Talk About, the project all Norfolk settings are talking about

The Talk About project provides early years speech, language and communication needs (SLCNs) support in Norfolk.

Following on from the success of the Norfolk based project Every Child A Talker (ECAT), Talk About is a collaborative project which is currently funded by Norfolk County Council. If the project is successful in its aim to raise the quality of speech and language practice within Norfolk’s early years settings, the council may decide to continue funding the scheme. It has been developed and managed by a team of experts at Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust’s Speech and Language Service and provides training for staff who work in a range of early years settings (nurseries, pre-schools, playgroups, reception classes) to assist practitioners in identifying and supporting children (aged 3-5 years old) who are experiencing difficulties in developing their speech, language and communication skills. As professionals we know that speaking, listening and interacting well with others are fundamental skills which are the building blocks to enjoying and achieving in both the early years and in later life. The early childhood years are a critical period for the development of these skills and the best time to implement interventions to support children who are experiencing difficulties.

Since pledging my setting to the project, I have taken on the role of Early Language Lead Practitioner (ELLP) alongside another practitioner from my setting. One of the benefits gained from joining is the abundance of free training offered by the 10 speech and language therapists who form the core group leading the project. Between myself and the deputy ELLP we have attended a range of courses including:

  • Hanen Teacher Talk
  • Every Child A Talker (ECAT) Monitoring
  • Signalong
  • Working with Selective Mutism
  • Early Language Development Programme
  • Expressive Language and Vocabulary Difficulties
  • Speech Sound Difficulties
  • Attention and Listening Difficulties
  • Difficulties Understanding Language
  • Working with Autism and Social Communication Difficulties
  • Working with Stammering
  • Working in Groups to Support Children’s Language
  • Elklan: Speech and Language Support for Under 5s (10 week, level 3 course)

All of these courses have ranged from 3 hours to a whole day or even 10 weeks. Needless to say, it has required some flexible working and attendance of courses outside operating hours. The Elklan course is the longest and most in-depth (completion of a Level 2 or 3 portfolio is recommended at the start of the programme), I intend to write a short review once the final session is complete. Next week will be the penultimate session and I dare say that I will be saddened to finish, despite the Monday evening session time!


“Autism and Me” – a documentary by Rory Hoy

Rory Hoy (18) produced a short award-winning film providing viewers with his perspective of the world around him.
Ordinarily, this might be described as any teen’s video diary but Rory shares his world with one crucial difference: he has autism. Rory highlights the absurdity of clinical language usage when attempting to describe the lens through which children and adults on the autistic spectrum experience life. He uses accessible terminology to instil meaning in his day-to-day experiences, which allows the viewer to understand and empathise with some of the challenges presented by things like: high noise levels, crowded environments, hypersensitivity, changes in routine and figures of speech (particularly poignant for those in early years settings).

It’s a wonderful, engaging film that deserves a place on every practitioner’s shelf and in every setting’s CPD toolkit.


Speech and Language in the Early Years INSET

Speech and Language in the Early Years

In Setting Training Agenda – 2012

The aim of this training is to support and develop practitioners’ understanding of children’s speech, language and communication development, knowledge of normal patterns of development, monitoring practices, effective multi-agency working, fostering parental partnerships and best practices when working with children with communicative difficulties.

10am -12pm Introduction
Why is communication so important?
Language Acquisition Theories
Contemporary Research-based Approaches to Communication
Types of Communicative Difficulties and Impairments
12-12.45pm LUNCH
12.45-3.30pm Practical Application of Theory
Augmentative and Alternative Means of Communication
British Sign Language, Sign Along and Makaton
The role of Early Years Practitioners, Speech and Language Therapists (SALTs) and other professionals


Full slides and supporting materials (speaker’s notes, appendix, handouts, activity outlines) to follow.

Patricia Kuhl’s The Linguistic Genius of Babies video can be found here.

Charles Limb’s Building the Musical Muscle video can be found here.

Leadership and Communication Presentation

Recently I gave a presentation on communicative leadership skills. As part of this I offered the audience examples (positive and negative) from my own experiences both as a leader and as a “follower”. I found the feedback to be overwhelmingly positive; most of the practitioners had experienced both roles either formally or informally at some point during their lives and were able to relate to the examples I illustrated. 


Slides and supporting materials to follow.



Top 5 TED Talks of the Week

My favourite app of the moment is the TED Talks application. The app description reads: “Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.” Its genius is in its simplicity; a collection of short (3-18 minute) TED talks, updated on a daily basis, on such a variety of topics that you can easily skip from neurobiological researchers talking about phantom limbs to a man discussing why it’s important that children have access to real power tools (rest assured, the two talks weren’t linked). All the information of the TED website in one tiny pixellated box.

For those of you not yet acquainted with TED, it could be described thusly:

“TED is a non-profit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED). Since then its scope has become ever broader. Along with two annual conferences TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Project and TED Conversations, the inspiring TED Fellows and TEDx programs, and the annual TED Prize.”

I’ve chosen 5 talks for a variety of reasons ranging from the purely interesting, the inspiring and those able to spark discussions. So, without further ado I present this week’s top 5 TED Talks:

  1. Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity. [9,838,473 views on TED Talks] Easily one of the most infamous TED Talks, Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity. “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
  2. Annie Murphy Paul: what we learn before we’re born. Science writer Annie Murphy Paul talks through research that shows how much we learn in the womb – from the lilt of our native language to particular foods the outside environment. I watched this during lunch one day at work and found myself utterly enthralled by the concept of the womb environment having such a far-reaching influence on health later on in life. Needless to say I spent the evening sourcing further reading.
  3. Charles Limb: building the musical muscle. Charles Limb performs cochlear implantation, a surgery that treats hearing loss and can restore the ability to hear speech. From the perspective of a musician, Limb thinks about what the implants lack: the ability to fully experience music. At TEDMED, Limb reviews the state of the art and the way forward. One of my first significant experiences with communicative difficulties arose when one of my key children was diagnosed as being profoundly deaf. After a successful cochlear implantation, I set about liaising with professionals and practitioners to ensure she had the best possible start in her new, noisy life. I remember trying to explain to the other children (and occasionally parents) how the implant worked and the sounds it produced, before seeking to acquire a approximation to share. For an example see here.
  4. Gever Tulley teaches life lessons through tinkering.  In this talk, Gever Tulley (founder of the Tinkering School) uses photos and video to demonstrate the valuable lessons children learn at his school. He supplies them with tools, materials and support; then allows their imaginations to run wild and fosters creative problem-solving culminating in a variety of projects including boats, bridges and even a roller-coaster!
  5. Ron Gutman: the hidden power of smiling. Ron Gutman reviews a raft of studies about smiling and reveals some surprising results including: your smile can be a predictor of how long you’ll live, a simple smile has a measurable effect on your overall well-being, it’s a evolutionarily contagious behaviour and children can smile up to 400 times a day (in comparison to adults’ 20). After watching this video I felt quite healthy knowing that I tend to smile more than 20 times a day, and set out to find more information on facial expressions. After reading Charles Darwin’s “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” and about the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), I found an interesting interactive smile experiment on the BBC website alongside some truly awe-inspirinresearch carried out by Professor Campbell (Consultant and Director of Ultrasound for Create Health, London).

1 in 10 children in the UK have communication difficulties that require specialist help

Imagine spending the next 24 hours unable to express yourself, unable to make your needs known or simply unable to interact with others. The essential speech, language and communication skills you practice daily are often taken for granted; speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) are sometimes referred to as “invisible” difficulties. “Speech, language and communication needs” is a general term used to describe any kind of difficulties with speech and language. It is estimated that 1 in 10 children in the United Kingdom have communication difficulties that require specialist help. Children with communication difficulties may seem withdrawn, isolated or labelled as “poorly behaved”. Too frequently these children’s needs are missed, presumed to be “shy” or seen as “difficult” due to the challenges they experience in socialising, reading or learning.

Awareness of the key features of speech, language and communication difficulties can enable the practitioners, teachers and carers who observe children to spot areas for development as early as possible. Early intervention can ensure that children receive the right help to learn, make friends and fulfil their potential.

A child with speech, language and communication needs may:

  • have speech that is difficult to understand
  • struggle to say words or sentences
  • not understand words that are being used, or the instructions they hear
  • have difficulties knowing how to talk and listen to others in a conversation

Children may have just some or all of these difficulties; they are all unique. If you have concerns about a child’s speech, language or communication skills, speak to your SENCO, local speech and language therapist or Local Authority Advisor. The first step to helping a child find their voice, is noticing the little clues that complete the big picture.

For further information, resources and publications:
Department for Education – Early Support materials, the Parent Booklet on Communication is useful for both parents and practitioners. I keep a copy near the Parents’ and Carers’ Noticeboards as well as a copy on the staff bookshelf.
I CAN – charity website with a huge array of resources, links, information on I CAN accredited settings, fundraising that focuses on building communication skills (and awareness of SLCN) and a wonderful “call-back” service enabling parents and carers to speak to a speech and language therapist.
Talking Point – a trove of information on communication difficulties, complete with parental advice tool and free resources.