What does it mean to be child-led?

This strategy is my number one go-to piece of advice and approach to my therapy sessions. It sounds incredibly simple, so much that we often dismiss it. But when we really dig into the many ways that we can follow a child’s lead, tune in and build on their ideas, then we’re in a much better position to support their learning.

What does it mean to be CHILD-LED?

Simple right?! Maybe not. The trick is to notice when we’re trying to direct, advise or change the play. Often we have an existing picture in our head of how the train track should be laid down, or how the stacking cups should nest together. It can be quite hard to slow down and watch how a child discovers different ways of playing with what’s available.

Being child-led in your play together supports a child’s attention, their motivation to stay in the play and their ability to learn new words. And this is because you’re able to give them the words that are really relevant to what they’re interested in.

Here’s to embracing the unexpected and learning together from what children have to show us.

Here’s 3 important lessons I’ve learned from the children I work with.

Tips for tricky conversations

In the last couple weeks, prompted by the terrible murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others, people across the world have been protesting and speaking up against ongoing racism and injustice.

As someone who walks through the world in a white body I know I can never understand what it’s like to experience everyday racism and the inequalities baked into our systems.

I’ve been spending a lot of time listening and reading. And I want to hear more, I want to understand better and continue the lifelong practice of being anti-racist.

One of the very small actions that I’ve been taking is to be braver in everyday conversations with the people around me. We need to be willing to dig into tricky conversations about race and privilege and the many emotions that go with that.

As a Speech and Language Therapist I’m always encouraging children to step outside their comfort zone and practice the communication skills that they find tricky. It feels a good time for us all to be practising the same.

I’d like to share with you some of the things that I bear in mind for any important conversation.

Tips for tricky conversations

1) Listen more than you speak. Approach the conversation with the aim to better understand, rather than to educate or convince.

2) Focus on ‘I’ sentences instead of ‘you’ sentences. This helps you communicate your ideas, without judgement or accusation.

3) Feel it in your body. When we attend to how our body is feeling, it helps us to formulate and articulate our own thoughts and feelings about a topic. When a conversation makes you feel uncomfortable that’s often a valuable clue that these are important topics worth grappling with.

3) Be patient. These are conversations we need to have for a long time. This isn’t about a quick correction, it’s an ongoing discussion.

4) Practice out loud and be willing to get in wrong. It’s easy to stay silent for fear of getting something wrong. But engaging in these conversations is too important to avoid.

I’m committed to having more conversations, so that I can learn and make a positive contribution. And I’d love to hear from you. If you’d like to share your perspective or signpost to other resources, please feel free to add to the comments below.

A response to coronavirus

Honestly, it feels a little strange to make any attempt at responding to the global situation right now. I say global because it’s that interconnected, shared experience that has most struck me about all of this. As we all talk about the changes in our everyday routines, I see how much we have in common. We share so many of the same fears, hopes, challenges and unexpected joys.

At home, our top window looks across to our small stretch of sea, the Solent. My dad, a keen sailor, commented recently how the sea reminds him of that connectedness across the globe. I feel particularly grateful to have this sea view in these days of sheltering in place.

As a Speech and Language Therapist, the changes to our everyday make me think about how we communicate. But it’s bigger than communication. It’s about how we respond to each other and care for our community.

If you subscribe to my monthly newsletter you’ll be familiar with the Communication Tree model. But, in this video I propose a different model of communication development; one that considers why we bother with all this stuff in the first place.

CARE and CONNECT // A Speech and Language Therapist's response to Coronavirus

You can download the Communication Tree model by subscribing below. Watch out for more posts in the weeks to come, as we learn to navigate the new rhythms of our days.

What children have taught me about communication

Baby playing with toys

Have you ever had one of those sore throats where you lose your voice almost entirely? Suddenly all the little comments and contributions you‘d normally make with ease become laden with effort. You tell yourself that the thing you wanted to say wasn’t that important after all and you quickly stop trying.

When I lost my voice last winter it really affected my confidence. After all, If I can’t join in, then why am I here? I found myself smiling all the wider, in an effort to show that I was present, despite my lack of contribution. Hey! It’s me here! I can’t possibly speak, but I’m still thinking about everything that’s going on and I want to be a part of it!

It brought to mind the many children I support as a Speech and Language Therapist. How much they want to contribute and be a part of things, how eager their smiles. For them, speaking up is hard. Perhaps harder than we can imagine. The communication chain can break down at any number of points, but there’s lots we can all do to help knit it back together.


Be curious

When we approach a situation with open curiosity, rather than holding on to our idea of the ‘right way’ we create more opportunities to explore and learn together. If a child creates a long line of train track, instead of a nice neat round loop, it’s tempting for us to dive in and ‘fix it’. But, if we hold back for a moment and think ‘I wonder what will happen next,’ some of the best problem-solving and conversations emerge.

Embrace the silence

Often the most important ideas need time before we’re brave enough to say them out loud. In my work we often describe this quiet as ‘busy thinking time’. When we embrace the awkward silence, we give room for these ideas to flourish. Communication is about so much more than talking. Allowing a little more quiet is a hugely powerful strategy we can use to give children time to form their ideas and figure out how to share them with us.

Give attention to gain attention

There’s a reason we call it ‘paying’ attention. It requires focus and effort, ignoring the many distractions all around us. How many of us can say that we give our full attention to every conversation? We fly a mile a minute and so much of modern-day life expects this from us. So the challenges that children have in paying attention is something we can surely relate to. In therapy sessions we focus on giving a child our best quality attention, being truly present. When we do this we create a space that really allows for the best attention from all of us.

I’m always on the lookout for lessons learned in unexpected places. So, it’s easy for me to say that my dog has also taught me a thing or two. Find out more in this honest post.

Social Skills: It’s not about what you say

When I first qualified as a Speech and Language Therapist, many moons ago, I was introduced to the work of Michelle Garcia Winner and Social Thinking. But, it wasn’t until I attended a Social Thinking conference, many years later, that I really grasped how useful these ideas really were. Hearing her cover so many of the key topics was really helpful in giving me a better understanding of how all of the vocabulary and frameworks tie together.

Since then, lots of the Social Thinking Methodology has become a part of my everyday practice. But if I had to pick just one idea to share, it would be this: the Social Competency Model.

Social Skills : it's not about what you say

To find out more about the Social Competency Model, you can join this free webinar hosted by Social Thinking.

PS. Looking for a useful resource to help you get started with Social Thinking Methodology? Check this out.

Things My Dog Taught Me

Things My Dog Taught Me

Today is Bring Your Dog to Work Day. My office is at home, so I’m lucky to have my dog at work with me every day. It’s one of the extra benefits of becoming an independent Speech and Language Therapist.

So, two years ago, when I left my council job and set up in independent practice, Tom and I also welcomed a mutt named Rolo in to our home. As a nervous rescue dog with a difficult start to life, he’s had a lot of things to learn along the way. It came as a surprise how much I also had to learn. So, in honour of this day, I thought I’d share these things with you.

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A Communication Friendly Classroom

Children standing at the front of class

As September draws closer, I’ve been helping husband Tom set up his classroom ready for the new school year. We’ve spent the summer sharing ideas, gathering resources and planning layouts. For a young Year 1 class we want to provide an enriching, flexible space with intriguing resources. We want to build on the free-flow exploratory learning that children experience in Reception and support transition to the more structured expectations of a Year 1 classroom. As a Speech and Language Therapist I’m interested in spaces that encourage communication, feel inviting and provide something worth talking about. Inspired by Michael Jones and Elizabeth Jarmin, we’ve been sticking to a few principles in our planning.

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Hello Welcome to SaLT by the Sea - Speech and Language Therapy - IOW

When I’m not out and about in the fresh air of the Isle of Wight, I work as a Speech and Language Therapist, helping children to develop their speech, language and communication skills. I work with families to support children who might find it difficult to understand what is said to them, or be slow in starting to talk. Some children have difficulties using speech sounds clearly, whilst others need help in communicating socially with others.

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