As childcare professionals we know that parents and carers are key to supporting their children's development.This is particularly important for communication and language development as these skills have their roots in bonding and emotional attachment with caregivers.
Babies and young children are driven to seek out interactions with those close to them and the responses adults give help to shape and develop the neural pathways in the brain. We often use the phrase 'working in partnership' but what does this look like in reality and how can we achieve this?
Developing communication skills
Research has identified the main factors in a child's home environment that are central to developing communication skills (EPPE, 1997 and Roulstone et al, 2011). The EPPE home learning factors are:
- The amount of talking and the responsiveness of parents when children try to communicate with them.
- Hearing nursery rhymes and songs
- Having access to books, being read to and having frequent library trips.
Many parents already know this and have an instinctive way of responding to their child. They can follow their interests and give them language models really intuitively. They know when their child is fascinated by seeing a cat on the street and stop to make time for their child to look, listen and touch. Then they might say “that is a cat. It says 'miaow'”.
Pressures for parents
However, there are lots of pressures on parents and competing demands in the modern world - work, shopping for and cooking food, getting children to school on time and picking them up may mean that sometimes opportunities for communication can get lost in the busy-ness of everyday life.
For children who have speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) it's often these opportunities that can build their confidence and help them take small steps in developing their speech, vocabulary and understanding skills. Childcare professionals can appreciate these pressures and help parents to take small steps e.g. thinking about offering choices at meal times or talking about the pictures in books.
Identifying when support is needed
The challenge for us as childcare professionals is noticing when parents want and need support, and then offering the right support. This is where the partnership aspect truly comes into its own: the right support at the right time can make a huge difference. It is our relationships with parents and carers that make the difference in them trusting and accepting our support. These relationships are built day by day from the minute they trust their children into our care.
Having additional information from external sources can support what you're saying, allowing you to provide information for parents. There are lots of useful websites you can download information from for example, the Talking Point website. There are useful links about children’s development milestones as well as activity sheets and information factsheets.
PACEY have free resources for members to support the home learning environment including afactsheet on partnerships with parents. PACEY also have a new book, 30 ways to engage parents in children's learning that can help.
As fitness campaigns say - it's the little changes that can add up to big changes! It's the same with communication - start by doing one thing and practising it. Communication is a skill and all of us can build on what we already do.
Reflecting on practice
You may already be aware and are using many of these supportive strategies. However, it's often useful to reflect on what works for different parents at different times. As Childcare professionals you have a lot of information about how children develop and how parents can support their development. It's often tricky getting a balance between 'telling' and 'sharing information'.
Think about and reflect how you:
- Work in partnership with parents and what partnership means in your everyday work?
- Share information about children's communication with parents? Do you have newsletters that include Top Tips or links to useful websites?
- Share information about how children learn to communicate? If parents have this information they can know what to expect and see how their child's doing?
- Support parents who you think are struggling to balance their work and home commitments with supporting their children’s development?
- Got some advice or information from someone that made a difference? What made you want to accept the advice and not feel criticised? Do you use the same approaches in your professional practice?
As early years professionals we're perfectly placed to support parents and give them and their children a helping hand. However, this isn't always as easy as it sounds and developing relationships with parents are key to working in partnership. There is lots of information about how parents can support communication and you can share this with parents you work with through displays, handouts or newsletters.
For more information on speech and language development visit Talking Point and see I CAN resources available in PACEY’s online shop.
About Amanda Baxter
Amanda Baxter is a speech and language therapist who specialises in working with early years practitioners and families with young children. As a Communication Advisor for I CAN, she delivers training to early years professionals and supports them to develop their practice. She also works on I CAN’s Enquiry Service providing information, advice and support for practitioners and parents. Amanda has worked in children's centres and as a Local Authority Early Language Consultant.