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How to encourage your child to develop the life-enhancing skills of oracy

By Education, Language, Mental health, reading, Relationships, special educational needs
by Angela Schofield
Oracy Lead, Excelsior Multi-Academy Trust

If you are slightly confused about the term ‘oracy’, which has recently hit the headlines, you are not alone! To summarise, oracy is about communication skills, gaining the skills to engage with other people’s ideas and express your own ideas so that others understand them. At Excelsior Multi Academy Trust, we explicitly teach, practise and assess oracy skills, and see demonstrated how speaking and listening are equally important for effective communication.

Why is oracy so important?
Research has shown that oracy supports children in their academic learning and also in their emotional and social wellbeing. It helps to develop their confidence and instils a sense of belonging, that their voice is welcomed and valued. It is also has a key role in closing the disadvantage gap. Early language and communication skills are closely linked to attainment throughout schooling, and to earnings later in life. The earlier we start to develop oracy skills, the better.

How can you make learning these skills fun at home?
• Playing fun listening games. Enjoy games such as I Spy, 1-20 or describing an image while your child draws it and vice versa. These are all quick games, which develop listening skills too. To practise listening specifically, read a short text and then give a list of words, can they remember which words were from the text? Simple riddle games are good for this too. Try the one below. Explain that you are going to tell a story and then you’ll ask them some questions about it.

You are the bus driver. There are four people on the bus. At the first stop, two people get off and a lady with a bright red hat gets on. At the second stop, a man with a green duffle coat gets off and a small boy with a big dog gets on. At the third stop, four people get off and three people get on. At the fourth stop, two girls get on carrying a large present with a frilly purple bow. (You can continue for longer depending on the age of your child). Finally, ask the question – How old is the bus driver? (The clue is in the first five words).

• Reading to your child. Hearing you read a story, with all the different voices, is not only fun and a time to bond with them, but it also supports them to understand how tone of voice can change the meaning of words and make it more interesting to the listener. Hearing a fluent reader, while they look at the text also helps children to develop fluency in reading.

• Encouraging the expressing of opinions, agree and disagree with reasons. This develops reasoning skills and vocabulary and shows them that it’s OK to disagree. An excellent thing to encourage is changing your mind when someone has given a good reason. You can also frame questions as talking points to encourage extended responses. There are lots of ways to do this and you can choose serious or silly talk activities. We live in a world with a diversity of opinions and being able to listen, engage respectfully and come to your own conclusion is a key life skill.

Ask engaging, fun questions such as:
If I ruled the world, I would … because …
Agree or disagree, Wonder Woman/Spider-Man/ Superman (pick a favourite) is superior to …
Which is better a shark or a lion? Why?

• Engaging in dialogue (not just talk). Talking to your child at home is important, but the evidence shows that it is dialogue that helps children learn language and social skills. Turn taking in a conversation is the important part, so try to avoid the questions, answer and move on cycle of interactions. Just chatting and exchanging ideas is so important for child development and hugely enjoyable. We all have such busy lives now but setting aside a time each day just to talk with, rather than to, them will have a significant impact on their learning and social and emotional learning.

• Playing with and exploring vocabulary. Begin with one word and find opposites or as many synonyms as you can, or find out where words come from. Biscuit, for example, comes from the French for twice baked. Before the introduction of effective food storage, baking twice reduced the moisture in the biscuits making them less likely to attract weevils! Children find these sorts of facts fascinating. There are lots of examples online but for older children, the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins is a useful resource as is the children’s book The Dictionary of Difficult Words.

By starting when your child is young, you’ll not only be helping them to develop their communications skills, you will be giving them a priceless gift that will serve them well throughout their lives. A gift they can, in turn, pass on to the next generation.

Angela Schofield is the Oracy Lead at Excelsior Multi-Academy Trust, which supports six schools in Birmingham. The Trust is committed to ensuring the highest standards of academic performance and places communication skills at the centre of its curriculum. Excelsior provides supports to all its schools to enable them to help their children achieve their goals and ensure they are ready for the next stage of their education. Excelsior MAT was shortlisted for the MAT Excellence awards 2023 in three categories: Employer of the year; Inclusivity; and Wellbeing.

kids shouting in ear

Ten strategies to develop your child’s communication skills

By Education, family, Language, reading
by Ellen Martin
Help Me to Talk

It can be difficult to know how to encourage the development of your child’s communication skills. There are lots of things you can do at home to help. Here are my top 10 strategies for helping your child’s communication.

1 Get down to your child’s level
When communicating with your child, get down and be at their level. Play with them face to face where possible, hold toys up to your face this will draw your child’s attention to you. For example, you could kneel or sit on the floor holding a bubble pot close to your face.

2 Watch and wait
We can often respond to children’s nonverbal requests and needs before they have even initiated them. As parents, you know when your child gets hungry, and you know what snack they will want. So, you pre-empt it, you already have the snack ready before they realise they wanted one! This can remove the need for interaction. Watch your child and wait, see if they will tell you in some way that they are hungry or want something. This could be verbally or it may be through gesture. For example, they may take your hand and guide you to the biscuit tin!

3 Naming/commenting
Simple is key when learning language. Label what you see, keep it to one word, and keep it simple. For example, when playing with bricks you might say “oh look a big red brick”, instead you could say “brick”. Think about what target words you would like your child to say or learn.

4 Use gestures
Use a gesture or sign when you name or do something. Gestures provide a concrete visual representation and can help your child to understand what you are saying. Make sure with any gesture you are still saying the word. We want the gestures to support talking development, not replace it. Some children do pick up gestures before words, but it is important to continue to model the words.

5 Reduce the questions
When we are asked a question, especially one we do not know the answer to, we feel under pressure. This is the same for children when we ask them questions. They can feel put on the spot, which is difficult for children who are learning to talk. Instead, use a naming or commenting approach and explain what is happening. So rather than asking your child “what’s that?” tell them what it is, give them the opportunity to learn language.

6 Offer choices
Offer your child a choice of two things, for example, at snack time you could offer a banana or a cereal bar, make the choice visual. As you offer each one hold the item up, so it is clear what you are referring to. Offering choices encourages a child to interact, especially when it is something as motivational as food or toys! Your child may indicate their choice using words or gestures.

7 Repeat, repeat, repeat
We learn best when things are repeated, and children are no different. Repeat key words or gestures over and over during play or in your daily life. This will help your child to link the word/gesture with the action or object.

8 Functional communication vs ‘ABC’ and ‘123’
It’s important your child can express their needs and wants using functional communication. This may include words such as ‘go’, ‘more’, ‘help’ ‘stop’ and ‘open’. Words that can be used on their own to communicate but also built on to increase communication. Shapes, letters and numbers aren’t as useful when it comes to communication as they can’t be used to express needs or wants.

9 Follow your child’s lead
We often try to teach children as they play or direct them towards a new activity. Whilst this may create more opportunities for them it can limit communication. Children are more likely to communicate in a familiar activity they enjoy. Allow your child to show you what they enjoy, follow their lead and join in with their play and interactions. You can then use language appropriate to their interests which will help build language and attention skills.

10 Pausing – count to 10 and then give them time
When we are learning something new we need time. Time to listen, process and then respond. This is the same with learning language. By pausing and counting to 10 in your head, we give children time to understand what you have said and respond. If after pausing, they do not respond you can model the words/gestures you would like them to use.

If you would like more strategies and support with your child’s communication skills, then please do get in touch. Help Me To Talk provide engaging sessions at home, nursery, school and virtually to families across Surrey and Hampshire. For children as young as two years old.,


Everyone deserves the right to communication

By Education, Language, Relationships

What is a speech and language therapist and how can they help your child? As a child develops there is an expectation that they will reach certain milestones in their development. This includes their speech, language and communication skills.

Sometimes, children can take longer to meet these milestones, often requiring a little extra time but sometimes they need some support. It is important to remember that no child’s communication journey will be the same, every child takes a different speed.

However, if a child is struggling on their communication journey a speech and language therapist (SLT) is there to help.

Who do we work with?
A SLT is focused on communication and all the different aspects associated with communication. From speech skills to language skills, comprehension skills, attention skills, eating and drinking skills, social skills and fluency skills. The list goes on and on, many people assume our role is similar to that seen in ‘The King’s Speech’. Focusing on a stutter or working on the pronunciation of a sound. However, a SLT works with children as young as two years old and with varying difficulties.

SLT’s work with children with a range of diagnoses such as:
• Speech and language delay
• Developmental language disorder (DLD)
• Speech disorders
• Autistic spectrum disorders
• Disfluency (stuttering/stammering)
• Cleft lip and palate
• Learning difficulties
• Developmental delay
• Down Syndrome
• Social communication delay
• Comprehension delay
• Attention and listening delay
• Swallowing conditions.

Why is a speech and language therapist just playing with my child?
Children learn best when they do not realise they are learning. Play provides vast opportunities for communication, whether that communication is expressed through eye gaze, gesture or talking. Play allows a child to explore the world around them, to share attention with you and to engage. So, whilst it may look as though a SLT is just playing with your child, every toy and activity will be encouraging and developing your child’s communication skills.

I have concerns about my child’s communication skills, should I just wait and see?
Often as a parent, we can become concerned about our child’s abilities. Naturally, we begin to compare them to other children. We can go back and forth with concerns around whether we should seek help or whether we should wait and see. Early intervention is key with communication difficulties – the longer a difficulty is left the harder it can be to resolve and the greater the impact on a child’s overall communication abilities. Diagnosing a delay or condition early can drastically improve the outcome of a child’s communication journey.

If you are concerned about your child’s communication skills, have a chat with a SLT. Most independent practitioners will offer a free phone call to discuss any concerns you have and offer advice.

What should I expect from my first speech and language therapy session?
Usually, the initial session is an assessment session. This is often an informal chat with the parents, finding out your concerns, your child’s developmental history and gaining insight into your child’s interests. Then, the SLT will play with your child, informally assessing their abilities holistically. A child is very unlikely to know it is an assessment – my initial assessment checklist includes bubbles, animals, a pop-up pirate and trains!

If you have any concerns about your child’s communication, no matter how small, don’t delay in contacting a SLT. Everyone deserves the right to communication. We can talk about your concerns and offer you tailored advice and plan the next steps in supporting you and your child. The longer a concern is left, the harder it is to resolve. So contact your local SLT today!

Help Me to Talk provide engaging sessions at home, nursery, school and virtually to families across Surrey. For children as young as two years old. Get in touch today! 07799 677262


The communication and capabilities of a newborn baby

By baby health, Education, Language, play, Relationships, sleep
by Karen Emery
Founder of Haven & Base,
Perinatal Practitioner, Parent Coach & Children’s Sleep Advisor

It wasn’t too long ago that we thought newborn babies couldn’t do much at all, other than eat, sleep and cry. But the exact opposite is true. Newborn babies are born with amazing communication capabilities and are primed and ready for social contact with their parents and caregivers right from birth. More importantly, brain science has shown us just how important this early communication is between a baby and their parent for a baby’s brain development.

Many parents are unaware that a human baby is born with an undeveloped brain and that a baby’s brain and nervous system grows most rapidly in the first few years following birth. A baby’s brain grows and develops in response to their environment but crucially in response to the interactions that a baby shares with their parent(s) and caregivers. Communication is more than talking. It’s any form of message sent from one party to another through sounds, words, or physical hints like body language. From the first moment that your baby is placed in your arms, you and your baby will be communicating with each other. These first glances, sounds, and touches literally shape the way in which your baby’s brain will grow and develop.

Everyone knows that babies cry but did you know that every baby has their own crying repertoire? Every baby has a unique and different cry for a different reason. Unlike other mammal babies, human babies are born completely dependent upon their parent or caregiver for survival and their ability to cry is very important for alerting an adult that something is wrong, or a change is needed. Babies have different cries for different reasons: a hungry baby may cry in a low or short pitched tone, while a baby who is angry or upset may cry in a choppier tone. As your baby grows, you as a parent will be able to recognise and understand what need that your baby is expressing. Even if we as parents cannot always work out why our baby is crying and what our baby is trying to express to us, it’s always important to respond to your baby’s cry for help. Responding to your baby’s cries (even when we may not know what they are crying for) helps to make your baby feel safe, secure, listened to, and heard. You cannot spoil a baby when you are meeting their physical and emotional needs.

Babies love talking! Although a baby doesn’t say a meaningful word until they are about a year old, they love to ‘take turns’ communicating with you as a parent or caregiver with facial expressions, gurgles, coo’s and body language. Why not give this a try? Find a moment when your baby is quiet but alert and give this ‘turn taking’ a go. Position your baby in front of you gazing into their eyes. What ever your baby does – you copy. If your baby gurgles, you gurgle back. Always wait for your baby to respond. This is a beautiful way to connect with your baby but don’t expect a full-blown conversation for hours at a time. Newborns can only manage this type of interaction for a few moments at each sitting before it can become over stimulating for their immature nervous system. As your baby grows and develops you can spend longer gazing at one another and conversing for longer periods each time but it’s always best to follow your baby’s lead. When your baby has had enough, they may look away, grimace, arch their back or posset (spit up milk). Crying is usually the last signal that your baby has had enough, and a change is needed.

This is the second article of three in a series about babies. In my final article, which will be available in the summer edition, I will discuss sleep tips for babies aged from birth until three months old.

You can learn more about how to communicate with your baby by visiting

Karen Emery is available for VIRTUAL one-to-one parent-baby consultations.
You can email her for an appointment at

Talk Talk! Knock, knock. Who’s there? Kanga. Kanga who? No, it’s kangaroo!

By children's health, Education, environment, Language, numeracy skills, reading

Jokes often narrowly miss the mark, but children love them. In amongst the less serious context of joking and any play on words, is a more complex business which plays a much bigger role in our children’s early development than we could ever believe.

Children who are taught about the complexities of the English language through language-rich conversations with their parents or siblings are the same children who get ahead of their peers. As a child soaks in the rich talk at home, they become more adept at sensing intonation, playing with tone, using words in the right context and increasing their chances for a vocabulary advantage in their school. In the last ten years, there has been extensive research about language quality and early talking and how they significantly impact each other. The quality of a child’s language environment has a huge impact on their relationship building, their early reading skills and therefore their access to the curriculum.

“Yes, yes” we hear you say, “but how can we help?” we hear you say. Before they even step through the school gates, some children have been exposed to five times as many words as some of their peers. There are many reasons for this, and we could analyse the amount of time a parent/carer spends on their devices whilst ‘humouring’ a child, or how long a child plays on a device, or plays alone. However, analysing is not the vital thing here, talking is! So significant is this issue that the government have launched an initiative on helping to close the vocabulary gap. Helping every child to have the early advantage of successful language development is likely the best educational priority we can select.

So, what can we do about ensuring every child sees the benefit of the early vocabulary advantage? The remedy is actually so much simpler than you might think. You simply cannot talk too much to your children. I used to explain it as a running commentary when asked what I meant about lots of talk. As breakfast is being prepared, a commentary on the routine will expose your child to the most commonly used vocabulary and when you later go for a walk and see all the natural things around you, your vocabulary may become more complex with new words starting to penetrate their sponge-like brain. For example, “Look Louis, the deer are rutting and making extraordinary noises. Can you see how their antlers can be used to warn away the other male deer? They are called stags.”
This introduces more infrequent words, helping their vocabulary grow more quickly.

There are many activities that you can do with your children in order to help them with their vocabulary:
• Turn-taking.
The quality of our talk is obviously crucial and balanced turn-taking is vital to not only holding the attention of young children, but seeing them develop their language.
• Expanding and modelling.
When your daughter/son says “It’s big car” – you can expand upon it and model the grammar a little too, “Yes – it is a big, red car – isn’t it enormous?”
• Extending and explaining.
Explaining events, such as what is going to happen at the shops, or what happened on holiday last year, is the type of extended talk and language that has a positive impact on a child’s vocabulary developing successfully.

For many of us this is a normal part of parenting life, but for some of us we realise all too quickly the times when we are not talking or even more importantly, actively listening to our children. A really useful tool is using picture books as a stimulus or prompt. Story structure, pace, prediction and vocabulary are all useful spin-offs to a picture book. How often have we as parents flicked through a story at bedtime, our eyes almost closed, skipping pages so that we finish earlier. We have all done it. But, some of those conversations are vital to that ever-growing vocabulary sponge in every child and it is our job to water it. There is no such thing as too much talk.

Tracey Chong is Head at Surbiton High Boys’ Preparatory School, an academic independent IAPS School.

Education, work and learning – do they go together?

By Education, Language, numeracy skills, play, Playing, reading
by Dr Ian Cunningham
SML College

If we take the average 16 year old school pupil, their working week may be longer than that of their parents. Past generations struggled to bring in laws to limit children’s working in factories and other settings. Yet we now find that if we add a young person’s time on schoolwork to their homework and exam revision, then it is not uncommon for them to put in more hours work per week than a parent.

Another factor is that this work is largely imposed, with the individual having little control over the work pressure. What we know from organisational psychology is that long working hours where the person has little control over the work can lead to severe stress and anxiety. The research shows that stress and anxiety in children is increasing.

It was common in my school for teachers to chide pupils who were not working. Working meant working at a prescribed task from the teacher. Also, in modern parlance, there is reference to having pupils ‘on task’. If you are not working at a prescribed problem or task, then it is assumed that you are not learning. Often, when I was criticised in school for not working, I would be thinking about something not to do with what the teacher was prescribing – but it was productive thinking as far as I was concerned. The notion that working and learning must go together doesn’t make sense.

One of our students spent time doodling in school and was criticised for this – but actually it was her way of learning since she had dyslexia and ADHD and she found that drawing was more suitable for her. She described herself as a visual learner. When she came to our College aged 13 she spent a whole year doodling and drawing cartoons, making figures out of plasticine and seemingly nothing else. It may not have appeared that she was learning but she was. Two years later she published her first graphic novel. It’s a novel that has received much praise and sold well. The publishers were quite shocked that a girl as young as 15 (and diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD) was able to produce such mature material. She learned a great deal to do this – but she didn’t see it as work.

Many writers have indicated the importance of play in learning. Educationalists head to Finland to find out about their education system because it is seen as successful. One thing they seem to miss is that children in Finland do not go to school until they are seven. The importance of the kindergarten experience and play seems to get missed. For instance much of the social ability valued by employers is learned through play.

Another use of the notion of work is in the imposition of homework on young people. Note that it is not about home learning. The assumption is that person will work on school-directed tasks while they are away from the school. What we do know is that young people learn a huge amount within the home and from people they interact with outside school. One example from our research on both young people and adults is the value of travel. Unfortunately, schools in England fine parents who take children out of school to travel in term-time.

In our College (for 9-16 year olds) we encourage parents and students to travel, because it provides valuable learning. A good example was a 14-year-old student, whose parents were working for a few months in India. She was able to go with them and carry on with her learning. A lot of the learning was, of course, about the culture, language and norms of another society. For the two months she was away she remained in contact with her group via a weekly Skyping session. Her group was regularly able to engage with her while she was sitting on a beach in India with her laptop.

What has been interesting is how ex-students refer to what they learned at our College. For instance many talk about gaining the social skills that make them highly employable. Now we don’t teach social skills. We create a learning community where students learn to interact freely with others. Some of the learning comes from structured experiences such as the fact that each student gets the chance to chair our morning community meeting. However, much of this learning is from the seemingly non-working side of the College – learning through engaging with others and learning what works and what doesn’t. So long as students learn why should we be bothered about how they do this?

Dr Ian Cunningham is Chair of Governors, SML College 01273 987629

Dyslexia and foreign languages

By Education, Language

by Helen Abbott
Banstead Prep School

How can a child with dyslexia be expected to cope with a foreign language? If children are struggling to learn to read and write in their own language, why should we expect them to learn another?

In every school I have been in, both secondary and primary, I have been told by at least one parent (not asked) that their child is dyslexic and therefore ‘will not be able’ to learn another language. What amazes me is that I have never, not once, been asked specifically what I do to assist dyslexic children during lessons. The assumption seems to be that there is nothing I can do. Dyslexic pupils may have a slightly longer path to fluency than some others, but the idea that they cannot learn a language is both absurd and nonsensical (which mean pretty much the same thing but repetition is a useful tool in anyone’s learning). I am hoping I can clear up this misconception and answer the question I have never been asked: how can a child with dyslexia cope with a foreign language?

Language learning today is no longer about sitting with a textbook in front of you, reciting conjugations of verbs and learning reams of vocabulary off by heart. Variety and pace are the key and the best language lessons are filled with a range of multi-sensory activities, especially kinaesthetic ones which involve moving around the classroom and manipulating objects physically. In other words, methods that have been proven to help children with dyslexia in their learning. Various studies have shown that ‘overlearning’ is helpful for dyslexic children and to this end, multi-sensory learning, where children experience a piece of vocabulary or even grammar through the different senses is very useful. Colour coding is also helpful, as is associating words with pictures, sounds or even tastes and smells. If the child finds listening difficult, then having a word repeated in a plethora of different ways can help. Enter today’s language classroom and you should find one or more of these activities being demonstrated at any given moment.

To me, it seems obvious that the topics studied in languages lend themselves to a range of that sensory learning that is so important for anyone who finds words on their own quite scary and off-putting. Café and restaurant role-plays are surely asking for a taste experience (croissant anyone?), while learning about colours immediately suggests bringing in a rainbow of sweets for the class to try (or is that just me?) The topic of transport is great fun when you add sounds to it, as is the animal kingdom with the range of beastly noises associated. All of which are invariably accompanied by visual images with words next to them as this is often the starting point for any language learning and pictures are usually easier to remember than the word.

However, the overall winner in my view is kinaesthetic or tactile learning, in which activities all involve some kind of physical action. Wandering around the classroom on a treasure hunt adds an element of fun, while rearranging chopped up vocabulary into sentences is an activity often mentioned in guides to help dyslexic children remember word order. Games of snap, dominoes, pelmanism or Kim’s game involve handling and manipulating objects physically as well as using pictures with or without words that implant a visual memory in the brain. These are all typical language learning activities.

Finally, even the dinosaurs amongst us in language learning must recognise colour coding as an essential tool in remembering grammatical ideas such as genders (yes, it’s still blue for a boy, pink for a girl!) or to differentiate nouns, verbs and adverbs. Additionally, using different shades of colour or presenting information on a coloured background aids understanding, eases access to the content and reduces the visual stress so often suffered by dyslexic children.

Is that sufficient or do dyslexic children need more help? Clearly it depends on the individual as every child learns differently regardless of their strengths and weaknesses. Most dyslexic children should also be provided with scaffolded worksheets where they have to write the minimum amount required to make good or excellent progress. We must remember that writing is only one of the skills required in learning a language and in my view the least important – how many times as an adult have you been required to write down your food order in a foreign restaurant (or an English one for that matter?) Spelling mistakes should be corrected less frequently and all activities should be supported with another sensory option (for example, listening with a written prompt; speaking with pictures; reading with phrases highlighted in clear colours).

The argument persists that dyslexic children often have word retrieval problems in their own language or a weaker working memory and can therefore remember fewer words. It is completely unnecessary for them to learn a huge quantity of language on one topic. A range of topics is good – a couple of useful adjectives, some adverbs to add flavour. Twenty words for animals instead of two or three – why? They simply do not need to learn to say that they have a hamster if they don’t have one! Focus should be on committing essential vocabulary to memory, rather than confusing matters with an indecent amount of terms that will never realistically be used. Common sense could and should prevail!

Who wants to deny any pupil the opportunity to participate in activities that will develop their communication skills, their social experience and will raise their awareness of other cultures and communities? Let us not forget that language learning has very little to do with success in exams and much more to do with being able to travel to other countries and have a more intimate experience of the values and beliefs of another society. Teachers aim to instil a love of learning in each and every child and it should not matter how children reach their goal or even how close they get to it, as long as they enjoy the process. Make languages fun for all and you will reach children whatever way they learn best and surely, that is the ultimate goal.

Banstead Prep School is a co-educational prep school and nursery for girls and boys aged 2-11 where there’s more to a
good education than learning.