• Use visual back-up as much as possible (facial expression and gesture, visual timetables, symbols, visual timers); show examples of completed work; use video clips to demonstrate processes.
• Consider introducing a signing system, such as Makaton.
• Establish class routines and explain carefully when there are changes.
• Praise and reward good speaking and listening; focus on these skills at particular times, with clear explanations of ‘what I’m looking/listening for’ (WILF). Use good examples of speaking to reinforce good communication: ‘Jacob, you spoke really clearly and we could all hear what you said. Well done.’
• Establish turn-taking rules, perhaps using a toy or bean bag to pass around the class (only the person holding the object can speak).
• Allow time for pupils to answer. For example, ‘I’m going to ask a question that I want you all to think about carefully. We’ll take a minute (more or less as appropriate) to think abut this, then I’ll choose someone to answer.’ On choosing someone, say their name first: ‘Eva, can you tell us …?’ This alerts the pupil in good time so that they can be ready to respond.
• Establish a system for asking for help, such as a special card for the child to display if they don’t understand.
• Encourage pupils to ask each other for help and explanation when they don’t understand something – and praise this when you see it happening.”

Action Research:
Action research is a process where participants reflect on their own educational practice using the techniques of research. Teachers work effectively when they examine and assess their own work and then consider ways of working differently. Teachers help each other, work collaboratively, and improve their professional development (Watts, 1985, p. 118).
Denscombe (2010) identifies four defining characteristics of action research:
1. Practical nature. It is aimed at dealing with real-world problems and issues,typically at work and in organizational settings.
2. 2. Change. Both as a way of dealing with practical problems and as a means of discovering more about phenomena, change is regarded as an integral part of research.
3. 3. Cyclical process. Research involves a feedback loop in which initial findings generate possibilities for change which are then implemented and evaluated as a prelude to further investigation.
4. 4. Participation. Practitioners are the crucial people in the research process. Their participation is active, not passive.

Implications and considerations


Since adapting our practice we have seen progress in children’s communication and their confidence for making relationships with adults and children since they started the setting.

There is more in place to support all children’s different communication needs in the setting.

As teachers and practitioners we have more ideas to support children with speech and language delay.


Recommendations for others who wish to adapt and implement activities and support for children in their setting.

Review the time and space that your setting enables you to have with the children in your care. If you have space it opens up the opportunity for you to do language groups.

To find new and exciting activities, we find a lot of our activities on Pinterest which are exciting and inviting for children. If activities look fun and eye catching children are more likely to approach it, at an Early Years stage learning through play, is the best way.

Model language; I cannot express how important this is, it is so easy to ask children questions and get a yes or no response, ask as many open ended questions as you possibly can. If you have children who are not yet speaking at all, become a label maker, point out what everything is in your setting, then repeat again and again, when the child eventually repeats the word, it’s the best feeling.

Key groups have really helped our setting, we adapted our time with the children to best suit their needs. It gives keyworker and pupils time together, to focus on communicating using fun activities and singing, “Fun with language” have some great activities.



I measured 3 children’s communication and language development from the Early Years Foundation Stage guidelines for children between 22 – 60 months. I tracked throughout the nursery year then I collated my data by counting how many statements they had highlighted, term by term from 22 – 60 months.