A recent survey of headteachers found that concerns about lack of school readiness have increased, with 97% of respondents identifying speech, language and communication needs as their greatest concern. Nearly three three quarters of health visitors also report that they have seen a significant growth in numbers of children with speech and communication delay over the past two years.
Why are we concerned? There have been a number of key reports published recently, for example the Communication Trust's Talking about a Generation and the Early Intervention Foundation's Language as a Wellbeing Indicator that have highlighted the importance of children's early language development for their life chances. While most children develop language easily, a significant minority will have difficulties.
Do the early years matter? We know that language development at the age of 2 (understanding and use of vocabulary and use of two or three word sentences) strongly predicts children’s performance on entry to primary school. Early spoken language skills are the most significant predictor of literacy levels at 11, and children with poor vocabulary skills at age 5 are four times more likely to have reading difficulties in adulthood. So, yes, supporting early language development should be a priority.
Providing children with a language rich environment that supports their communication and language development is essential. Sharing books, singing nursery rhymes and action songs, playing with toys, and talking about everyday activities both inside and outside provide many enjoyable opportunities for developing language. Good language skills not only impact each child's ability to succeed at school and their future employment prospects, but also on their mental health and overall wellbeing.