Children arriving at school unable to speak or read properly is a ‘scandal’, minister says

This finding comes as no surprise and mirrors a general decline in children’s physical readiness for school in terms of the motor skills they need to support learning (EYE July 2018).

Perhaps the most worrying trend is an apparent lack of awareness amongst a new generation of parents and policy makers of why parental conversation, physical involvement and engagement in the early years and beyond are so vital to develop these skills.

Parents across the social spectrum are faced with multiple demands and challenges, from the need for both parents to work and place their children in child care to those who have no work and struggle to provide for themselves and their families. Technology as “entertainment” is an easy tool to reach for, and while it can inform, the risk it poses to the development of young children resides primarily in what it does not do. Even Damian Hinds, anxious to address the problem, speaking on the Radio 4 Today programme (31.7.18), fell into the trap of suggesting that technology could be a good substitute or “complement” to parental engagement.

Involvement with technology is not the same as one-to-one interaction: It is pre-programmed to respond in a limited number of ways; it does not “listen” to what the child has to say or adapt its response; it creates an environment of background noise which is detrimental to the development of listening skills and attention and it does not encourage a desire to communicate with others.

Contrast this with what happens during one-to-one interaction.  Researchers at the University of Edinburgh showed that when a mother talks to her infant, if she pauses for a few seconds,  given time to process the information, her baby will produce a perfect musical answering phrase and will continue this musical dialogue for several minutes. If she continues to talk without waiting, the baby will lose interest in the conversation.

Infants (meaning one without language) are born with a capacity to learn any language under the sun, if they are exposed to the sounds of that language on a daily basis.  Over the first three years of life they learn to “tune in” to sounds that are specific to the mother tongue, and provided they can hear and practice those sounds throughout every day, speech should emerge.  Children pick up the mimetic (gestural) and musical aspects of language before they use words, practising intonation, melody and phrasing before they string words together in complete sentences. They learn this by making and modelling the gestures which accompany speech and listening and reflecting the speech sounds around them.  This is a physically and socially interactive process.

Background noise can interfere with this process, as it makes it difficult to hear specific sounds and it encourages children to “switch off”.    Modern living tends to be littered with visual and noise interference and interruption.  It can take up to 15 minutes for an adult to return a previous state of sustained attention when interrupted in the middle of a task and children are more prone to distraction.

How can parents help to develop these skills:

  • Talk to your baby
  • Give your baby time to reflect and respond
  • Seek baby equipment which enables your baby to see you when you are out and about
  • Sing lullabies and nursery rhymes
  • Tell and read stories – long before your child can read he/she will be fascinated by the music of the language and what it conveys
  • Make sure your child can see you when you are engaged in conversation
  • Take time to stop, listen and respond to what your child has to say
  • Read to your child every day
  • Reduce background or competing noise at home
  • When your child is old enough, try to sit down  to family meals at a table at least 5 days a week.
  • Encourage your child to contribute to adult conversation, but do not interrupt or allow your child to interrupt you mid-conversation.

The development of speech is important not only for oral communication but is also fundamental to the development of literacy, the ability to express needs and desires in acceptable ways and the ability to think and reason verbally.  Speech develops in the context of physical and social engagement with others.

Adult relationships suffer when there is lack of engagement. Children are no different in this respect and you are your child’s favourite people!

Published: 31st July 2018
Category: Sally Goddard Blythe

Movement, Your Child’s First Language

Movement, Your Child’s First Language is published by Hawthorn Press in the Early Years Series, and is priced at £25.00

Now in Print

Available from bookshops, online at or direct from Booksource,
Tel (0845) 370 006

Movement, Your Child’s First Language challenges our mainstream assumptions about early development and learning with a rich distillation of perennial wisdom and cutting-edge science. In this revolutionary new book, Sally Goddard Blythe eschews politically-correct accelerationism with her refreshing focus on children’s real age-appropriate needs – as opposed to the ones that impatient adults think they should have.

Based on whole-body approaches to learning developed by Sally Goddard Blythe and Michael Lazarev, Movement, Your Child’s First Language gives us an essential overview of child growth from age three to seven years. It explains why movement and music are essential for healthy brain development and learning, and includes tried and tested activities for helping children become school ready. Sally describes the neonatal reflexes, how children learn with their bodies, and explains the hidden dangers of speeding up childhood.

Included on the two CDs within the book are Michael Lazarev’s 10 songs and Goddard Blythe’s exercises that provide creative and enjoyable music and movement activities to help develop coordination and language skills, while the narrated action-stories and nursery rhymes will encourage children to move, listen, and learn.

This invaluable resource is suitable for use by parents, nursery providers, teachers, trainee teachers, early-years educators, health visitors, paediatricians, special needs teachers and educational psychologists.

Published: 13th July 2018
Category: Sally Goddard Blythe

Article in the Daily Telegraph 4th July 2018 – Why imaginative play is important for a child’s development

What we call ‘child’s play’ may just be the most important and most powerful resource your child can turn to, writes Katherine Wilde, read the article here

Published: 4th July 2018
Category: Sally Goddard Blythe

Article in the Daily Telegraph 4th July 2018 – What we can all learn from reading fairy tales

From prepping us for the pitfalls of life to teaching us valuable skills and lessons, fairy tales are ever-relevant, whatever our age, writes Katherine Wilde. Read the article here

Published: 4th July 2018
Category: Sally Goddard Blythe