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3 Tips for Supporting Children’s Language in Play 

When it comes to early years settings, playing with other children can be a minefield, and it can be the biggest source of anxiety when your child is not able to fully express herself. How will she be able to share, hold her own and make friends?

I met Holly when she was in nursery. She was making progress with her language skills, and at home she was happy and supported in her familiar routines. However, when she went to nursery it was difficult for her to join in. She was often found playing alone and didn’t appear her usual happy self. Both Tara (Holly’s Mum) and the nursery teacher came to me for help. 

We used 3 different ways to support Holly, helping her to gain not only language, but also confidence in the busy social environment. 

Here is what we did…

Tip 1 – Establish the Language Level then Scaffold… 

When it comes to language there are two different ways of looking at it – the language we understand and the language we use. 

For Holly, she could understand language relating to what she could see and hear, so we started by commenting on things during play in the moment. To help her understand more abstract ideas we scaffolded this using objects, pictures and gesture, then checking her understanding afterwards. Holly’s expressive language that she used was at a lower level, mainly 1 or 2 words at a time, so we scaffolded by adding just one more word when modelling back, then expanding her phrases into short but complete sentences.

Tip 2 – Model New Ideas in Play 

When we learn language we don’t just hear and remember words, but we learn the full context around them, we experience different sensory information and we create memories of experiences that stand out as meaningful. 

If we can find ways to add language to activities and situations that children already experience, that context is ready-made and we can help language learning to be a fun, motivating experience.

Tip 3 – Say it as I Would if I Could

The third thing we did was to really think about the language we were modelling for Holly. It turns out that she often heard adults asking her questions, but then she wasn’t sure how to answer. She needed to hear the language from her own perspective. So we changed things around. 

Instead of asking her, ‘what are you drawing?’ we would model, ‘I am drawing…’ Instead of saying, ‘do you want to go and play with Tom?’ we would model, ‘Tom, do you want to play?’ This helped Holly to build up a bank of phrases and sentences that she could use with confidence.

As Holly made more progress with her language, the supporting adults found that everything else flourished too. She grew in confidence and self-esteem, she tried out new games and activities without holding back, she started to put her hand up during carpet time, and she smiled a lot!

For more tips like this, join our brand new membership and make language learning a fun and motivating journey for the whole family! Click here to join the waiting list.  

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