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Stonegrove Children’s Centre in Barnet, North London, was one of the first early years settings in the UK to take part in the Early Language Development Programme devised by children’s communication charity, I CAN.
Currently, over half of children start school in certain areas of social deprivation in Britain without the communication skills they need to achieve. While 10 per cent of children in the UK, which equates to over one million have speech, language and communication needs that require specialist help.
The overall aim of the Early Language Development Programme (ELDP) is to ensure more young children develop the language skills they need to be ‘life and school ready’.
Lisa Topham, coordinator of the children’s centre, says: “We decided to use the Early Language development Programme as we have over 50 languages spoken in our centre. There a real diversity of children so language and communication is paramount to us.
“We have a real transient population and parents often don’t take the time to really talk to their children. I don’t think it is a conscious decision. Parents often get caught up in their own issues but it is all about increasing the parents’ involvement with their children and valuing their language and their culture. There are children in our centre from all backgrounds and we found there was a risk of the children having delayed speech and communication by the time they started school.”
The centre started running the programme in Spring 2012. Staff put on workshops and held family sessions so they could see if the parent wasn’t engaging with the child.
Ms Topham adds: “It was very important to build up good relationships with the parents. If they were struggling to engage we did work with them at home and gave them six weeks intensive support. Parent involvement was a big thing for us as they are the primary educators of our children in the early years.
“We also made sure we got down to the children’s level and gave them time to speak. Often without meaning to we ask children hundreds of questions and don’t give them enough time to respond. We made a conscious effort to use rich, descriptive language with them so for example if they were playing with play dough we talked about whether it was soft and squidgy.”
“We set up tents and dens to encourage children to interact more with one another and we used the babbling baby cards which really help with language development.”
Staff at the children’s centre noticed that as a result of the programme the children became more engaged and for far longer. “The programme has had a huge impact. It has made us really look at our practice and how we can use the environment and areas within the children’s centre to encourage speech.
They have started to express themselves more. Before the children were struggling to get themselves understood and got really frustrated and angry but they are much calmer now when they come here. We refer them to speech and language so hopefully we will start to see a reduction in this,” says Ms Topham.
Children’s minister Edward Timpson recently visited Stonegrove Children’s Centre, which is run by the Pre-school Learning Alliance on behalf of Barnet Council, to celebrate the first birthday of the EDLP programme.
He says: “It was good to see first-hand how the Early Language Development Programme is helping many children and families with their language and communication skills. I hope it will continue to help more children get a good start with these vital skills and help to prevent more serious problems for children as they get older.”
Virginia Beardshaw, chief executive of I CAN which developed the programme, says: “We know that getting communication right in the early years is critical to improving the life chances of all children and to improving outcomes for children and young people who have Special Educational Needs.
Early identification is particularly important in speech, language and communication since research indicates that there is a critical ‘window’ for resolving language problems that exists for children before the age of five and a half.”
The ELDP targets all pre-school children, but focuses on children under three, particularly those in deprived areas.
Language skills are a critical factor in social disadvantage. Poor language skills are the key reason why, by the age of 22 months, a more able child from a low income home will begin to be overtaken in their developmental levels by an initially less able child from a high-income home – and why by the age of five, the gap has widened further.
Since November 2011, 107 local authorities have taken part in the ELDP – 69 per cent of all authorities in England. A total of 551 children’s centre/nursery workers, other early years practitioners and health professionals have attended the training, and ELDP is on track to meet the target of 970 trained practitioners by April 2013.
The Early Language Development Programme (ELDP) has been funded by the Department for Education from November 2011 until March 2014, in recognition of the importance of early communication development as a foundation for learning and behaviour.
I CAN is the contract lead for this programme, and is supported by a consortium of partner organisations including Action for Children and the Pre-school Learning Alliance (PLA). Stonegrove Children’s Centre is a Pre-school Learning Alliance setting and was one of the first centres to join the pilot stage of the programme in spring 2012.