Montessori Alliance

Speech and Language Therapy Course Day – Caroline McDonnell

Posted by Administrator on August 29, 2017

Today I attended a Speech and Language Therapy Course Day provided by HSE Meath SLT Department, Health Promotion Unit.   It was delivered by two Speech and Language Therapists from Meath; Aoife & Yvonne.   An invitation arrived in the post about this course back in May, with various dates and venues to suit your geographical area within Meath.  But what drew my immediate attention to the letter was that it was addressed to ‘Dear Preschool Teacher’ and I knew that this would be a very co-professional day for us and the SL Therapists.   Places were on a first come first basis and to my knowledge, these spaces filled up immediately and later had a ‘Waiting List’ for any cancellations.

We choose the Dunshaughlin Health Centre venue, approximately 17 – 20 Preschool Teachers from surrounding areas attended.    The focus for the day (10am – 4pm) was an introduction to supporting speech, language and communication skills in the preschool classroom.

We explored communication; what is it and how it is the most important skill we need in life.  Good communication skills are fundamental for future learning and development, with the first 5 years being the most crucial in terms of brain development.   The SL therapists used the analogy of a ‘Communication Tree’, (adapted from Law, Parkinson & Tamhne, 2000). The roots representing the foundation skills for communication such as;

  • non-verbal communication
  • gesture/pointing
  • turn taking
  • motor/sound
  • imitation
  • attention
  • play skills
  • facial expression
  • eye contact,
  • sight
  • hearing and listening.

Particular focus was placed on play and how it is linked to children’s communication, their sequential play and sequential language.

The trunk represented language comprehension; the understanding and making sense of language known as receptive language.   Finally, the branches, leaves and flowers signified expressive language, joining words together into sentences, stories and conversations, knowing and choosing the right words to explain what you mean.  Surrounding this ‘Communication Tree’ and intertwined in every section of the tree were social skills. The soft skills associated with social competence are needed in order to develop the tools and ability to communicate with others.

In a group activity, we explored the ‘Communication Chain’ and discovered that each link is interconnected, overlapped and a complex mechanism for communication. There were up to 16 ‘links’ on this chain including receptive and expressive language skills.   We discussed non-verbal communication and visual schedules.   Many of the Teachers shared their various methods of displaying the schedule of the day, schedule for hand washing, choosing activities and also about ‘Let’s make a deal’ with visual aids to prompt ‘now and then’ or ‘when I have completed x, y, and z….I can do……’

Visual strategies support learning and development, teach routines, help children express themselves, promote independence and are useful for children who are multilingual or to whom English is not their first language.

Many other strategies and activities to support speech, language and communication development were explored and shared.   Observe, Wait, Listen/Look (think of the wise OWL) is a particularly useful strategy as we often rush children, neglect to wait for a response and unintentionally disable the child from responding.   Questions about waiting included the following:-

  • Why am I waiting? To give the child time to take in what you have said, come up with a response and then respond
  • What am I waiting for? For your child to do something new or more of what they were already doing. (look, gaze, point, gesture, sound, word etc.)
  • What do I do while I wait? Look expectantly, it’s the best type of waiting. Lean forward and look at your child with an expectant look.
  • How long do I wait? Some children need 1 or 2 seconds some need much longer.

Multilingualism was discussed and the promotion and encouragement provided to parents to talk to their child in whichever language they feel most comfortable and are proficient in was stressed.  Initially a child may be silent; he may understand the new language but not use it.  This is normal and can last 6 – 8 months.  Multilingual children can also ‘code switch’ i.e. mix the new language and the home language in one sentence.   Research tells us that when children are acquiring a new language it can take anything from 3 – 5 years to be socially proficient and 5 – 7 years to be academically skilful.

Research now provides us with clear evidence that children’s vocabulary at the age of 5 is a very strong predictor of the qualifications achieved at school leaving age and beyond (Feinstein & Duckworth, 2006). 5 year old children with normal non-verbal skills but poor vocabulary were one and a half times more likely to have literacy difficulties or have mental health problems at age 34. (Law et al, 2010).    Children need to learn about 8 new words every day to have a recommended vocabulary of 14,000 words by the age of 6.   Did you know that children need to hear a word 300 – 1,000 times before they use it!  Some might argue this when you think of those ‘bad words’ that we sometimes hear on occasion!

To expand on children’s vocabulary, we need to model the words, use a variety of multi-sensory activities, encourage topic work, use books and involve parents so the words are reinforced at home too.  Question words such as what? who? and where? are most appropriate for preschool children.  The how? and why? question words involve a lot more linguistic skills and comprehension.  Having said that, each Teacher will know the abilities of the children in their classroom and is well placed to use appropriate language that adds and extends the child’s own vocabulary.   We were also remined about the expressive vocabulary stages of development and this is very similar to what Dr. Maria Montessori taught as her ‘Three Period Lesson’ – Introduce the vocabulary and category (This is…..), Check the understanding (Show me…..) and then Name (What is this..) and finally were appropriate, expand on the language, word association, characteristics etc.  Some activities for targeting vocabulary were as follows: – (many will be familiar with these in a Montessori environment)

  • Picture matching tasks
  • Categorisation activities
  • Concept work – circle time/small group/1:1
  • Word webs
  • Mind maps – these are a great method to help with recording what the children already know about a topic/theme and then following new learning and understanding, revisit the Mind Map and add all the new words that has been learned to it (more evidence of documentation for parents, children and inspections)

We moved on to Phonological Awareness and some discussion was shared about the idea that Preschool Teachers are now not allowed to teach phonics. However, as the SL Therapists pointed out, Aistear the curriculum framework clearly outlines in its learning goals that ‘Adults support young children in developing their language: by drawing attention to letters and their sounds as part of their daily activities, play and routines.’

So what is phonological awareness for young children?   It is the awareness of the structure of the words they hear and involves

  • Rhyme Awareness
  • Syllable Awareness
  • Sound (phoneme) Awareness.

Phonological awareness is so much more than teaching the letter sounds and for preschool children it should always be supported in a playful, meaningful and child-led manner.  We divided into small groups and our practical task was to ‘Think of an activity that you use regularly in the classroom…..Think about how you can support the development of: Expressive language: vocabulary; Concepts; Phonological awareness; and Receptive language; (understanding);  All of this was then linked with Aistear’s Themes and appropriate Aims and Goals.

Finally the SL Therapists advised us on ‘When should we be concerned’ and provided a very useful link to a Communication Trust booklet: ‘Universally Speaking The Ages and Stages of Children’s communication development from birth – 5 years.  We looked at typical and atypical communication development.

What can the preschool Teacher do?

  • Check for isolated errors – the sound might only be a problem in one word and not in others
  • Model the correct pronunciation by repeating the word/sentence back (but do not say ‘no no that’s not how you say it’….)
  • Auditory discrimination/listening exercise and activities (but not asking the child to say the word)
  • Phonological awareness activities e.g. songs, rhymes etc.
  • Monitor over 3 -6 months for change
  • Refer into SLT service if ongoing concern by acting in partnership with parents.

How to Refer:

  • Anyone can refer; parents/teachers/you
  • Use the Forms provided by the services – one parent signature is enough
  • Enable Ireland: if there are concerns about more than speech and language development e.g. social communication/play/falling/tripping/attention/feeding etc.
  • Primary Care Team, HSE: if there are concerns about a specific area of development
  • IF UNSURE….RING Your local health centre/Enable Ireland office

In conclusion it was a really worthwhile course day and appropriate CPD for Preschool Teachers.  More importantly it was an opportunity for building relationships with other professionals in the field of Early Childhood & Health with a shared co-professional dialogue.   These kinds of days are so important for professionals working in the Early Years sector as they support our professional status, give recognition to the vital role we play in society and most importantly is focused on the child.   On filling out the feedback form at the end of the session I commented Training Days should be part of an official CPD hours and paid for as part of a non-contact allocation under the ECCE Programme.  We must continue to lobby for this allocation and use it for co-professional dialogue with the SLT/OT therapists, Primary School Teachers, particularly Infant Teachers and Educational Trainers.  If you do get the opportunity to attend this course then I would highly recommend it.

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