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What is a language rich environment? Tips and tricks.

There’s nothing quite as memorable as your child’s first words. Whilst reaching this milestone is seen as the pinnacle, a lot of elements are at play way before this happens that piece together everything your child needs to develop their language. One of the most important factors is your child’s environment. Discover how to create a language rich environment that encourages communication and develops your child’s vocabulary, whether at home or at nursery.  

nursery room at Oxted

The quality of a child’s environment is incredibly important when it comes to their learning and development and this is why it’s often referred to as their ‘third teacher.’ Many things come into play as children develop their speech and language skills, but a language rich environment will not only lay the groundwork for these skills but encourage children to flourish into confident little learners. 

Fennies nursery and preschool walton activities

So, what is a language rich environment? Simply put, it's a thoughtfully designed learning space that actively promotes and encourages the enhancement of children’s communication and language development as a whole. A language rich environment is a place that will take into account the physical, emotional and sensory aspects of a space, provided for the children, as well as the resources used and the interactions with adults that take place.

Not only do children begin to develop their physical skills by exploring their environment through play, but with this, they are also forming imagination and language skills with it. This is why it’s important to consider many factors when creating a learning space for children whether this is at nursery or at home. 

How does a language-rich environment support speech and language development?

From birth, babies are instinctively wired to learn language. From babies babbling to showing understanding of what they hear, their speech and language development quickly begins to emerge. 

The reason that early language development is important is that when children acquire strong language skills, this offers a gateway to most other forms of learning and communicating their needs. 

child and parent using toy phone

Further down the line, speech and language skills open the door to a wealth of other skills including problem-solving, social and personal development and emotional regulation. So, it's important we provide the best possible learning environment to encourage children to build upon these skills and continuously enhance learning opportunities.

"Speech and language development is a gateway to other skills – even early learning in maths, for example, tends to rely heavily on language skills. It’s also a gateway to social and personal development, such as emotion regulation as language allows a child to communicate to someone else how they’re feeling, which helps them to regulate their own emotions and to get help for others."

Dr Sam Wass, Child Development Expert for Fennies Tweet

When evaluating a child’s space, in order to create a language rich environment, the following three things are important to consider: 

The physical environment

When we talk about a child’s physical environment, we’re referring to any physical components within the room including furniture and resources. The physical environment can massively influence how children develop speech and there’s many ways you can bring a language focus to the forefront of your child’s space. 

The emotional environment

An environment means more to a child than what’s around them but how they feel within that environment can influence their learning and development too. It’s equally important for a child to feel safe and secure at home or nursery as it is for them to be provided with stimulating resources. Creating a nurturing sense within the environment can open up a wealth of opportunities for a language rich environment. 

parent and child interacting in nursery

Adult interactions

Children are eager to socially interact from birth and being able to do so can determine how well their communication and language skills develop. Research has shown that children develop speech and learn language from being around responsive and enthusiastic adults.

"Without adults who are tuned in to children and their interests, children will become uninterested and understimulated. We need to be having those lovely interactions, using new words and using sustained shared thinking (plus open-ended questioning) To draw out children’s thinking and understanding."

How does a language-rich environment support the development of literacy skills?

Communication, language and literacy lay the groundwork for all future learning. A very simple but effective way you can encourage these skills is through reading books. Storytime can transport children to different places, open their eyes to cultures different from their own and introduce them to extraordinary people. 

"When children under the age of 5 years old regularly read culturally diverse books, they learn that there’s more than one way of viewing the world. This then broadens their capacity for empathy and compassion as they develop more of an ability to understand others."

children's book corner in nursery

Having a good quality selection of fiction and non-fiction books, that can be accessed by children and are readily used by adults when reading to children, really makes a big impact on children’s literacy skills development. Using books that are linked to each child's existing interests is another key factor. When reading to children we use intonation and interesting voices increasing their listening skills and enjoyment of a shared story. We want to foster a love of reading so using a variety of stories to read daily is crucial for a language rich environment.

"Communication, language and literacy is the foundation of all learning and if you can instill a love for reading and the confidence to communicate at a young age than that stays with children for life."

As well as reading, it’s important for children to see adults writing for different purposes and see print in different forms around their nursery or home. Simple things like labelling storage baskets and boxes, labelling pegs and placemats with your child’s name all help provide visual cues for children helping children develop strong language and communication skills. 

If you work in a nursery you will continuously be evaluating your room, making enhancements to provide the best possible learning opportunities within the environment. Here are a few extra ways to promote a language rich environment in your nursery. 

Create a communication or language audit and consider things like; where are the most conversations taking place in the room? Which staff within the room are having the most interactions? Are these good quality interactions? Which resources do the children use most? What are the children’s current interests? Are there spaces within the room to be quiet and reflect? Are there spaces for imaginative play? 

These are all excellent points to consider and use as a starting point when making enhancements. Continuously reflecting on each of these areas and making improvements based on what you observe will help promote a language rich environment.  

preschool nursery room

Use open-ended resources

Using open-ended resources in your nursery room and giving children time to play supports language development. Through these resources, children can learn new words, engage in back and forth conversations with one another and use resources in different ways including problem-solving.  

As well as these resources it’s crucial to have a good selection of story books and information books that are read and available daily to allow children to hear new words. Many children’s stories often have lots of repetition, rhythm and rhyme too which they can interact with and develop memory skills from. 

Using labels in your nursery is a great way to surround the physical environment with words. As children begin seeing these labels every day, they become more and more familiar which helps them memorise letter formation, attribute meanings to words and understand the relationship between a word and its meaning. Remember though, don’t go too overboard with the label maker as this could become overwhelming and more difficult for children to memorise.

As well as the same benefits as labelling, visual displays in early years classrooms can help make your learning environment inviting, stimulating and visually engaging. Why not try using a display as a discussion point too? For example, if there’s a particular word on the board, why not ask the children relevant questions around this.  

This can help you explore new topics with the children and introduce some new vocabulary however be careful not to make them too busy as this could be distracting or overstimulating and therefore counterproductive.

 

book corner in children's nursery

Provide cosy spaces

As previously mentioned, books are crucial for helping children learn language and provide a foundation for a love for learning. Encourage this within your nursery room by keeping books at a level children can easily access so that older children can independently select which story they'd like to read.

It’s also a good idea to create a quiet cosy reading corner using cushions and soft rugs to support a relaxing emotional environment. 

Although seemingly simple, creating a language rich environment at home can become increasingly difficult and easily forgotten within our busy lifestyles. However, there are plenty of moments in everyday life that can become opportunities to create this learning environment and help promote your child’s speech and language development. 

Consider your interactions

Children learn and develop language by listening, watching, mimicking and playing with others. During the early years, these interactions with others help children learn language. Some of the things to consider when interacting with your child are:  

  • Use lots of repetition– This builds up a sense of familiarity around words which helps children develop confidence when learning new words.  
  • Minimise distractions- One to one interactions are incredibly beneficial when helping children learn speech and to develop language. One of the main things you can do to support this is make sure there’s no background noise like televisions or music during this time.  
  • Ask questions- Anyone who’s spent any amount of time around a young child will know just how inquisitive they are. It’s important that when they ask questions they feel heard so answering them and then posing a new question back helps create a two-way communication process, which in turn develops communication and enhances your child’s vocabulary.  

Noisy cluttered environments can cause overstimulation and can overwhelm children. Children need environments where they feel they can be heard and be able to listen to their peers and adults. 

child and adult role play tea party

Encourage role play

Role play is not only a great way to build your child's imagination, but it creates a great opportunity to add lots of new language rich skills at the same time. Let older children lead the game as this can help build their self-confidence. The best bit? All you need is your imagination!

You’re much more likely to hold your child’s attention when using a lively tone and exaggerated hand gestures when speaking. This helps covey meaning and will encourage older children to respond and engage in the conversation.  

children reading in book corner

Create a book corner

If space in your home allows, it's a great idea to create a cosy book corner to help support all the benefits of storytelling in your language rich environment!

Discover language-rich environments at Fennies by getting in touch!

Olivia Jones

Olivia Jones

Content Writer

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