The most intense period of speech and language development is during the first three years in a child’s life, a period during which the brain develops and matures. The early years are critical to the progress of emergent literacy skills and to ensuring a continuous transition into formal reading. But, in order to be able to learn to read and write it requires a phonological awareness. Enhanced language skills can be beneficial for future success in school and working life.
The Speech and Language Chain project in Halland
The ‘Speech and Language-chain’ project is a language and speech development program for preschool children. During preschool years, the evolvement of speech and language is in a very intense and expansive phase. So far there has been no easily available printed material for parents to borrow in order to train or coach their child at home.
In Sweden, the child healthcare nurses screen all preschool children for possible speech and language impairments at the Child Health Centres (CHC) at certain ages. Those identified with delays or impairments are referred to a speech therapist, where treatment may last over an extensive period of time. Preschool children are very sensitive to language training and they learn a language in interaction with adults, most often a parent. Today most parents have either been offered to buy their own printed material or are given copied stencils.
The main aim was to create easily accessible material about preschool children with language delay symptoms or impairments, as well as establishing a ‘Speech and Language-chain’: a crossover cooperation between the staff at the CHC, speech therapy clinics, kindergartens and libraries, through networking, training and workshops in order to give parents and children with special needs, support and help. Finally, instigating extended parental involvement in coaching and playfully accompanying the child into the world of language.
Material and method
A reference group consisting of a speech therapist, pediatric nurse, librarian and preschool staff was formed during 2006-2009. They produced instructional texts about methods regarding the six most common speech and language challenges found among preschool children.
The target group was preschool children in the age group three to five, identified with language delay symptoms or impairments.
The result is a set consisting of six different and extensive ‘language bags’ where each item was chosen to suit the needs of its target audience and tailored for this specific age group. The material requires parental involvement. In total there are 150 bags containing books, games, educational toys, games, puzzles and CDs. The bags also contain instructional DVDs aimed especially at parents who themselves have reading difficulties and/or parents from a different cultural background. Likewise there are instruction cards in Braille found in the bags.
The material is easily available, parents can borrow it at their local library; there are no diagnoses made or referral claims. The bags are also available at the speech therapist as part of the therapy. The main objective is for parents and their children to play and practice by using the items in the bags to discover language as a pleasurable experience. The unbroken chain are the parents, the CHC staff, the speech therapist, the kindergarten staff and the librarian all working towards one goal, one vision; that all children, regardless of circumstances, are entitled to a rich and vibrant language.
The project has been granted funds from the Swedish Arts Council and will be evaluated by a licensed speech therapist.
The set consists of six bags representing four different aspects:
Grammar: Two bags that focus on managerial grammar and sentence structure. It also assists the child in finding a flow within the narrative.
Vocabulary: Two bags in order to coach the child to acquire a substantial and varied vocabulary.
Linguistic interaction: This bag is created so as to stimulate linguistic interaction. Children with language impairments very often have difficulty getting into the game, finding it difficult to find the right level. They need support, guidance and directions to enter the game whereby they may practice their skills to compromise, cooperate and resolve conflicts.
Language audio/motor skills: This bag is composed of material to aid the child in finding the right mouth muscles and by doing so managing language sounds as well as practicing articulating words.
Co-ordinating, Research and Paediatric Nurse
Child Health Care Unit
Translated by Jonathan Pearman
A never-ending story
An earlier project laid the foundation for an expanded cooperation between libraries and child care in the county. Now, we also involve family centres / open preschools. The aim is to increase involvement on the whole, but with special focus on children and parents whose first language is not Swedish. The measureable targets are that 80% of the parents should collect the giftbook Knock or The Animal Book; that 80% of the staff should make use of our inspirational material, including a ‘language case’, and that an agreement between the partners should be written for it to become less dependent on individuals. Interest in participating is great from open pre-schools, as well as from libraries, less so from the child health care clinics.We have made a ‘zero-measurement’ in the form of a web survey of all clinics, libraries and open pre-schools in the county who will then be monitored to see if the project activities in the four participating municipalities in the project play any significant role.
As usual our projects are collaborative in the form of commendable lecturers, followed by discussions on what can be applied on a local level, which is an important feature. Lectures are all about collaboration across administrative boundaries, a child’s language development; particularly processes where several languages are spoken in a family; how we respond to other cultures, and finally a lecture on body language where we spend time with the kids. Besides training, we try to find methods that suit today’s parents to support them in laying a good foundation for their children’s language development. Including a long-awaited film showing how very young children are susceptible to children’s literature. Films will be the factor to convince how children communicate long before they have acquired the words. The films can be used for parents and within an in-service instructional context. The ‘language bags’ need also to be made available at Open preschools.
Multilingual children and parents
The planning team consists of representatives from each profession, with a regional commission and one from the operational side. BVC-speech therapist Laleh Nayeb, with a background in Iran, is a great asset to the project focusing on children in multilingual environments. In addition to clinical work as a speech therapist, she is also preparing a thesis on the subject. We also intend to translate the folder A child – multiple languages, written by Monica Westerlund, associate professor and speech therapist, into the most frequent foreign languages to present to parents who are concerned about approaching multilingualism.
As the project name states we are forming local ‘language networks’ with various professions. A total of nine in four of the county’s eight municipalities are at work. From their very different circumstances they meet and decide how their collaboration should evolve and what can be developed. In projects where multiple skills are expected to cooperate, it is important to have the basic idea, or the mutual professional object – small children’s language development – clearly in mind. If we can agree that developing a rich language environment is a human right and that the three professions of nurses, preschool teachers and children’s librarians have an important role to play, we will have come a long way. One difficulty to deal with may be an imbalance in the amount of interest from the people involved, some profession may want it more than the others. How does one take the right approach in making this cooperation triangular and positive?
The project will be accounted for in a report; there will be translated folders, films, etc. But the most important result we hope to achieve is a written agreement and new routines of cooperation to reduce dependency at an individual level. On the local level we will investigate the feasibility of using the taxonomy of cooperation between the BVC and the library, which is described in Measure and Evaluate – about statistics and efficiency at public libraries by Malin Ögland et al.
Regional Library Uppsala, Sweden / Gävleborg
Translated by Jonathan Pearman