Creating a communication supportive environment: Early years

What is a communication-supportive environment?  

A communication supportive environment is one that ensures that children’s speech, language and communication skills are planned for and supported throughout the day.  It will look slightly different in early years settings and in school environments, but in general, it covers three aspects: 

  • The physical environment  
  • The strategies that adults use  
  • The opportunities that children have to practise their communication skills  

Physical environment 

A communication supportive environment in the early years has:  

  • Cosy quiet spaces that give children a chance to think and talk together.   
  • Areas for children to engage in role play, creative and messy play, and outdoor play. 
  • Minimal background noise. Young children are still developing their attention and listening skills and so they find it hard to filter out background noise and tune into listening.   
  • Resources labelled with pictures and words to help children to be more independent in accessing resources and organising themselves.   
  • Pictures or photographs so that children can self-register and to let them know the timetable for the day (see our visual supports information). 
  • Book corners – spaces where children can curl up and share a book with a supportive adult or a peer. 
  • Clear and consistent routines – how does the environment help children to know what to expect and when?   

 Learn more about this here.

Adult strategies 

The way adults talk to children can have a big impact on the development of their speech, language and communication skills. Key strategies include: 

  • Following the child’s lead and talking about their interests; 
  • Building on what children say; 
  • Talking in simple sentences and pausing often; 
  • Modelling words and sentences that match the child’s level. 

Have a look at our tips on supporting babies’ early communication skills and supporting children’s early communication skills for more information and ideas. 

Opportunities for children to practise their communication skills 

Finally, a communication-supportive environment means that children have lots of opportunities to practise using their speech, language and communication skills throughout the day. These could include: 

  • Providing children with props and puppets relating to a story you are reading together so that they can act out events from the story and practise using words and phrases they have heard in the book. 
  • Structured role play activities facilitated by an adult. 
  • Planned talking activities during circle time. 
  • Book sharing activities where children have opportunities to communicate as well as listen. 
  • Small group work activities. 

Reflecting on practice  

Take a learning walk around your setting and look at the environment from a child’s point of view. Does it make sense? Does it have a variety of different spaces for different purposes and different types of conversations? Are there lots of planned opportunities for children to communicate? 

Links and references

Better Communication Research Programme: