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Back to school: picking up where they left off

Settling back into your childcare setting after the summer break can have a big impact on children, especially ones with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). Some children will be excited, curious and adapt to being back in your setting quickly. Others may need more time to absorb the difference from being away for 6 weeks and will need help getting re-settled.

What's the link between change and communication?

Change can be challenging for us as adults (whether it's something we've chosen or not) but we can make sense of it by thinking things through, planning and talking to other people. These strategies all rely on communication.

Change also involves an emotional component. We might be losing as well as gaining something. This can make it complex for young children and children who have communication difficulties when they are trying to make sense of everything, without having all the words they need and so can get in the way of them re-settling.

Children need to have good language skills to understand when something is going to change and going back to a childcare setting is no exception. This involves understanding time and being able to anticipate the changes in their daily lives.  

Young children are still developing their sense of time; they are very much in the ‘here and now’ and use present tense verbs. Children start talking about the past first, saying things like 'me go-ed park' and adding the ‘–ed’ ending to words. This can make it tricky for them to understand what's going to happen in the future.

Children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) can struggle to understand new situations and what is going to happen next. It can take time to take in change and recall routines from before. Equally, they may be getting to know new people who have just started working with you and new children who are starting for the first time.

Additionally, they may be at the stage of becoming increasingly independent and want to assert themselves by letting new adults know what they like, when they're hungry and how they are feeling. These needs and wants require language in order to express them.

How can I support children and parents?

Here are some top tips for supporting young children and children with SLCN to help them re-settle:

  • Give parents a picture of you or allow them to take one on their phone in advance of term starting. Having this visual reminder will help the child to remember you so you’ll be a familiar face. If you're happy to do this, you can also encourage parents to take pictures of your setting so children can look at these. This will help them to recall being there before if they are returning. Equally, it will help them get used to their new surroundings and know what to expect when they start. This is particularly important for children who struggle with making transitions and need support in a new environment.
  • Talk about your daily routine and what happens every day with parents. Maybe they could try these routines at home? For example, they could have lunch whilst you do.

Helping children re-settle and adjust to being in your setting

  • Talk about what's going to happen so that children are expecting it (although for some it will still be a challenge!). This way, you're letting them know what is going on and involving them, as well as modelling the language needed for future events.
  • Do you have favourite nursery rhymes or books? Do you share these with parents? Do parents share theirs with you? Sing some familiar nursery rhymes so that children are confident with these and can join in when they start. Doing something that children are familiar with is a good way to build confidence.

  • Do you have a visual timeline or reminder for when children start in your setting? This can let them know your routine and what happens next. If you have a picture of their parent/carer to signal the end of the day this lets them know when the day is finished and that they are going home. Find out more about visual timelines with I CAN's free factsheet available here.  
  • Having an area of your setting where photographs of people and pets from home are displayed can give children a starting point for simple conversations.
  • Find out from parents how their child communicates they use words or gestures? Are they seeing a speech and language therapist? If so, do they have any suggestions for supporting communication?

If you or any families you work with have questions or would like more ideas, I CAN have a free, confidential helpline and email service where you can have a chat with one of our very friendly speech and language therapists. Call 020 7843 2544 to get through directly or send us an email at

Re-starting at your childcare setting can be challenging for everyone but we can share a wealth of strategies to support children and families. For more ideas, look at I CAN’s Early Talker’s boxset and have a look at our FAQs for practitioners:

About the author

Jon Gilmartin is a speech and language therapist who specialises in working with early years practitioners and families with young children. As a Speech and Language Advisor for I CAN, he delivers training to early years professionals and supports them to develop their practice. He also works on I CAN’s Enquiry Service providing information, advice and support for practitioners and parents.

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