EYFS – Communication & Language

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The third of our blogs will concentrate on Communication and Language and we will discuss why we feel the outdoors can help to support children in this area.

 

I have known for a while how the outdoors supports children’s Physical development and PSED but it wasn’t until a staff member disseminated training about communication that I had a penny drop moment. The EYFS highlights that the three prime areas of learning are central for underpinning all the other areas of development and we will discuss the reasons why children should be outdoors more. Our first three blogs highlight why an outdoor environment is essential for building solid foundations for children and urges all those working with children to challenge their own assumptions about the outdoors.

Our morning starts with registration, children enter, hang their backpacks up and sit around the campfire. Each child then has the option to bring in a toy from home to share for show and tell, the children sit quietly and listen to their peers confidently speak about their toy or experience. This helps children build up vocabulary that reflects the breadth of their experiences and allows them to use vocabulary that focuses on objects and people that are of particular importance to them. If they share something that they did at the weekend then they are able to retell a past event in the correct order.  We then bring the children’s names out and we will differentiate the questioning in terms of phonetics to the age and stage of the child. The routine of this will help children to maintain attention, concentrate and sit quietly. The children then go and place their name on their peg, take their water out of their backpacks and place another name tag on their drink. By responding to simple instructions we are able to see if children understand what is being asked, for older children we will use instructions with several actions and for younger we will only use a couple of key action words. “Reading, writing and listening, the ability to sit still and focus attention on one task without being distracted, are all linked to maturity in the functioning of the central nervous system. (CNS) Not only is the CNS developed through physical play, but CNS maturity is reflected in specific physical skills such as posture control, balance, coordination and control of eye movements” (Too much too soon, 2011:140)

Next we do the risk assessment as it is essential that children have a thorough understanding of how to keep themselves safe within the woodland; as the only thing that separates the children from our space is a red and white boundary tape. We may also have had people in during the night that may have left litter or allowed their dogs to foul. The children have to navigate around the site looking for broken glass, litter, dog poo and to check the tape is still up. We ask the children ‘why’ we don’t leave litter and the impact this has on the wildlife, what happens if we touch glass, that dog poo carries germs and nasties and why we don’t go under the tape. We talk about stranger danger and what a stranger is, and what happens if a dog comes onto site and ‘how’ we respond if this happens. The safeguarding of the children is our main priority and we need to know and trust that children understand how to keep themselves safe within the setting. Just because they’re 3 and 4 does not mean that they don’t know how to keep themselves safe, if you make this your priority children gain a deep understanding of what constitutes a risk and they will strive to keep themselves safe. We have an environment that is considered extremely risky and hazardous but we have had less than 10 accidents in the past 15 months and we believe this is because children understand how to keep themselves safe.

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The importance of early language and communication skills for later achievements is now well documented (ICAN Report 2006, Roulstone et al 2011), and we need to provide support for children at this early stage so that they can achieve their full potential later on”. (Building Blocks for Communication 2013)  In our Physical Development blog we talked about how the environment helps strengthen children’s core and how developing these muscles can help develop speech. If children do not have opportunities to develop the core, then the muscles in the neck and jaw will be weak which can lead to speech delay. This is one of the reasons why this type of environment supports children’s speech development and why practitioners should be looking at their outdoor environments as an initial strategy, for those children who may need additional speech and language support.

One of the training courses that has had a big impact on our understanding of language has been the building blocks for communication. It looks at the essential skills needed for children to be competent with communication. The language pyramid has a six tier hierarchy, the first level looks at whether children are able to develop positive relationships with other people, listening and attention is second, the third is that they understand what is being asked, the fourth looks at whether or not they can play, next comes talking and the final stage looks at speech sounds. The first four building blocks represent skills that form the foundations for communication and if the foundation skills are not fully in place, then intervention needs to be directed in these areas.

One of the things that practitioners were asked to do within the training was a noise audit and to monitor their settings in terms of distractions. It asks practitioners to think about the background noise and visual distractions as they can have an effect on children’s speech development. Visual distractions would be things like brightly coloured displays, too many toys, lots of staff, lots of children, and people coming in and out. Noise distractions are things like radios, multiple conversations going on, crying, shouting, flushing toilets, running taps, the doorbell ringing, toys making noise (cars on floor) and furniture moving.  In comparison, we only have the natural distractions of trees blowing, birds singing and because the children are out all the time, they don’t feel the need to run around shouting, toys are very limited so they do not have a lot of choice, which means children never argue over toys.  We feel that the time, space and freedom the children have in the natural space also supports language and communication.

The environment plays a crucial role in children’s communication and children need the opportunity to play in communication friendly spaces. We find that the children will gravitate towards the climbing tree or the rhododendron bushes and we will selectively place books, imaginary resources or things that will extend and support children’s language. This helps children to imagine and recreate roles and experiences in play situations but also helps to introduce a story or narrative into their play. Our nursery day is filled with songs, rhymes, circle and story time which are repeated daily so children can memorise and enrich their vocabulary. “Orality is acknowledged as the foundation for literacy” (Too much too soon, 2011:184) and our language rich (rather than print rich) environment allows children to practice and extend their vocabulary in an unhurried way. This later prepares the children for phonics, reading and writing.

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Other social times throughout the day are snack time and lunch and we all share our meals around the campfire. This gives us lots of opportunities for social conversation, to talk about healthy foods and why they are good for our bodies and for children to access their packed lunches independently.

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We passionately believe this type of environment offers everything children need to thrive and develop naturally. Nature not only has healing benefits but it offers everything in abundance to support children’s development in a calm, yet challenging way. We follow natures rhythms and adapt a slowliness approach that follows the individual needs of each child, but we ensure that they are given opportunities to extend their learning every day.

We feel that nature has given children everything they need to develop physically, mentally, emotionally and to become resilient individuals. I wrote these blogs to challenge people’s understanding of the importance of the outdoor environment and to highlight how the much it can help children reach the outcomes within the early years foundation stage.

 

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