Early years

Below you can find useful content for children aged under 5.

Your bump and beyond

Before your baby is born

Research has found that if you talk, sing and read to your baby before they are born, you will help their brain development, physical growth, hearing and communication skills.

Did you know that:

  • five weeks after conception, your baby’s mouth, lips and tongue are formed

  • 11 weeks after conception, your baby is able to make facial expressions and also starts to smile

  • Three months after conception, your baby’s voice box is developed

  • Four and a half months after conception, your baby can hear your voice, your heartbeat and voices outside the womb

  • Seven and a half months after conception, your baby can recognise your voice


Top tips

  • Spend some time every day talking to your bump – by doing this, your baby will hear mum and dad’s voices and will recognise you after they are born

  • Touching and rubbing your tummy helps to relax your baby AND can also help to develop your baby’s physical skills

  • Your baby loves to listen to different sounds and types of music. Music helps to make strong connections in baby’s developing brain. Whether you like classical, pop or rock music, your baby will love to listen!

  • Your baby can feel you moving about and can even sense whether you are happy or sad. If you are very busy or stressed whilst pregnant, make sure you can spend some time each day unwinding or doing something that you really enjoy so that you can both relax!


After they are born…

...new babies love to:

  • be held and touched as this makes them feel secure and loved

  • look at Mum and Dad’s faces and copy facial expressions

  • listen to the familiar voices that they heard in the womb

  • hear Mum and Dad talking and singing to them

Learning more than one language

A lot of children and young people grow up learning more than one language. There is no evidence to suggest that this causes speech and language difficulties. In fact, learning more than one language is an advantage for children and young people.  

Here are some things to think about:

  • Speak to your child or young person in the language you feel most comfortable in. It is the quality of your language that is important!

  • Don’t worry about mixing languages – this is normal!

  • Don’t worry if you ask your child a question and they reply in a different language.

  • Talk to your child about things you have done together or things that are happening.

  • Encourage and praise attempts from your child/young person to communicate in any language they choose.  Show them you are interested!

  • Share a simple list of 10–20 commonly used words in your home language with nursery/school 

  • Use nursery rhymes, songs, stories and films from any culture and language – some of these can be shared with your nursery/school too.

  • If a child or young person has a speech, language or communication difficulty, this will be apparent in all the languages they use.

  • If you are concerned, come to a Speech and Language Therapy drop-in or speak to the SENCO at your school.

  • Speech and Language Therapists can work with interpreters to assess children and young people’s communication skills in different languages.

Attention and listening

A child or young person who has difficulty with attention and listening may find it hard to:

  • Follow instructions

  • Listen to others and wait for a turn in a conversation

  • Focus their attention when there is lots of background noise

  • Understand and remember new learning and what you have said


How do I work on attention and listening?

Depending on the age of the child, some of the following may be useful:

  • Use the child’s name to gain their attention

  • Explain clearly how to pay attention, eg ‘look at the person talking’ ‘wait for your turn to talk’

  • Use visual support, (pictures or gestures) to remind the child or young person and tell them when they are doing it right, eg ‘Well done for waiting your turn’

  • Use a visual timetable, schedule or checklist to help the child or young person work through activities 

  • Try to reduce background noise as much as possible, eg turn off the TV 

  • Simplify your language, eg break instructions down.


Have a look at the leaflets for more advice and help.

Talk to your baby

The first few weeks

Your baby is communicating with you from the moment they are born! When babies cry, they are sending a powerful message: “feed me!”, “change me!” or “play with me!”

Your baby doesn’t need any toys for the first three months after they are born. All they need are cuddles, contact and communication from the people who love them.

After the first three months, your baby begins to look around and see where sounds come from – connecting certain sounds with people or activities help with baby’s memory and understanding.


Top tips  

  • Watch what your baby is looking at and talk to them about what they can see – this will help your baby  make sense of what is happening around them.

  • Have some quiet time together each day with the TV/music off. It is easier for your baby to listen and communicate with you without this extra background noise.

  • Limit the use of the dummy! By the time they are six months of age, children should not need one when they are awake. Remember, it is MUCH harder to learn to talk if you have a dummy in your mouth!


Play ideas

Newborn–three months: Making eye contact with your baby and having lots of face to face time will help them to learn how to talk and take turns. Remember that babies can only focus at short distances for the first three months, so cuddle in nice and close so your baby can see your face.

Three–six months Babies love to hear you sing, especially rhymes and songs from when you were young! The rhythm and tune of the words will help to develop their speech and language.

Six–nine months: Copy your baby when they babble and coo. You can also add in some new sounds like blowing raspberries and making other silly noises! These games will help your baby to develop all the different speech sounds when they get older.

Nine–12 months: Sit with your baby as they play, letting them explore the toys at their own pace. Talk about what they are doing... and try not to do all of the playing for them!

Helping your child to play

Early years

  • Children love to play because it is fun!

  • Playing is also one of the most important ways that children learn.

  • Between one and two years of age, children enjoy playing with a familiar adult and like small toys such as animals, people and cars.

  • By two to three years, children enjoy playing alongside other children, and like to make marks with crayons and paints.

  • From three to four years, children like to do lots of pretend play and are able to listen to longer stories.

  • By four years, children enjoy learning the rules of simple games eg picture lotto or snap.


Top tips

  1. Try to spend five minutes a day playing with your child on their own. They will love having this “special time” with you!

  2. When you are playing together, sit on the floor so that your child can easily see your face.

  3. Follow what your child wants to do with the toys – don’t be tempted to “take over” their play.

  4. Have some quiet time together each day with the TV music off. It is easier for your child to listen to you without this extra background noise

Play ideas

One–two years: Your child will love playing with objects that make different noises eg a plastic bottle filled with rice makes a great shaker! Remember to make the lid nice and tight before giving it to your child!

Two–three years: When your child is having a bath, have fun with different everyday objects that can float or sink eg plastic bottles, polystyrene trays.

Three–four years: Use cereal boxes, yoghurt pots and other clean containers to make junk models with your child. Talk to your child about what they are doing as you create cars, animals, buildings or anything else they can think of!

Four+ years: Encourage your child to act out experiences that have happened to them recently eg being a checkout person, going to the doctor’s.

Helping your child to learn

Early development

  • As soon as they are born, children begin to develop an understanding of the world around them.

  • Children need to know what a word means before they can say it.

  • This means that most children are able to understand more than they can say.

  • At one year they are able to understand familiar single words including ‘no’.

  • By two years they can follow simple instructions containing two key words ie ‘put the spoon in the cup’.

  • By three years children understand instructions containing three key words, including location words ‘in/on/under’.

  • By four years children understand longer instructions and begin to have an understanding of basic size words eg ‘big/little’, shapes and colours.

Top Tips

  • Make sure your child is looking and listening to you before you start talking.

  • Offer your child choices as often as possible i.e. ‘would you like an apple or banana?

  • If your child looks confused, simplify and repeat the instruction.

  • Have some quiet time together each day with the TV/music off. It is easier for your child to listen to you without this extra background noise.

Play ideas

One–two years: Shopping game - set up a shop scene with a range of everyday objects on display. Give your child a bag and see if your child can go and ‘buy’ you an item.

Two–three years: Laundry - involve your child in washing/sorting clothes (use real clothes or toy clothes). Ask your child to put two items of clothing into the washing machine/basket at a time ie ‘Can you put a sock and a vest in the basket?’

Three–four years: Hiding game - can your child hide when you tell them where to go? ie ‘hide under the table’. Use the words ‘in’, ‘on’ and ‘under’. You can also play this game by hiding a favourite toy.

Four+ years: Feely bag - collect together objects/materials that feel different ie things that are soft/hard, smooth/rough, cold etc. Put one object in the bag at a time and ask your child to put their hand in and feel the object. Can your child guess what it is?