Saturday, 8 December 2012

New Children Centre Groups

We have started some new groups in children's centres in an area which is considered to be in the lowest 20% according to socio-economic studies. The children are delightful but have language levels which are way below the average expected. I spoke to a reception classteacher who reported that the OFSTED Inspector last week had been shocked at how low the over-all profiles were. If speech, language and communication skills are delayed, it has a knock-on effect to all learning.

We are working with children who have been identified as  lagging behind even this level. Their attention, listening, short-term memory, understanding and expressive language skills are delayed and the incidence of speech sound difficulties is really high (especially those associated with dummies). The other thing they all shared was low confidence and self esteem issues.

Talking to their parents revealed a similar profile of low confidence, little self esteem and an inbuilt distrust, boardering on hostility, to any form of establishment or professional. They are mostly third generation of unemployed and have worries about finances, housing, relationships and more, which are forming a barrier to successful interaction with their children. They all want the best for their children but just don't realise what they need to do. It is interesting that they are spending far more than me on Christmas presents this year and the pressure to have the latest fashion for themselves and their children is much greater than mine will ever be i.e. they want the best with no compromises.

It used to be instinctive to talk to children to develop their communication skills and without interaction they won't these skills develop properly. However, this has been lost some time ago with many families so that they just don't know any different.

Studies show that how a parent feels about themselves has a huge bearing on their interaction with their children (Roulestone et al 2011). How can we change the behaviour without appearing to criticise and thereby further destroy any remaining confidence?

It's a difficult task to change what they are doing (or not doing). Our Smart Talkers groups use demonstration to show what works for us. It's hard to feel intimidated by a woman sitting on the floor with her hand up a puppet, singing so they tend to feel almost superior, to begin with, at least. The hope is that parents will see what works and copy this themselves as their trust in us develops. We do have really good feedback to show that this works.

We show that by positive encouragement the children will achieve more e.g. when we are working on listening, we describe the behaviour we want i.e. good sitting and good looking, then we praise those who are doing it so that the ones who aren't, want to please, so they do it too. We also show how confidence can be encouraged, for instance, yesterday was the first time I had had one group and they all had very low self esteem. This manifested itself in 5 not looking at me or making eye contact and looking very worried and one who talked all the time in the hope I wouldn't ask him anything he couldn't answer. By the end of the session, with stickers proudly emblazoned on their chests, all were looking at me, smiling and waiting for my next instruction!

We use simple games and stories which can easily be copied by parents. Afterwards, we discuss what we did in the session, why it worked and what they could try at home. All done in a  non-threatening, non-critical way.  

There are other agencies involved, who are all doing their bit too such as family support workers, parent support workers, Book Start, Home Start, Health Visitors and the NHS SLTs. I'm looking forwards to seeing the progress of the children over time. 

We are commissioned to running the groups until April. After that will depend on how well I've filled the tender documents in. Lets hope I didn't miss of a tick box!


  1. It's so sad to hear that children are already lagging so far behind at such a young age. Especially when it doesn't take much input to make a difference (e.g. read to your children, talk to them, ask them for their opinions, remove the dummies etc.) But then I guess if parents have never been taught these basic skills they simply don't know what to do. It's great to hear that there are groups like SmartTalkers making a difference.

  2. It is so special to see the progress they make especially in self esteem. It is really sad because those things you have mentioned actually take no effort really and are also so much fun for parents too. I am really worried about the long term effects of this lack of interaction.