Sign 4 Little Talkers

Focusing on children’s early language development is a key priority of Flying Start. The data shows us that many children are entering Early Years settings with communication and language skills well below expected levels. These children are likely to be unable to manage their feelings and behaviour in their new surroundings, which makes the task for practitioners in these settings increasingly difficult.

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Children using signing in an early years setting


Sign 4 Little Talkers was written and trialled in Luton with Funding from Flying Start to support children, parents and practitioners in the following ways:

  • To improve the achievement of children in  ‘Communication and Language’ and ‘Managing Feelings and Behaviour’ – as measured by Early Years Outcomes
  • For parents to show a measurable increase in confidence to support their child’s communication and emotional literacy.
  • For practitioners to show a measurable increase in confidence in supporting the emotional literacy, behaviour and communication of the 2 year olds in their settings.

What did we do?

We developed new Sign 4 Little Talkers resources and then we trialled them in those settings in Luton where children have the lowest outcomes in Language for Communication and Managing Feelings and Behaviour.

Early Years Consultant Sue Thomas ( LBC) worked with 0-3s consultant Colette McGeough (LBC) and British sign Language trainer Katja O’Neill to develop resources in which children would be encouraged to understand and use new vocabulary, through the signing of key words

Research shows that young children learn best when they are actively engaged and with Sign 4 Little Talkers they are not just hearing and saying new words but seeing and doing them as well.

What type of vocabulary is signed?

Key words were identified that children were not understanding and using, as outlined below. The Sign 4 Little Talkers materials encourage children to say as well as sign these key words.

The signed vocabulary for communication supports young children to talk about what happens in their lives and to understand and use words such as who, what, why, because and where.

The signed vocabulary for feelings supports children to understand and express the many emotions they experience each day, with words such as happy, sad, frustrated, worried and excited.

The signed vocabulary for behaviour supports practitioners, parents and carers to praise their children’s positive behaviour and to promote good manners, sharing and turn taking. Signed words include: please, thank you, calm down, gentle, wait, kind, your turn and listen.

The signed vocabulary for narrative supports children to understand and use sequencing and connective vocabulary such as: first, next, finally, at that moment, after that, until, suddenly and unfortunately.

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What happened in the settings?

From 2013-2015 seven settings were piloted and data collected from 156 children in total.

Settings were provided with Sign 4 Little Talkers materials, a training session for practitioners and ongoing support from a signing trainer.

Baseline and impact data were recorded to measure the attainment and progress of children and the confidence levels of the practitioners and parents.

In 2014-15 the project was developed to include training packages for parents and the provision of an electronic system for recording children’s progress and attainment for those who did not already have this.

Data was collected to measure children’s progress and attainment in EYFS Communication and Language, and Managing Feelings and Behaviour.

What was the impact?

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The charts below show the percentage increase in children at or above the expected levels from September 2014 to March 2015 as measured by Early Years Outcomes. This is a national measure which forms part of the Early Years Foundation Stage.
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Sign 4 Little Talkers resulted in a measurable positive impact on children’s communication and language skills as well as their ability to manage their feelings and behaviour over a period of between one and two academic terms, with the % of children at or above expected levels at the end of the project, far exceeding the % below expected levels.

The largest impact is on understanding and listening and attention, which is what we would expect, as without these, a child’s speaking and behaviour cannot improve. However, good progress was made in speaking, with 40% children making expected progress and 26% making more than expected progress. In managing feelings and behaviour 47% children made expected progress and 34% made more than expected progress.

Staff and practitioner confidence levels in using signing to support communication and emotional literacy increased significantly during the period following the training, suggesting that the signing with children had been practiced regularly.

What next?

Sign 4 Little Talkers will continue to be supported by Flying Start and the children tracked through to the end of the Foundation Stage to monitor longer term impact.

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For more information contact Sue Thomas Early Years Consultant


Phone 01525 229073

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