Implementing strategies to support & develop language in early years.

Created on: 24 Mar 2020 | Last modified: 20 Apr 2023

Giving Communication the High 5 – Implementing strategies to support and develop language in the early years.

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Emma Hamilton

Originating Organisation or Projects
EIS Action Research Grants 2018-19


Language and communication skills are essential for young children to develop in order to make progress socially, emotionally and intellectually. An estimated 10% of children have long term speech, language and communication difficulties. In areas of deprivation, over 50% of children start school with delayed communication skills, although given the right support and intervention in the early years many children can catch up. The impact of language and communication difficulties can be life-long and severe: at least 60% of young offenders have communication difficulties.

To support early years officers, teachers and parents in effectively developing language in the early years, Fife Speech and Language Therapists devised the Communication High 5. These are 5 simple strategies that all adults working with children can use in order to promote and support language development: face to face, thinking time, questions into comments, wow words and signs, symbols, objects. This research project was designed to evaluate the effectiveness of these strategies in supporting and improving language development of children in two nurseries in north east Fife.

Language development is difficult to measure accurately; many different factors contribute to language development including home environment, innate intellectual ability and quality interactions, and each child follows their own individual trajectory of language progression. I used a combination of quantitative and qualitative data to attempt to reflect and capture the fluid, multi-faceted development of language, including discussions with colleagues, parent survey, parent focus group, a nursery environment audit, a language observation tool and the Renfrew Word Finding Vocabulary Test.

The results showed that most children are developing language successfully, with many above average for their age, and showed that both the home and nursery environments are positively contributing to this. Although it was difficult to measure definitively to what extent the Communication High 5 strategies contributed to the language development of the children, they are a cost-effective, simple way to highlight the importance of early language development to all early years staff and parents. Giving language and communication prominence in the early years is an effective way to begin to narrow the poverty-related attainment gap and ensure that all children achieve their potential. The Communication High 5 strategies are a useful tool in achieving this.


How can I use this resource?

Findings in this study may guide advocacy and further research on the topic of staff training on early language development, as part of initial training and as CPD for qualified staff. Without an understanding of typical language development and language delays or difficulties, staff will lack the necessary skills to effectively support and promote language in the early years.

Staff training and raising awareness of the importance of developing language in the early years is an investment in the future of Scotland’s children, playing an important role in enabling every child to reach their potential, and fulfilling our ambition for Scotland to be the best place in the world in which to grow up. 

Emma presented her findings and research experience for new ARG Researchers in June 2019. Her presentation is available here.