OK, so we know that language development is important in the early years (if you don't you might want to read this blog I wrote for Childcare Expo about all language delayed children being doomed - very gloomy headlines back in December 2016.)
And we've starting to change the environment so that every interaction is enriching and adds value in terms of vocabulary. You'll have already cut down on your use of questions having read my previous blog on the subject. So, now we're going to look at screening the children and building up an individual communication profile for each child so you know exactly where they are and exactly what their goals are for moving them on in their learning journey.
I've read a few threads on social media recently and practitioners often seem to say "I'm worried about our children's speech" but they actually mean language. It's important that we all speak the same language, so if you have any confusion over this, there is a very useful summary on p3 of the Communication Trust's booklet: Speech, Language and Communication; information for managers and school staff. If you find the resources from the Communication Trust useful, you may be intersted to read that last week the Education Department revealed that it was significantly slashing funding for this much-needed charity. If you don't like the idea of that, signing this petition would be super-helpful.
Alrighty, now that that's out the way, when I create a communication profile, I'm looking at 6 aspects of communication. Here they are:
Depending on which screening tool you use, you'll cover most of these with one tool, so don't panic. It's not a whole load of work. Well, it is a little bit but it's worth it!
There are two main screening tools I love. First is ICAN - the Communication Charity's Progress Check.
This covers development of children from 18 months to 48 months in Attention/Listening, Comprehension, Spoken Language and Social Communication. So that nicely takes care of 4 of the 6 areas.
Second (which is a bit more a) expensive and b) comprehensive) is WellComm's speech and language toolkit. Now, I've just been on their website to find out exactly how much it costs and I'm a bit confused as to which bits you need to buy (I've only ever used my NHS department's one at work!) But basically, the screen has 10 questions for each 6-month age band. 5 are comprehension (i.e. understanding) and 5 are spoken language. It then lets you know if the child is green (no intervention needed, amber (targeted) or red (specialist support needed.) It goes from birth to 60 or so months.
Both tools have therapy ideas depending on the outcome of the screen.
WellComm has fantastic ideas linked specifically to each question in the screen. So if your child doesn't yet understand prepositions in, on or under, there will be a worksheet with games ideas specifically for these concepts. Great for giving to parents.
Ican has these boxes of activity cards which have lovely ideas for you to pick and choose in your targeted groups.
If you would like to go into a little bit more detail regarding a child's spoken language skills, i.e. because you've picked up that there might be a problem, or because you would like to get a good baseline measurement to monitor progress, there are a couple of more detailed assessments out there. I feel they are badly in need of updating, but a little bird told me they are in the process. So the first one measures information and grammar (how much the child tells you about a picture and whether they use grammar that is age appropriate) It's called the Renfrew Action Picture Test. There are some out there who don't like it, but it's the most simple, age- normed test out there at the moment. It's currently about £45 on Amazon.
The second assesses vocabulary. Again, it's a little old-fashioned but it's the only vocabulary assessment I have seen that's got normative data (that means you get an age equivalent score at the end) It's called the Word Finding Vocabulary Test and is 50 pictures. It looks like this and costs £45.99 on Amazon.
Wellbeing is an absolutely critical aspect of communication, because if a child doesn't feel safe, respected or nurtured, then you'll be hard pushed to get any language from them. I really like the Leuven's Scale of Wellbeing and suggest you use this: it's pretty self explanatory and you can get it here as a pdf to put in your communication CPD folder.
And that leaves speech sound assessment.
But I have poured my heart into designing (in my spare time as I work full time as an NHS SLT!) and producing this one especially with Early Years Practitioners in mind. Not only do the kids love looking at the pictures with you, but also, the app gives you an instant uploadable and emailable report and summary, with colour coding for recommendations for referral etc. Just saying! It is currently only available for iPads for £85 for unlimited access. However, as we speak some clever IT person is converting it to android.
Follow the link to buy it on my website here
So there you have it! My favourite screeners for a child's individual communication profile. Obviously nothing is better than just getting down and the child's level and having a good chin-wag with them and that should form your gut-feeling as to whether you should screen them further. But I like to have profiles for every child because it means I don't miss out on anything if they're a bit quiet or have a couple of speech sounds missing. Later this year, I'll be giving you the opportunity to join my Wise Old Owl SLT Membership Community. This will include lots of lovely goodies such as a nifty way to pull all that information together AND an easy way to overview your whole nursery. But, you'll have to watch this space as it's not quite ready!
In the meantime, if you would like to know more about how to target speech, language and communication skills as an attainment project, then come along to Childcare Expo in London where I am presenting a seminar on this very subject. And don't forget you can sign up to the seminars, using my special code to get 10% off the price of the seminar. The code is DLR20CH