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Changing the Conversation: Putting Parents at the Heart of Speech and Language Learning

‘Changing the Conversation about Language’ is taking a new approach to speech and language learning in disadvantaged areas. Louisa Reeves, Lead Speech and Language Advisor at I CAN, discusses the project’s impact so far.


Communicating confidently with a wide vocabulary is key to a child’s successful start at nursery and school. In some areas of the country, however, children are starting school lacking this crucial ability. This puts them at a distinct disadvantage compared to their peers. Parents use of language with their babies and young children is an essential factor in the development of these early communication and language skills. 

As part of the Department for Education’s plan to improve children’s early language in disadvantaged areas, I CAN are running the ‘Changing the Conversation about Language’ project in partnership with the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, and social enterprise EasyPeasy. The Changing the Conversation about Language project helps parents in disadvantaged areas to learn how to give their children the best possible start in speech and language. 

All too often, well-meaning professionals alienate parents in the way they communicate. We aim to change this through clear, accessible training for early years settings and parents, user-friendly films, and upskilling ‘Parent Champions’. As a result, we’re putting the power back in the hands of parents to lead change within their own communities, making a difference to children’s lives.

Putting communities at the heart of the project and understanding their experiences is key. As such, we spoke to a ‘Tots Talking’ leader and Parent Champion about how two strands of the project have been having an impact in their local area:  

Becky Newman – Tots Talking session leader

Becky Newman, Assisted Head of Early Years at Upper Horfield Community School, has been leading ‘Tots Talking’ sessions to help parents support their two-year-olds with talking and learning. The sessions equip parents with simple, fun methods to help their child thrive once they reach nursery and school.

“Many children arrive at our nursery shortly after they turn 2 years old, and it’s striking how low the levels of language are for our 2 and 3-year-olds. They have poor attention, listening and speaking skills. Many of our parents are concerned about how little their child is talking, and how frustrated they become when they can’t make themselves understood.

The Tots Talking group gives parents a chance to share ideas amongst each other about how to talk and play with their child. We use videos to help them think about ways to adapt their language for their children, and make resources to take home to use with their child. Parents come away feeling reassured and with new, practical knowledge of how to encourage their child to talk.”

Helen Sloane – Parent Champion

As a Parent Champion, Helen has been helping to spread the word about early language development with fellow parents of babies and toddlers. She’s attended sessions at her local children’s centre to learn more about talking to your baby and has been sharing useful resources with her community through a Facebook group.

 “The project is really empowering parents by giving them knowledge and information about their child’s language development. The ‘Stay and Play’ sessions give us a chance to talk to each other about what’s normal, and share advice with other parents.

It’s been really useful to have clear messages about how to support our children’s language skills. Parents want to know at what age their child is expected to start using words, and when they should start stringing words together to form sentences. They welcome simple tools like the ‘Ages and Stages’ cards and have been sharing them with their friends. As one parent told me “you don’t get a manual when they’re born!”

Above all, it’s helping parents to feel more confident that they’re doing the right thing, and to know that they’re doing the best they can to help their child.”

Alongside Tots Talking groups and Parent Champions, you can find out more about EasyPeasy are empowering parents through technology here.

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