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6 Foundation skills for building communication in early years

date November 1, 2023Becky Poulter Jewson and Rebecca Skinner


There are multiple theories as to how we develop speech, language and communication but the common theme is that learning to communicate is an active process – it doesn’t just happen!

To become effective communicators, children need a reason to communicate and a desire to do so and, very importantly, an adult to provide responsive feedback. Adults working with children in the early years are in a position to be the best resource for developing a child’s communication skills.  Mindful interactions and an awareness of the power of everyday situations and experiences will benefit all children who are in your care.

Every child with speech, language and communication needs is unique and will present differently. You may see two children with speech sound difficulties however the nature of these will vary as will the impact on their ability to play, learn and interact. Some speech, language and communication needs will resolve in childhood and others will be life-long.

The number of children with speech, language and communication needs is growing and so those of us in education are in a position to offer support and understanding through our everyday actions and practice. So how can we do this in a busy environment?

child at nursery playing with train teacher

Here at Thriving Language, we feel the key role of the educator is to understand the child, their communications, their patterns of play, and their emotional and physical wellbeing.  The most important aspect being the child’s story; who they are, what they already know, who is their world, what do their experiences bring and how can we value and listen to them?

The Thriving Language Approach below explores 6 key elements which are vital for quality interactions. These lead to great ways to support communication development.

heart graphic with thriving language model

What does this look like in everyday practice?

This isn’t your typical communication toolkit and we haven’t given you specific activities to do to promote language development. The best communications happen through quality interactions and naturally progressive environments.  So, what we are giving you is 6 key elements which are the foundations for building communication skills:

  1. To be seen – notice every interaction a child makes. This is a skill that needs to run through our educational practice throughout our day. Consider the child who has folded their arms in front of their chest – are they feeling cross or might they be trying to stop themselves from doing something? We need to be interested enough to enquire.
  2. To be heard – communication is the ‘whole child’ and by this we mean their facial expression, demeanour, what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. We can ‘hear’ children through their patterns of play and their interactions with others.
  3. To be loved – what does to be loved look like in your environment? Professional love is crucial for you to be able to contain children emotionally with empathy and understanding.
  4. To matter – enable freedom and choice. Are children confident enough to come to you with their own free choices as they know they will be respected and heard? Are their ideas and thoughts treasured and valued? Think about your routines and whose agenda it is.
  5. To feel safe – validate and understand children’s emotions. If one of our friends was upset what would we do (bearing in mind that our friend probably knows how to regulate)? What would we say to them and how would we help them (co-regulation)? If a child is upset in your care there is a genuine reason for this. It is our duty to understand and hold those emotions.
  6. To thrive – think about your own learning, where and how do you feel confident to learn? Where do you feel most like you? Research tells us that children can only thrive and learn when they are understood no matter how that presents. Co-regulation = communication. Every moment with a child is a brain building opportunity. Children will thrive when you understand their communication.

How do you feel about your own communications? Look back at the model, are you heard and seen? It matters how we feel, we cannot teach and co-regulate young children if we are not regulated and we don’t reflect on our own practice.

a male childcare practitioner helping two girls

As educators we must all create environments where children are understood. We are not just teaching for today, we are educating for the future.

We all have a duty of care and should want to respond to all non-verbal and verbal communication. It is vital that we create environments where all children are understood no matter how they are communicating.  How you connect in practice today really matters.  ‘To be listened to is to be loved’ (Thriving Language).

Don’t miss the live Kinderly Webinar with Rebeca and Becky coming up on 15th November.  Click HERE to book (or on the image below) Kinderly Learn members can book directly from their Kinderly Learn dashboard.

child reading with adult

About the authors

Rebecca Skinner and Becky Poulter Jewson

Rebecca Skinner and Becky Poulter Jewson are the co-founders of Thriving Language. Having worked together in Children’s Centres for many years, they could see the true benefit of Early Years and Speech and Language Therapy working together in complete harmony to support children and families.

Rebecca Skinner qualified as a Speech and Language Therapist in 2001 and is the Director of Speech Therapy and author for Thriving Language. She also works as a Specialist Speech and Language Therapist for the NHS.

Becky Poulter Jewson has over 25 years experience working with children and families as a qualified Early Years Lead and is the Director of Early Years and author for Thriving Language.

For more information about  the Thriving Language approach visit: