22nd October 2021 Early Years Foundation Stage All Posts

Communication and Language in the Early Years

EYFS Series Part 10: Welcome to part 10 of the EYFS Series we are running to support you with the 2021 EYFS reforms.

We invited Preschool Manager, Emma Davis to share her expert advice on the different ways children can be supported in settings to develop their communication and language skills. 

Catch up on the Guest article below.

Communication and Language in the Early Years – By Emma Davis

Communication and Language development lay the foundation for all other areas of learning across the revised Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).  Acquiring good skills in this area is seen as crucial to success in a child’s education, impacting on their life chances.  Being able to talk and listen enables a child to build relationships, communicate their feelings and interests, sing and read books.

Children’s communication and language development has always been an interest for researchers and policymakers.  Some statistics which have influenced the drive to improve development in this area of learning include…

  • A predictor of children reaching the expected levels in English and Maths at seven was their language skills at the age of five. (Save the Children, 2018)
  • ‘More than 1.4 million children and young people in the UK have speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). Language disorder alone is one of the most common disorders of childhood, affecting nearly 10% of children and young people everywhere throughout their lives. In areas of social disadvantage, this number can rise to 50% of all children and young people, including those with delayed language as well as children with identified SLCN. (Bercow, 2018) 
  • 18-31% of children aged between 19-21 months who lived in deprived communities have a language delay. (Pickstone, 2003).
  • ¾ of those in the youth offending system have below average communication skills (Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, 2012).

Communication development starts pre-birth.  From about 16 weeks, a baby begins to recognise their mother’s voice and from 20 weeks can start to recognise the voices of others.  This gives parents the opportunity to bond and communicate with their baby from a very early stage, from singing, encouraging family members to talk to the bump, reading stories and playing music.

Once born, children develop quickly, turning to sounds, focusing in on faces and watching mouth movements and using vocalisations to get their needs met.  In these early days, it is through parent and carer interactions that babies develop, recognising that the sounds they make get a reaction.  As practitioners, it is important to appreciate that these early days may look different for some.  Children entering settings will do so with varied attachments, life experiences and home environments.  

The practitioner role:

All children develop at different rates – this is why we celebrate the ‘unique child’.  Some walk before others, some sleep through the night, others are early talkers.  The first step in supporting children is recognising they will not all have had the same experiences and exposure to a rich language environment.  

There are many ways children can be supported in settings to develop their communication and language skills.  Here are some ideas:

  • Books and stories: In settings, we can really make the most of reading books together.  Practitioners have an important role in bringing books to life, in making story time a fun, interactive and special time of day.  However, it’s also about understanding the role of books throughout play experiences – we can read stories in different areas of the provision, making books available in the construction area, role play, outdoors and forest school.  Books are not just for the book corner! When we bring books to life, we are helping children to listen and focus, understand words have meanings, build their vocabulary, become imaginative, develop a bank of phrases and exposing children to lots of different words.  Practitioners can further support this by talking about the illustrations, characters and ending of the book.  We can introduce new, exciting worlds!  

As well as reading books, we can spend time making up stories.  You can do this with props such as puppets, story spoons, story stones, story sacks or soft toys.  Encourage the children to join in, adding their own ideas which an adult can scribe.  

  • Singing: Singing can help children to develop an understanding of different sounds.  Children can retain words to memory, ready to recall at another time.  They learn new words and phrases, explore rhythm, pitch and tone and develop their listening skills.  Many songs include rhyme and alliteration, developing children’s phonological awareness in Early Years.  Singing is a really playful way of learning and developing communication and language skills.
  • Adding a narrative: This means talking along as children play.  However, it’s important to be able to pitch your narrative at the appropriate level.  Firstly, this means knowing the children well, understanding their level of development so your interactions are appropriate.  It also requires practitioners to resist jumping straight into play with preconceived ideas on what we are hoping to gain.  Instead, by observing the children’s play first, we can get a feel for how the child is playing, we notice their interactions with others and how they are using the resources.  Some children might invite us into the play, whereas for others we could start by playing alongside.  From this, we can give a commentary on what they are doing and how, such as “you’re pushing the train very fast.  It’s going up the hill and back down.  Wheeeee.”  It’s good to remember that we are not taking over the play as this can inhibit the play and interactions, impacting on language development.
  • Being an active listener: Show the child that you are interested in what they are saying.  We want to develop those serve and return conversation skills so practitioners should be giving good eye contact, getting down to the child’s level, giving them time to say what they want to without interrupting and offering an appropriate response.  Remember when responding that open questions are better than closed!
  • Walks: Make time to get out and about, away from the setting.  It’s valuable for children to have a change of environment as this can spark conversations and interests.  Practitioners can talk about what they see, encouraging children to use their senses to promote talk.  Taking photos is a good way to record the experience, ready to look back at when you return to the setting.  Children can recall their experiences, where they went and what they saw to extend the talk further.  
  • The environment: This plays an important role in promoting communication and language development so should be well thought out.  Children should see themselves represented in the provision.  

The environment can give children to opportunity to talk but there are some things to consider.  Think about the background noise levels – too noisy and it can be overwhelming, and not conducive to a talk rich environment.  If it’s too noisy, children find it difficult to tune out from the distractions which means it’s a challenge to focus.  Consider having quiet areas where children can retreat to – cosy nooks and dens which are designated quiet spaces where talking and listening can happen.  

Regularly assess your environment with fresh eyes.  Is it stimulating?  Will children be inspired to play? These are important factors as it is through this play that children have rich opportunities to talk.  Consider:

  • Role play
  • Tell stories
  • Engage in small world play
  • Explore sensory play
  • Be imaginative
  • Interact socially
  • Be creative

Most importantly of all, it’s about knowing the children well, identifying needs early and taking the appropriate action.  It’s up to us to be good role models, engaging appropriately with those around us, listening and respecting the voice of others.


Bercow, J. (2018) Bercow: Ten Years On An independent review of provision for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs in England  Accessible here: 337644-ICAN-Bercow-Report-WEB.pdf (bercow10yearson.com)

Pickstone, C. (2003) A pilot study of paraprofessional screening of child language in community settings.  Child Language Teaching and Therapy. 19(1) pp.49-65. 

Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (2012) All-Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties The links between speech, language and communication needs and social disadvantage.  Accessible here: Microsoft Word – APPG on Speech and Language Difficulties inquiry report v25 February 2013 (rcslt.org)

Save the Children (2018) Early Language Development and Children’s Primary School Attainment.  Accessible here: early-language-development-and-childrens-primary-school-attainment.pdf (savethechildren.org.uk)

About Emma Davis

Emma is currently the manager of a thriving preschool but is soon embarking on a career change. She will be moving from working with some of the youngest learners in the sector to those of degree age. 

Emma is also a PhD student and writer. Her interests are wide-ranging, from outdoor learning and communication and language development to picture books and leadership. Follow her on Twitter: @EmmaDee77

For more on our Communication and Language series, head here:

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