SALT - advice image

Communication is a complex skill that develops gradually over time from the moment a child is born. It is important that children develop a firm foundation of earlier skills such as listening and playing so that they can successfully develop later skills such as using tricky sounds and spelling. 

Click on each of the below tabs to get advice about helping children develop that skill:

1. Listening and Attention

Good listening underpins all language development and helps children to interact successfully with others

  • Make sure children have some time each day when they can hear you talking with no background noise to compete with your voice

  • Manage screen time so they get a good balance of time interacting with people too 

  • Encourage them to look towards you when you are talking to them. Call their name and wait for them to look  
  • Model the behaviour you want to see. Make sure you look at them when they are talking and you wait for them to finish before you talk
  • Praise them when they show good listening and tell them what you are happy about so they know what they need to do more of! e.g. "You stayed so quiet while I told you what I wanted - you are going to know EXACTLY what to do!" 

2. Play Interaction

Through play children learn how to interact with the world and with others. They learn to understand the world and to manage their own behaviour and emotions.

  • Let children take the lead in play - copy what they are doing

  • Try not to have too many toys out at the same time or they will find it hard to focus

  • Comment on what children are doing as they play so they have the words to go with what they are experiencing

  • Play lots of easy turn taking games to help them learn the really important skills of sharing and waiting for a turn

  • Try not to jump in too quickly if things go wrong. Working out how to sort things for themselves will make them more independent in their learning

  • Don't fix it so they 'win' every time. Learning that it is ok to lose sometimes and being able to cope with disappointment will make them much more resilient when they are learning tricky new skills at school

  • Model what you want to see. Take turns and look at them when they are talking to you

3. Understanding Language

Children need to understand and remember not only the words and sentences they hear but also understand how the context affects the meaning

  • Get their attention before giving them an instruction - call their name and wait for them to look at you     

  • Keep your language simple     

  • Chunk longer instructions into single steps     

  • Use pauses to break up longer pieces of information     

  • Give children time to process. Count to 10 before you repeat the instruction. Unless you are sure it was too hard, try to use the same words so you don't just give them more language to process     

  • Showing as well as telling ALWAYS helps. Use objects and pictures and gesture to support spoken information

4. Expressive Language

Children need to choose the right words and put them together in the right order to get their message across to other people

  • Model lots of language for children to hear. Talk about things that your child is  actually seeing, hearing and experiencing

  • Leave pauses for children to join in the conversation even if it is only with a gesture or a noise

  • Repeat any words your child says and add a word or two of your own so they can hear how to make it more complex

  • Model their sentences back to them with the correct grammar so they have something to copy

  • Help them to remember new words by talking about events afterwards. This will give them a chance to hear vocabulary again

  • Introduce choice into activities whenever possible e.g. "Do you want the blue one or the red one?" to give them opportunities to use language in a meaningful way

5. Speech

In order for people to understand what they are saying, children need to hear the sounds in words, remember them accurately and say then say them clearly and fluently.

  • Make sure children can see your face - it will help them know which sounds are in words

  • Keep the background noise as low as possible when you are talking to them. It will be really hard for them to hear the sounds clearly if there is lots of competing noise

  • Don't ask them to repeat a word unless you genuinely didn't understand. Repeating doesn't help - they are probably already giving you their best attempt.

  • Instead of asking them to repeat, try to use the word yourself so they have a really clear model of how the word sounds when a grown up says it

  • Clap new words out together. This will help them to really hear and remember all the sounds in the word

6. Literacy

Children with communication difficulties can sometimes find reading and writing a challenge because of the problems they have with all the language skills which underpin literacy. The right support for their language early on is the key to helping them to develop their written skills. 

Below is some advice to help with literacy:

  • Talk around the books they are reading and don't just ask questions - comment on the books too

  • Retell the story and guess together what might happen next

  • Make sure your child hears stories as well as trying to read their own school books. Audio books are a great idea for children who find reading hard. This will make sure they don't miss out on the new vocabulary that children who do read are experiencing

  • Encourage your child to say the word out loud as they are trying to spell so they can listen to the sounds

  • If they find handwriting difficult then take the pressure off by using letter tiles when practising spelling

  • Let them decide for themselves how long they need to look at a word before covering it up and trying to spell it

  • Always check they can read back their own spelling attempts