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3 Tips for Tuning into Sounds Before Speech

Last summer I was listening to Professor Sam Wass speaking as part of the Early Years summit.

It was fascinating hearing all about the neurological development involved in children and the impact this has on speech.

So when I started working with Grace and her Mum Florence we talked about some of Sam’s interview, and in particular what we could do to support Grace in different environments.

Grace found it very difficult to focus for long enough during interactions and as a result her speech and language was delayed.

Here are 3 things we did that made a difference:

Tip 1 – Help to filter out sensory information

Children’s developing brains are quite ‘messy’ and information doesn’t come in neatly organised boxes, so the more we can do to help filter out extra, unnecessary information the easier it is for them to process what we are doing and saying.

At home Florence could sit in a quiet room and spend one to one special time with her, but at nursery Grace was in a noisy, busy environment where sensory information came to her from all directions.

So for 15 minutes each day she was taken into a calm, quiet space for one to one attention with an adult.

In this time she began to slow down and take notice more and more. 

Tip 2 – Add in anticipation and excitement

Sam talked about the need to create anticipation and excitement and ensuring that we ourselves are appealing.

This included wearing bright lipstick, but that wasn’t Florence’s ‘thing’! So instead she consciously smiled and used animated gesture as she played with Grace.

She presented toys and activities in bags and boxes with lids so that Grace had to wait and anticipate what was inside. She paused more and responded to everything with exaggerated intonation so that

Grace would also pick up on this and stay engaged for longer.

Tip 3 – Repeat, repeat, repeat

The final tip is one that applies to so many aspects of learning, and it features here too!

When we repeat words and sounds over and over it helps children to organise them and give them a permanent home within the brain.

It’s no accident that many children’s programmes and books have very repetitive formats – it’s perfect for developing those early listening skills.

For children like Grace, new sounds and words need to be repeated many many times before they really sink in, so don’t give up.

Following these 3 tips helped Florence and Grace to work together at home and nursery on her listening for speech, while developing early attention and engagement.


You can find Karen’s interview with Kathy in the run-up to last year’s Early Years summit here: 

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