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GESS Education

Inclusivity in the Early Years

Louise is an Inclusion Consultant working with hundreds of schools and thousands of students across the Middle East.

In this article, she talks about some of the more recent experiences and challenges she is facing in schools and Early Years settings.

One of the challenges for practitioners working with children in the first few years of life is understanding if a delay in development is nature, nurture or a combination.  Professionals have long known that early intervention is key to early development (Paul and Roth, 2011).  This does not mean that people are not able to be successful later in life, but giving a child solid foundations in early years means that progress and success can be seen much earlier.

This has been a challenge since the ‘Covid Years’.  Early Years practitioners have seen widespread challenges around speech, language and communication skills in classrooms, across the world.  Login to Linked In or Twitter and you’ll easily find frustrated professionals.  What do we do?  Should these children be referred for therapy?  What can we do to understand the needs?

The first thing practitioners should do is discuss concerns with families.  Asking questions such as: Do the children talk at home? Do they find their children’s communication in line with sibling development, friends or family members?  Some families will not hesitate to seek immediate professional advice from paediatric development practitioners or therapists.  Others are more reluctant, and that is ok too.  Have constructive conversations and take your lead from the families. Be careful of the language you use, indicate a delay but don’t indicate a special need. Parents have a right to be notified if you are seeing a challenge.  Some families do struggle with the concept that a delay may be present, and that is okay too.  Resist the temptation to ‘tell’ them what to do and take them on the journey with you.  Provide clear and evidence based information and allow them to make their own decisions from the options you provide.  Options often include

1) wait and see, maintaining records

2) introduce an intervention and wait and see,

3) work with a paediatrician to gather more information

4) refer to a Speech and Language Therapist for observation and screening.

Secondly, I would advise conducting an internal baseline assessment to understand the strengths of a child and the areas in which they are struggling.  One of my favourite, quick and easy assessments is WellComm.  Created by GL, WellComm comes in two packs.  6 months to 6 years and 6 years to 11 years.  A very simple baseline can be completed in less than 10 minutes with a student 1:1.  This can be conducted in class, when other children are working on an activity, it can also very easily be conducted by a classroom assistant.  The results provide a clear idea of abilities and challenges.  Once you use this tool to screen all your students you will be left with a handful of trends across the groups.  You can then weave these skills into your daily practice and record improvements.

When it comes to interventions, schools often feel that children need to do this in isolation, away from the class and this becomes time, staff and finance dependent.  Instead, teachers can use the WellCoom books to implement activities into their lessons for all children.  It does not harm other children to recap on skills already mastered.  Use those children to support other children and model the conversation in pairs.  The activities are stepped in three levels so you can step down or step up, if children are struggling or successful.

Teachers should never underestimate the need for group song and group dance.  When my children were young, the Tweenies and the Wiggles were daily staples in my class and at home. Dancing, completing actions and singing along was great fun but also great for attention, focus, speech, gross and fine motor, communication and coordination.  Today you can find millions of videos on YouTube to engage your young ones in song and dance.  Watch for those children who are not joining in verbally.  Row Row Row the Boat is great for the core.  Incy Wincy Spider is great for pencil grip.  You get the idea!

Use lots of visuals and hand gestures to supplement speech, but do not replace speech with signs or images, use them together.  Seeing a picture of a ‘dog’, at the same time as hearing the word ‘dog’ helps children to make links.  If you have the budget, then I recommend becoming Makaton trained, but you already know basic signs like ‘drink’ without the training.  Again the internet has lots of support to enable you to self learn signs, without a budget.

Finally, do not automatically jump to the conclusion that reduced speech means special needs.  Speech delay alone is not an accurate identifier.  If your expertise feels that there is more than just speech delay then I certainly encourage you to make simple notes over a couple of weeks about your concerns.  Lack of sharing, dislike of noise or light, dislike of getting playing with water or messy play, and the opposite of not being able to move from water or messy play; and so on.  Implement a strategy to reduce the impact of the concern and if that intervention doesn’t work you have more evidence to support your concern.  Providing this clear evidence to parents and specialists is vital to support parents on their journey and specialists with accurate information.  What we must also remember, when working in multi-language, multi- cultural schools, is that the delay could be covid/mask/exposure related, but could also be home language related.

Regardless of the longer term needs, create a language rich communication environment in your setting with visuals, labels, signs, song, dance and opportunity for everyone.  Give your children all the exposure to language and speaking that you can and make records over a period of time.  Should none of these strategies demonstrate improvement then you have the evidence parents, teachers and specialists need to implement the correct support moving forwards.

If your team would like to learn more about in class strategies Louise can be contacted on

Paul, Diane, Roth, Froma P., (2011) Guiding Principles and Clinical Applications for Speech-Language Pathology Practice in Early Intervention. Language, Speech & Hearing Services in Schools, 01611461, Jul2011, Vol. 42, Issue 3.

Author : Louise Dawson,

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