The Communication Pyramid

We know that having a solid foundation of language and vocabulary skills in the early years is a strong predictor of children’s longer-term academic progress and attainment, as well as their social and emotional wellbeing. With poor language skills, children will struggle to learn to read. Children with language difficulties are much less likely to achieve expected levels in primary school. And, children and young people with language difficulties are at much greater risk of developing social, emotional and mental health difficulties as they get older

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The above diagram depicts the different elements of speech, language and communication – it is a slightly simplified representation because these skills don’t develop in a linear way, they all interact and develop with each other. However, it does illustrate that there are some skills that children need to have in place before we can expect them to move on to developing others. For example, children need to understand words before they can say them. And, developing a varied vocabulary is more important in the early years than pronunciation of sounds.

We can also think about the communication pyramid to plan how we can make music accessible for children at all “stages” of communication. For example:

  • Some children may only be able to join in with a musical activity by attending and listening
  • Others will be able to take part in musical play
  • Some children may benefit particularly from the repetition and actions often used in nursery rhymes to support their understanding of new words
  • The playful and social nature of songs and music may support some children to interact more with others (either nonverbally through actions, or through talking)
  • The use of rhythm, rhyme and varied pitch, intonation and sounds in songs can support the speech sound awareness skills of some children.

Susan Hallam’s report ‘The Power of Music’ (2010) reviews a range of relevant research studies investigating the relationship between music and other developmental areas. Hallam (2010) cites evidence of the positive impact of interactive and enjoyable music making on perceptual skills, literacy, fine motor skills, spatial reasoning, and social and personal development.


Characteristics of effective learning in music

“Early Childhood Music models of practice often involve adult led activity and direction. Whilst this is an important element of practice and pedagogy, educators need to consider the role of the adult and importantly how children develop and learn in different ways and rates.” (Burke, 2018)