Speech and language in the early years podcast header

Speech and language in the early years [Podcast]

This week on The Preschool Podcast, we welcomed Sydney Bassard, Speech-Language Pathologist. Sydney has been an SLP for over three years. During university, her brother was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD, which inspired her to fall in love with the field. She works primarily with children who are deaf or hard of hearing. We chat with Sydney about the difference between speech and language and how both are formed in early childhood development.

Speech and language often get confused as having the same definition, when they are actually quite separate. Language is how we use our words and convey a message. Meanwhile, speech is the way language is produced, for example through sounds.

Sydney has been lucky enough to often work in classrooms with early childhood educators and serve children in their natural learning environment as opposed to a clinic. This also provides her with the opportunity to provide tips to educators to help children improve directly in their learning environment.

We need to know where our grand role is in a child’s learning experience and establish the proper relationships”

One of the first things Sydney likes to do in a classroom is to fully understand the routine the child is participating in. It is important to not have tunnel vision into what speech milestones you want to work on. This allows you to see other opportunities to use your skillset. After that, she enjoys helping educators capitalize on their time and learning to look for little moments that they can squeeze in specialized support for the children. As much as possible, she encourages educators to incorporate speech development into what they are already doing in the classroom.

Early childhood is the foundation setting children up for the rest of their academic careers. Reading starts at birth. From being able to understand how to hold a book, that we turn pages, that some books have pictures, learning the difference between pages and words, to that we read from left to right, page numbers, what a title is, etc. is what we see as children progress in their literacy learning.

When it comes to parents, Sydney encourages them to trust their gut and advocate for their child. It is always better to investigate early on than have a wait-and-see attitude. Also, make sure you are exposed to what development stages generally happen when. However, remember that development is not linear. You might have a spurt here and there and then a lull. Every child develops differently.

Sydney’s recommend resources

Podcast episode transcript

Sydney BASSARD:

And what we know is that oral language skills are very predictive of a later literacy skills. And you can build language skills within the context of reading books and fostering those relationships.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: 

Sydney, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!

BASSARD:

Hi, Ron. Thanks for having me!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, we’re delighted to have you on the show, Sydney. For our listeners today, we have with us Sydney Bassard. She’s a speech language pathologist [SLP]. She’s joining us from the Charlotte, North Carolina area. Really great to have you on the show today, Sydney. Let’s learn a little bit about you and your background.

BASSARD:

Thanks so much. So, I am a speech language pathologist – or some people might call it a speech therapist. And I’ve been doing that for about three years. I got into the space because my brother was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD. And around the time that he was diagnosed, I was in college and not really sure what I wanted to do. So, I ended up working at a reading center during the summer and fell in love with the field.

And the rest is just been history since then. I did a lot of research when I was in grad school and continued to do the same type of work after finishing grad school, working a lot with children who are deaf and hard of hearing, but also spending a lot of time with early-childhood educators and really collaborating.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool. And so you were in college at the time. How old was your brother?

BASSARD:

He was in the sixth grade.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Sixth grade, okay. And how’s your brother doing now? Are you spending time with him on these things still? I’m curious to know.

BASSARD:

Yeah, so he’s actually doing amazing. He is going into his sophomore year of college very soon and he is doing awesome. We could not have asked for better supports that we got for him.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome, very cool. Okay, and so you’re a speech language pathologist. Let’s get some clarification on the definitions there. So, speech versus language, what’s the difference?

BASSARD:

That is the time-old question, Ron, I’m so happy that you asked it. So, often times, especially when we are conversing with parents or other providers, they mix the two things together, but they’re actually really separate. So, one way that I help families to think about it is, language is the how we use our words. So, whether that’s understanding what someone saying to you or whether that’s producing them, it’s how you’re conveying a message to someone.

Versus speech, which is the way that it’s produced. So, it is how clear that production is. Are you articulating all of the sounds that you’re supposed to? Are you having any difficulty with how you should formulate your mouth to produce those sounds?

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Interesting, okay. And you said you spend a fair bit of time with early-childhood educators. So, what are you doing with them and in that early learning environment?

BASSARD:

Yeah, one of my favorite things to do is to collaborate and work with early-childhood educators. So, a lot of the times I see my kids in an outpatient setting, which is different than school. So, that might be within my private practice, that could be within the family’s home, kind of wherever we establish the relationship. Versus a lot of times there’s people that are school-based.

The really cool thing about what I’m able to do – and what a lot of our SLPs are doing now – is working directly within the classroom with early-childhood educators. And so the benefits of this is not only are we able to serve kids in their natural environment of their classroom, which is different than a clinic environment, which is structured, but you’re also able to provide the teachers with practical supports about how we can support that child’s speech and language development within the moment, within activities and daily routines that they do every day. So, that’s one of the things that I really like, is being able to support the teachers while supporting the kid directly within those moments, versus having the correspond back and forth via email.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. How did that come to be for you? Is that something that you led, or was through the municipality or early-childhood programs?

BASSARD:

So, for me, it was something that I led. I previously didn’t own my own private practice. I did work in a hospital. And so in those times it was a lot more of emailing back and forth. But it was really through trying to foster those connections with other people that have a passion for early-childhood in the area. I think it’s great being a specialist and being an SLP, but it’s also sometimes important to know where our role is in the grand scheme of a child’s educational experience.

And part of that educational experience for a lot of children is some type of school before they actually go into kindergarten or first grade, like they do here in the U.S. So, being able to establish those relationships is important. It’s also important to know that it doesn’t have to be done that way. That’s just the way I chose to do it. But there are early interventions that work through early intervention programs within the States. And so that way they are also able to work with kids in that natural environment and those daycare settings, as well.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

So, when you’re in those early-childhood settings, what are some of the things you’re doing with the children or in support of the early-childhood educators?

BASSARD:

So, one of the first things that I like to do – and I encourage this, no matter who I’m working with – is fully understanding the routine of what’s going on with that classroom. Oftentimes it’s easy for us to come in and have tunnel vision, as I know that I really need to work on a particular speech sound or I really want to work with this kid on combining two-word utterances.

But if I don’t understand what’s going on in the classroom, what I’m doing could really be null-and-void because I don’t know what that daily routine, I don’t know what other opportunities they might have to use those skills would be. So, the first thing is really understanding what that routine looks like with those early-childhood educators.

The second one is helping people to capitalize on their time. One thing that parents and a lot of professionals say is, “Well, I just don’t have time.” How many times have we heard that? And we know that the role of an educator and a teacher is very complex. There are a lot of moving pieces and parts. But helping people to find out how they can capitalize on these little moments within their day.

So, let’s say that you’re having snack time. If you’re thinking, “I have to get everybody’s snack,” one thing that we could work on is more food. Or, “I want to eat,” or, “That is my snack, that is yours snack.” So, you’re still building that language, but you’re just incorporating it in something you’re already doing, versus trying to carve out extra time to work on these skills.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Great, that makes a lot of sense. And what are some of your suggestions or tips for early-childhood educators that are in the classrooms but might not have the depth of expertize in this particular area?

BASSARD:

Yeah, so there are a lot of resources that are online, especially over the past couple of years with a lot of people having to move virtual. There has been a plethora of people that have really poured their time and energy into creating handouts. One person that I really like, the website is Mommy and Me Milestones. She puts out great handouts that really give a general overview of language strategies and principles.

The other is being able to be a little resourceful and go on YouTube. There are several SLP’s that have played different things out on YouTube for people to be able to get, like a general understanding of what’s going on. And then with social media, there have been a lot of people that have just put out great resources of how-to’s, kind of demonstrating some of the tips and things that we might talk about in a therapy session.

So, even if you yourself don’t have all the knowledge that an SLP does, or even if you don’t necessarily have access right in the moment to an SLP, you just a quick search on the Internet, you will find plenty of resources that have been generated by SLP’s all over the country.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome. And what role does literacy play in speech and language, in particular in this early-childhood environment?

BASSARD:

Early-childhood, I think of it as the foundation, setting kids up for the rest of their academic career. So, one thing that we know is that reading starts at birth. And when I say reading starts at birth, I’m not talking about the physical act of reading the words, but understanding those early literacy or emergent literacy principles starts when a child is born.

And what those look like are just being able to understand how we might hold a book; that this object is a book; that we turn the pages of the book; that some books have pictures. And as a child progresses, they start to learn the difference between pictures and words and that a book might have page numbers; and that this is the front of the book; this is the back of the book; that we read from left to right in a sweeping fashion; where the author’s name is; where the illustrator’s name is; what the title of the book is.

So, early-childhood has the wonderful opportunity to really capitalize on those moments. Literacy starts at birth, but so does oral language. And what we know is that oral language skills are very predictive of later literacy skills. And you can build language skills within the context of reading books and fostering those relationships.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool, that makes a lot of sense. And I think one challenge that some parents in particular have, but possibly really try to educators, as well, is kind of distinguishing the difference between maybe some speech or language challenges or delays, which are just natural and normal, versus something that might need to be diagnosed as requiring more special attention or something to that effect. Any thoughts there, and things you might be able to share with our audience in terms of how to think about that?

BASSARD:

Yeah, so that can be very tricky and a really touchy subject for a lot of parents. I think one of the biggest things that I encourage any parent to do is to trust your gut. If you’re having any questions about how your child is developing, that warrants a conversation with your child’s pediatrician and asking for a referral to an SLP. It’s always better to go ahead and have that investigated early on, versus the wait-and-see attitude in general.

And the other thing to know is being exposed to what typical development might look like is going to be really important and learning what those milestones are. Sometimes – especially when people are first time parents – everything might feel really big or really important, or like their child might be missing what we call a milestone. The reality is there are plenty of checklists that are kind of available for parents to understand what speech-sound development looks like, what language development looks like.

It’s also important to know that these things are not linear. I think as professionals, we often give the perception that, “By this age your child should be doing this and by this age your child should be doing that.” And that it’s just this linear progression of upwards when in reality development isn’t like that. You might have a big spurt here and then it might be flat and not move anymore, or it might go down and backwards and then it might shoot up again.

So, realizing that all children develop a little bit differently and that just because you’re a child isn’t necessarily hitting what have been deemed as milestones or markers, doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a problem or a potential issue. But if you in your heart are questioning it and having concerns, then I always recommend going to seek out an evaluation.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, that makes sense. What do you love most about what you do and what’s the most challenging?

BASSARD:

Oh, one thing that I love most about what I do is the connection that I get to have with other people. I’m a huge people person, so it fills my cup every day to be able to connect with families, to connect with kids, to connect with other professionals. And it’s really nice when I see kids along their journey from that beginning space when we interact to meet for the first time, all the way to the point where I’m graduating them or dismissing them from services. It is one of the most fulfilling things ever.

And then one of the difficult things is when we are seeing that a child is still having difficulty and realizing when it’s time to potentially shift providers, when I may not be the right fit. And having to have those what I call “crucial conversations” with parents, nobody wants to have those. But sometimes they’re part of our job and necessary.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, and in the best interest of moving that child’s development ahead, so that makes a lot of sense. And what do you find the most fascinating or interesting aspect of speech and language? And that can be in the early years or otherwise.

BASSARD:

So, I think one of the coolest things is how much we know, but also how much we don’t know about language development. When we think about a newborn baby, the things that we talk about with language development aren’t just applicable to the English language. It’s applicable to any language. And so thinking that a child is born ready to they hear and perceive, no matter what environment they’re born into, no matter what culture they’re born into, is probably one of the coolest things there is.

But it’s also really interesting to see how people use language and different dialects and how they kind of form and change depending on the region and area that you live in. So, those are kind of, like, my nerdy things that I like about speech, is how we use language is probably one of the coolest things that I get to watch as a provider.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, that is true. And in particular, when you think across the globe, all the different languages and dialects and everything, it is very, very fascinating. Alright, and switching gears: for the learning and development of our listeners today, any resources you recommend they check out?

BASSARD:

Yeah, so one of my favorite ones I already mentioned was Mommy and Me Milestones. Another one that I really like is the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, or ASHA for short. And they are the licensing body for speech language pathologists. They provide excellent resources and overall guidelines for milestones.

I also really like Learn With Les, that is an SLP who helps coach parents but also early-childhood educators about how we can use objects within our environment to continue to learn without having to have as many toys. That one’s a really great one. And then anybody that’s interested in the Early Literacy Foundation and its peers, www.ReadingRockets.org is a great place to start and provides some practical activities to use, as well.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Love it, some great options there. And if our listeners would like to get in touch with you, Sydney, or learn more about your work, where can they go to get more information?

BASSARD:

Yeah, so there’s several places that you can find me. So, on Instagram I am @TheListeningSLP. On Facebook, we are The Listening SLP. You can connect with us on TikTok, @TheListeningSLP. Or you are always welcome to send me an email at hello@TheListeningSLP.com.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Wonderful. Sidney, thank you so much for joining us on the Preschool Podcast today to talk about speech and language and early-childhood education!

BASSARD:

Thank you so much for having me!

Christie White

Christie is a Senior Content Marketing Specialist at HiMama. She is passionate about children's development, parenting, and supporting the child care industry. She has been working to support child care centers with their events and marketing for almost a decade. In her personal life, Christie lives in Stouffville, ON with her husband Kyle and dog Tucker. She enjoys going for walks, baking, cooking, and watching reality tv!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.