Ask an early years teacher – speech and language in their eyes

Ask an early years teacher – speech and language in their eyes

This week we interview Eleanor, a nursery manager with over 20 years of experience working in nurseries and pre-schools.  I was lucky enough to spend half an hour with her, hearing all about her experiences working with pre-school children, and learning some fresh ideas to support communication development along the way.  Who wouldn’t love a bedtime stories session?!

What is your job?

I am a nursery manager, working with children aged 2-4 years old.  I’ve been managing this nursery for the last year and a half.  Working with this age group is wonderful because they are so enthusiastic, and they learn so fast.  Every day I watch the children learning something new.


What does speech, language and communication mean to you as an early years teacher? 

It is a really major part of the work we do, we are encouraging the children to communicate throughout their time with us.  For some children that’s not yet verbally, so we use gesture lots, and we use Makaton (, or find out more about Makaton and sign language in our article). As children are learning to use spoken language we spend a lot of time helping them to extend their vocabulary, and working to improve their grammatical structures.  We hope to give them the skills so that they can use language to express their needs rather than some of the other methods that two year olds frequently use!


How do Speech and Language therapists help children in early years settings? 

There are two main ways we work together.  Sometimes we will refer children to Speech and Language Therapy, and the therapist will either see the child individually, or more usually in a group, at a clinic or health centre.  We often get helpful feedback and suggestions of how we can continue the work in the nursery which we love.  Occasionally the therapist will come and work in the nursery if it’s not possible for the parent to take the child to sessions elsewhere.

I have also been part of projects where Speech and Language Therapists have worked in nurseries, producing materials jointly and encouraging our staff to watch their teaching sessions so that our team can replicate the techniques.


What is the best piece of advice a Speech and Language Therapist has ever given you?

One of the most recent pieces of advice that has challenged my thinking was to only speak to a child if they are looking at you.  I think it’s true, children can zone out if there is a steady voice droning on! I do think it is working for the children I’ve tried it with so far.  For it to be very effective, I think the parents would have to be using the same strategy.

Another piece of advice that a Speech and Language Therapist gave me previously was to talk about what the child is doing or playing with.  I think that works for many children!


What advice as an early years teacher do you pass on to parents who are worried about their child’s communication skills?

If a parent came to me worried about their child’s communication, I would give them some honest information about whether or not their worries were well-founded, based on what we know about other children of a similar age.  We would offer to do an assessment within the nursery, and to refer the child on if they needed it.  I would also encourage the parent to speak with their child, sing songs with their child, and have fun with language.


What advice do you pass on to your staff to help children communicate at nursery/pre-school?

To ensure there is a lot of language, a language rich environment, we encourage everybody to extend their sentences so that if a child is giving you one word you’re putting that into a short simple sentence, modelling it.  We encourage the staff to ask open ended questions so that the child can’t just say “yes” or “no” and so they’re using their language to develop the child’s thinking skills at the same time.  We advise the staff to get down to the level of the child so that you’ve got eye contact when you’re talking, and to gauge the simplicity or complexity of their sentences to the ability of the child.


Give me one quick thing parents can do tonight to help their child communicate?


Read them a bed time story.  You don’t just have to read the words!  Talking about the book, looking at the pictures, is really valuable.  At this age the children are only just starting to recognise a few letters or words so thinking about the story is the most valuable thing.  Have storytime in a nice cosy place so it’s a really positive experience for the child.


We did a bedtime stories session in nursery this year.  The children came back at 5pm in their pyjamas with their teddies and a pillow, and listened to stories told by our staff.  One of the Mums told a story too.  The children acted out one of the stories, then afterwards we gave them milk and a biscuit, and they went home to bed.  The reaction from the parents was astonishing, they all loved it!  One parent said that before this, they had no idea why people read bedtime stories, “I’m going to have to do this at home”.  Another parent said “I feel really sleepy now”!


What communication skills do you expect from a 2 year old just starting nursery?

It’s a really wide range – all of our children have some communication skills when they start nursery, even if they are just leading us by the hand when they want something, pointing, or using single words.  Whereas some children can speak in full sentences already.  It is a really wide range, and that’s normal.


What communication skills do you want your 4 years olds to have when they leave nursery?

We’d want them to be able to express their feelings, to ask for things, to be able to ask questions about what they are learning and about the world they are in.  To be able to give their opinions, but to be able to listen as well and to respond to their friends.  I think speech and language skills are the most valuable gift we could give the children in our nursery.  Particularly for disadvantaged children, it’s the best way for them to catch up with their peers.


What’s your favourite toy, and why?

The train track, we use the train track in a couple of ways.  Sometimes we have it set up ready for the children to use, then we’re focusing on the movement of the trains, and using words like ‘over’ and ‘under’.  Usually children would help to construct the railway as well, developing spatial skills and the language of shape.  It certainly seems to be a favourite toy for lots of the children too.

Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

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Interview with a SENCO – thoughts on communication

Interview with a SENCO – thoughts on communication

Our Speech and Language Therapists regularly provide you with information, inside knowledge and tips and tricks on how to support your child’s communication skills. Here we are passing the mic over to another professional, Madeleine. Madeleine has worked with speech and language therapists for over ten years as a SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator). SENCOs work within the school setting and it is their job to make sure that the children who have extra support needs, get those needs met. Like Speech and Language Therapists, SENCOs work with a range of other professionals, including psychologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and of course, teachers.

It is a demanding, fast paced and very busy job! So, we thank Madeleine for taking the time to talk to us. Madeleine has worked in the UK and Australia. In 2016, she won an award for being one of the best in her field.

Here she explains to us how Speech and Language Therapists work within her team at school and what communication means to her.

What is your job?

I am a SENCO in a school and I am also a dyslexia specialist.

What does speech language and communication mean to you?

Speech and Language Therapists are an outside agency that I can turn to, to ask for help with children’s speech articulation and their language development. I can use speech and language therapists to assess a child, understand their needs and to provide treatment programs to move children forward.

I would say that prior to being a SENCO I wasn’t aware of how much speech and language therapists had to do with language. I thought it was more to do with speech articulation. They work with a wide range of communication needs and are an integral part of the team.

How do speech and language therapists help children in schools / your school?

They help by assessing the children, so we can understand their needs fully and then everything that that encompasses, e.g., speaking to parents and teachers so we are all aware of strategies that we can use to support the child. They help by providing a treatment plan and working with the classroom teacher and assistants. They also provide whole school inset trainings. They leave lots of good communication resources in the school and point us and parents in the direction of great online support and resources e.g. The Communication Trust and Talking Point sites. They help us to manage referrals that come through and provide us with strategies that support the child without having to make a referral. So, as well as working with children and supporting staff within the school, they are supporting us in identifying the right children to refer in the first place.

What is advice as a SENCO have you received from a Speech and Language Therapist that you have found particularly useful?

Short bursts of regular intervention are better than sitting for hours with a child working on something.

The therapists I have worked with over the years have also emphasised using gesture with children, modelling back the correct language and using open ended rather than closed questions. These are all little things that make a big difference to communication.

For more information on how to use these strategies to support your child’s communication check out our blogs/courses/Sparkle

The fact that they encourage and promote everything that our school does, give us reassurance, we are all working towards the same goal and singing from the same hymn sheet, using the same strategies.

One other thing that therapists have encouraged is early intervention. Speech or language delays may be helped greatly by early input.

Do you have a young child that may need early intervention? Check out Sparkle.


What advice as a SENCO do you pass on to parents who are worried about their child’s communication?

That depends on what the worry is, so if for example they are worried about (how their child says a) certain letter sound, I would refer to NHS guidelines that gives information about what letter sounds they should be able to pronounce at certain ages. Often, I will say that I am happy to listen to the child so parents could ask their SENCO or class teacher to listen their child as they will know that age group. Asking parents for examples of what they are hearing that they think is problematic can help. I encourage parents to be as specific as possible. Is it language? is it speech? is something specific like pronouns or past tense they can’t get quite right? Then if in doubt I would ask the speech and language therapist before making a referral.

For more about identifying communication challenges and the difference between speech and language challenges check out this article.

What advice as a SENCO do you pass on to teachers to help children communicate in the classroom?

Things related to ‘Wave one quality first teaching’ e.g. Children should be able to see the teacher who is talking, lessons should be multi-sensory so children are not relying on the auditory stimulus and so they can see and touch things, lessons can also be kinaesthetic and I also look the acoustics in the classroom at the start of every year, e.g. sound proofing , making sure the walls have felt on them (this can make the sounds in the classroom easier to hear) , chairs that don’t scrape. It is important that children have the best opportunity to communicate and hear communication. Then thinking about specific special needs – individuals need to communicate, so we may use alternative resources, Makaton/sign to make sure that every child can communicate fully. Then giving the children different opportunities for communication e.g. with the teacher, 1.1, in a group, in a small group, with different people and different audiences. So, I will discuss these things with teachers.

Give me one quick thing parents can do tonight to help their child communicate

I personally like, and I use with my own children, any of the Julia Donaldson rhyming books. Encourage your child to finish off the rhyming couplet, which is great for the phonology development and that underpins their literacy and will help with their reading and writing later.

Check out our sing and rhyme article for more ideas on this!

What communication skills do expect from a four-year-old just starting school

All children develop at different rates, it is important to remember this when thinking about where your child should be, but in general I would like them to make eye contact, ask and answer questions appropriately and be able to talk to their peers about themselves. They should be able to retell a story e.g. what they did at the weekend.

What communication skills do you want a year 6 to have when they leave primary school

Again, all children develop at different rates. But to be able to have a good conversation, not go off on a tangent, stick to the topic, have more complex conversations, use more complex grammar, richer vocabulary.

Need ideas on how to make grammar fun? Check out our article!

What is your favourite word and why

Oh, that is a hard one. So many words! I think it would have to be ‘Hello’. I like greetings! And meeting people. ‘Hello’ is universal, I think anyone anywhere would be able to understand the words and the of course the gesture! It is friendly, and everyone uses it.

Finally, what does communication mean to you?

Communication is everything, without it we are unable to access many things in our daily lives, socially and academically. Being heard and being able to express your needs and opinions shouldn’t be taken for granted. I am a big chatterbox, so I should know!

Everyone should be able to do this, regardless of skill set. In our school we work towards making sure that all the children are able to access communication.

Written by Carolyn Fox, Children’s Speech and Language Therapist

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The King’s Speech Movie – How speech and language therapy played a vital role in shaping a King and country for World War II – and how it can help us today

The King’s Speech Movie – How speech and language therapy played a vital role in shaping a King and country for World War II – and how it can help us today

How speech and language therapy played a vital role in shaping a King and country for World War II – and how it can help us today


Good communication is vital in all walks of life. Whatever age you are, whatever you are doing at school, home or at work, clear speech and language makes a huge difference.

But when you are a King preparing a country for war, your words have the power to change millions of lives.

In January 2011, ‘The King’s Speech’ was released in cinemas; it later won a well-deserved Oscar for best film. The movie tells the story of King George VI and his journey to overcome stammering.  Central to the movie is the relationship between King George and his Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) Lionel Logue. The film conveys, with incredible insight, both the psychological and behavioural issues surrounding stammering. This clear depiction can be attributed to the fact that the writer, David Shidler, had experienced stammering as a child. It is thought that there is often a genetic component to stammering and, interestingly, David’s uncle who also stammered, was treated by Lionel Logue.

The characters are charming, the story line fascinating but just as importantly viewers obtain an education on stammering and get an insight into the life of someone trying to overcome a major impediment – not just anyone, but a renowned King!

The King’s Speech blazed the trail in bringing SLTs into popular culture to deal with well recognized communication problems. It started a dialogue about stammering, provided an opportunity to discuss the challenges that people who stammer have to face and then destigmatized it.


So how common is a speech and language issue?


This is an important issue. 5% of children under the age of 5 will go through a stage of stammering at some stage and speech and language therapy has proven to be most effective where the problem is caught early enough. It is estimated that 1% of the adult population also stammer.

As major a problem as this is, the reality is this is the tip of the iceberg. Around 20% (AND I WILL SHOUT THAT FROM THE ROOFTOPS – 20%!!!) of us will experience a communication difficulty at some point in our lives (Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists) and whilst some of those will be made up of people who stammer, a large proportion will have different communication challenges.

Despite this common problem, the speech and language profession remains a mystery to many and deals with far more issues than just stammering.

It is estimated that 1 in 20 children under the age of 5 will go through a stage of stammering at some stage. Speech and language therapy has proven to be most effective with children under 5 years where the problem is caught early enough. About 1% of the adult population stammers. As well as King George VI, famous people who are reported to have had problems with stammering include a whole host of household names from screen and stage including Emily Blunt, Marilyn Monroe, Nicole Kidman, Ed Sheeran, Samuel L Jackson, James Earl Jones, Bruce Willis and Elvis Presley.


Why is there lack of understanding from the the general public on what speech and language therapists do?!


In 2006 * one third of 651 school students reported that they knew nothing about speech and language therapy and some of those asked commented that SLT is not portrayed in the media or on TV and medical dramas. Which explains part of the problem.

SLTs reach out to all areas of society to help improve communication problems and make a huge different to quality of life. There are currently over 16,000 speech and language therapists working across the UK in a range of different settings and with different client groups.

We have come a long way since the time of King George’s rule. Then speech production was the main focus of the profession. As the profession has progressed it continues to work with both adults and children in the remediation of speech sound challenges and stammering. However, the role has grown to include therapy for language (supporting understanding and expression of language in areas such as vocabulary and sentence structure) and more recently in the 21st century, social communication disorders. SLTs also assess and support eating, drinking and swallowing as well as voice disorders and they support children and adults all around the world.

Therapy for adults who have had a stroke can lead to overall improvement in health and increase their participation in daily events. For children with social communication disorders, intense therapy can support more independent living as adults (Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists).


Speech and Language Therapy Today


The field of speech and language therapy has greatly improved in terms of both theory and efficacy since the time of King George. We now work closely with many other professionals. We liaise and make decisions in teams and make clinical decisions based on years of research. When it comes to accessing speech and language therapy, clients have many choices too; via the NHS or private therapy. Our mission to improve the lives of our clients remains the same, but we are armed with many more tools.

A recent advancement in the profession has seen many people take an interest in tele-therapy through exciting new innovations like Iris Speaks – allowing children and parents to access high quality professional speech and language therapy in the comfort of their own home to fit around their lives.

Lionel Logue had an immense impact on world history by assisting the King in delivering a speech on the brink of World War 2.  Having successfully treated the King, he received a letter on 8th January 1945.

King George wrote ‘I wonder if you realise how grateful I am to you for having made it possible for me to carry out this vital part of my job. I cannot thank you enough.’

It’s not every day speech and language therapists help a King change the course of history. But every day SLTs change the lives of the people they treat.


*Greenwood, Wright and Bithell, 2006 (expert practice: a critical discourse – Alison Ferguson.)

Written by Carolyn Fox, Children’s Speech and Language Therapist


Sources: NHS Choices, British Stammering Association, The Stuttering Foundation.

Related Links:

Does my child have a speech or language issue?

Where can I access speech and language therapy?



How can speech and language therapy help my child?

How can speech and language therapy help my child?

How can speech and language therapy help my child?

Speech and language therapy can help by providing treatment, support and care for children who have difficulties with communication.

Speech and language therapists are qualified health professionals who can support children with primary speech, language and communication difficulties, such as stammering as well as speech, language and communication difficulties that are secondary to other conditions such as learning difficulties and hearing problems.

Speech and language therapists also support premature babies and infants with conditions such as cerebral palsy, cleft palate and Down’s syndrome from very early in life. They may have difficulties with drinking, swallowing and early play and communication skills.

17 areas speech and language therapists help with

Here are just some of the important ways that speech and language therapists can help your child:

– Pre-school language problems

– Delayed development

– Trouble understanding meanings, gestures, directions or answering questions

– Problems identifying words, objects and pictures

– Problems putting words into sentences or learning new vocabulary, songs or rhymes

– Having difficulty understanding what others say

– Poor pronunciation

– Speech and language delays

– Stammering or speech difficulties

– Falling behind in learning numbers, letters, spelling or telling the time

– Learning disabilities

– Not being able to form words (Apraxia)

– Early play and communication skills

– Autism

– Asperger Syndrome


– Hearing difficulties


The list is not exhaustive – and speech and language therapists can help your child in a range of other ways.


The important thing to remember is that every child is different and that is why a qualified speech and language therapist will assess your exact needs and development goals to come up with a plan to help meet these vital communication needs.


Iris Speaks provides an initial consultation to determine if your child could benefit from speech and language therapy. Then, if you feel a speech and language therapist can help, we undertake a full expert assessment of your child’s exact needs and organise a personalised and flexible ongoing programme of support just for you and your child. 

Access the best UK based speech and language therapists from anywhere in the world 7 days a week online and at home. Visit to book to speak to us now.

Related articles:

How to tell if your child has a speech or language issue

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How can I access Speech and Language Therapy for my child?

How can I access Speech and Language Therapy for my child?

How can I access speech and language therapy?

Speech and language therapy can be a vital way to help improve the quality of life of your son or daughter by helping them communicate, learn, develop their language and achieve their true potential.

Expert therapy is carried out by qualified Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) who are trained to help children and adults improve their communication abilities and skills.

SLTs usually work with children, and their parents, on an individual basis to provide a customised programme of support to meet specific needs and goals. This is usually based on a development plan that identifies key communication, language and learning difficulties and how to help overcome these and reach important goals and milestones.


Speech and language therapy can be accessed free of charge on the NHS. You can contact your local NHS Speech and Language Therapy service, or speak to your GP, Health Visitor or school staff about a referral. Some schools also employ specialist speech and language therapists where demand is high with many children needing urgent improvement in their learning and language skills.

If you get referred to the NHS you will normally be put on a waiting list to access speech and language therapy.

However, waiting lists can be long. According to a survey by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists some children have had to wait a year to see a therapist. The institution suggests quality of care has been impacted by NHS cuts as half of services across the NHS, schools and local authorities in the UK have had budgets significantly reduced.

Private speech therapy

The alternative to the NHS waiting lists is private therapy with qualified speech and language therapists. You can contact speech and language therapists directly without an NHS referral. You will need to pay for any therapy. But the advantage is you can start assessing and addressing your child’s communication problems much sooner and seek improvements when it can matter most.

As well as Iris Speaks, which provides access to affordable speech and language assessment and therapy in your own home, you can contact the Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice to find your local independent therapists.

This sort of service also allows you to make appointments at times to suit you and your child and see therapists more frequently to maximise the impact and improvements for your son or daughter.

You can top up your NHS therapy

And remember accessing an independent speech and language therapist doesn’t have to mean you lose your place in the NHS queue.

You can see a therapist before you get NHS treatment and continue, if you wish to, in conjunction with, or after any help you get from the NHS.

Whichever route you choose, timely and effective speech and language therapy can have a vital impact on the communication and quality of life of your child.

Iris Speaks helps parents by providing quick, affordable and flexible access to qualified and highest quality speech and language therapists for children in their own home.


Useful links:

Royal Collegeof Speech and Language Therapists

Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice:

ICAN – The Child Communication Charity:

Related articles:

What is speech and language therapy?

How to tell if my child has a speech or language issue

How can speech and language therapy help my child?





So what actually is speech and language therapy?

So what actually is speech and language therapy?

What is speech and language therapy?

Speech and language therapy is all about improving the quality of life of children and adults by helping them communicate more effectively.

It can help people of all ages, from your son or daughter through to your relatives or friends.

20%, or one in 5 of us, may experience communication difficulties at some point, so speech and language therapy is vital in improving so many aspects of our lives.

Who does speech and language therapy help?

Speech and language therapy can help children who are struggling to communicate or learn and develop their language or speech – from infants, pre-school children, to those in their early school years and beyond.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists highlights that speech, language and communication needs are the most common type of special education needs in those aged 4-11 years old.

Expert therapy may address speech and language communication difficulties, such as stammering, which in itself affects 1 in 20 children, pronunciation difficulties, difficulty in putting sentences together or understanding words, their meanings or what parents and teachers are saying.

Speech and language therapy can also help other conditions such as learning difficulties or hearing problems. Or even picking up and understanding English as a second language.

ICAN, the children’s communication charity, estimates more than 1 million children in the UK have communication difficulties.

What do speech and language therapists do?

Speech and language therapists are qualified experts that provide much needed learning and communication skills to children so that they can fulfil their potential, and not be left behind when they are infants, at school or as they grow up. They also work with adults to help them with acquired communication disorders like the impact of a stroke, head injury and memory or swallowing issues with dementia.


Iris Speaks understands family lives are hectic. So we enable parents to access qualified speech and language therapists for children at a time that works for your family and in the secure and comforting environment of your own home.  



Useful links:

Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists


ICAN – The Child Communication Charity:

Related articles:

How can I tell if my child has a speech or language issue?