Catch up with Chatty Bats

The Chatty Bats Language Development Programme is an accessible and engaging solution for developing understanding and use of language; it helps close the language gap for children with delays, crucial during times of disrupted education.

Lockdown impacts language development

Research by the Education Endowment Foundation suggests that measures taken to control the pandemic have deprived young children of much of the social contact and variety of experiences that underpin language development.

Many children have had limited or no contact with grandparents and friends. They have had fewer opportunities for activities and outings which would introduce them to new vocabulary. Social distancing and the wearing of face masks have made social interaction and conversations more challenging.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that of the 58 primary schools surveyed across England 76% said that children starting school last September needed more support with communication than in previous years.

The schools highlighted three areas of the children’s development that they were concerned about:

  • speech and language development (96%)
  • personal, social and emotional development (91%)
  • literacy skills (89%)

Without a good strong home language, many children struggle to develop the skills which are key to future learning and social and emotional development.

Good practice to support language is therefore absolutely core to high quality provision. This is important for all children, though crucial for children who start school with language difficulties; children who maybe don’t have a well-developed vocabulary, who may struggle to understand or use their language for making their needs known, having conversations or supporting their learning. These children often need further opportunities to learn language.

The solution

Children are starting school with these difficulties and can benefit enormously from structured language teaching in small group interactions. However, with so many pressures on early years practitioners, it can be difficult to design and plan these approaches.

The Chatty Bats programme aimed to do this work for practitioners. It was developed by Wendy Lee at LINGO in response to the growing speech, language and communication needs seen in the schools and settings we were working with. We wanted to create something with a strong evidence base, easy for staff to implement, engaging and interactive for the children, and of course, resulted in positive outcomes.

Impact

Chatty Bats was introduced into the nursery and reception classes of 52 schools as part of a Strategic School Improvement Fund project. Over 80% of schools reported the highest rating of ‘good impact’ on practice and all schools reported a positive impact on children’s outcomes with 75% reporting a ‘good impact’.

All the children made good progress and also showed increased confidence and engagement. A small sample of children measured on the standardised Preschool CELF show an average progress of:

  • 14 months in receptive language
  • 7.5 months in expressive vocabulary

The programme

Chatty Bats combines a robust dialogic reading methodology with a structured hierarchy of language activities:

  • Shared reading and small group structured play sessions nurture and support children aged 3-5 to become more confident and independent as their understanding and spoken language develops.

‘I love the story and the puppets’ Millie

  • Additional activities for the classroom enhance the communication supportive environment and provide additional ideas for practitioners to support language across the provision.

‘We have just completed Chatty Bats and the pre/post data is good. I think a lot of the impact is around the fact that it has tuned staff into what the children do and how they learn.’ Teacher

  • Strategies and activities to share with parents and carers.

Approach

The Clickety Early Soundplay stories and the structured language activities are developed by speech and language therapists. Stories are written with careful attention to language structures and early phonological awareness skills supporting language and early literacy development.

The structured play based language activities support vocabulary, understanding and use of language, problem solving and narrative skills within the small group sessions.

Guidance for shared reading and over 40 additional activities for use across continuous provision supports generalisation of language learned, imaginative play and language development for all children across the setting.

Design

The 10-week programme includes everything the practitioner needs to deliver it with confidence.

There is no requirement for specific training although online training is available.

Contents include

  • 5 of the Clickety Early Soundplay books with finger puppets or wipe-clean wooden animals
  • 30 small group sessions with activities and materials
  • Over 40 additional activities for the whole class and parents
  • Monitoring and evaluation documentation

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