Supporting your child’s early learning development at home (2 to 4 years)

At this age your child’s comprehension and independence are growing at a rapid rate. We’ve compiled this useful guide, covering everything from strengthening language skills and establishing good daily routines, through to practical advice around continence management to help you and your child make the most of these vital early years.

Words for life

At this age, the number of words your child understands and can say will be increasing quickly. By talking to your child when out and about, in the park, on a journey or shopping your child will learn so much more.

Try to incorporate speech and songs into your child’s daily routine to stimulate their communication development.

The Communication Trust

The Communication Trust has guidance for parents / carers talking with their children during the early years.

The National Literacy Trust

The National Literacy Trust has ideas for parents and carers to download, watch and listen to, in order to fit speech development into the routine of every day.

 Talking Point

The charity Talking Point also has helpful resources:

Daily routine

Now you know your child well, their personality, their likes, their dislikes and their preferred routine, you can plan their learning opportunities at home.

Sometimes, due to health difficulties or time spent in hospital, your child’s daily routine does not always match yours or the rest of your family. It is wise to continue to create a structure to the day and to the week, in which your growing child can feel safe and knows what is going to happen next in each day.

Talking with your child about plans for the day or the week will help them to understand and be aware of sequences of events and be more accepting of change.

Visual timetables and support structures

Visual timetables are a good way of helping your child to understand the passage of time, which can be a difficult concept for some children with hydrocephalus.

A visual timetable that your child can interact with and talk about with you is a good way to build a safe and positive routine into a small child’s life.

Examples of visual timetables can be found at The National Autistic Society.

Visual supports containing pictures help your small child to understand that symbols have meanings and provide a good opportunity to practise early ‘reading’ of signs.

Children who have hydrocephalus need opportunities to learn to make choices, initiate and structure their lives in ways that follow a meaningful sequence.

Examples of visual supports and sequencing can be found at Sparklebox.

Learning independence or self-help skills

There are four main types of self-help skills:

  • Self-feeding
  • Independent dressing and grooming
  • Hygiene and toileting
  • Helping with daily chores like table setting and picking up toys.

How to start completing daily routines successfully:

  • Get down to your child’s level
  • Be a good role model for the activity
  • Provide easy-to-follow steps or instructions
  • Offer simple choices between no more than two items
  • Give First/Then statements to reinforce the sequence, such as “First we roll up our sock. Then we put it over our foot, like this.”
  • Celebrate your child’s success with a smile and praise.

The Children’s Workshop has tips on how to encourage self help skills in children.

Some children with spina bifida, which affects their mobility, will struggle with dressing and undressing at first. Children can practise by playing little games with plastic hoopla rings where they put their arm or their leg through the hoop. This models the movement of putting their arm through a sleeve or their foot into a sock. Slowly a child will learn the skills of dressing and undressing even when they have limited movement.


By making use of your knowledge of what your child loves to play with and to do, you can reward your child with the play activities they love.

Reward the effort rather than the achievement.

Praise all the small successes your child makes every day.

Some families use a reward system for their children to improve behaviour both in and outside the home. There are many examples of rewards systems available such as stickers, putting building blocks in a jar and counting them up at the end of the day or week, leading to a chosen reward.

Remember that the greatest reward you can give a small child is your time so find a small reward that you both enjoy, like reading a favourite story together, to have positive moments with each other throughout the week.

Bedtime routine

Bedtime routine can be a struggle for some children with neural tube conditions then sleep advice from a sleep practitioner may help.

The Sleep Charity has training for families and for professionals.

Cerebra has a guide to bedtime routine to download for information.

Continence management

If a child has a neurological condition it can take a while to teach a child to manage their continence independently. Shine has continence nurse specialist support to help and advise parents as they learn complex skills and develop a routine together, and information for parents about continence care in children.

The charity ERIC also has useful resources about continence management in children.

On your Team

Professionals who can help

All babies and children are unique and develop at different rates.

If you have any concerns about your child’s development then talk to your health visitor, who can offer you advice or refer you to the child development team of specialists.

  • Paediatric consultant
  • Educational psychologist
  • Physiotherapist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Speech and Language therapist
  • Dietician
  • Urologist
  • Disability social worker

Click here, for more information on professionals who support your child.

You’re not alone

There are Support Groups like Shine and also Facebook groups, focusing on general additional needs as well as on particular disabilities, for parent carers who would like to communicate with families in similar circumstances and share advice.

  • Link to Shine facebook
  • Netmums
  • National Network of parent carer forums (NNPCF)
  • The Local Offer  - The Local Offer provides clear, comprehensive, accessible and up-to-date information about the available provision in your area for disabled children and those with SEN. Parents and disabled young people and those with SEN can access it and find out what support is available.
  • Portage - Portage is an Outreach service in most areas of England, where a child development specialist will visit you at home and create a play plan just for your baby’s needs. The service focuses on teaching your child how to reach new milestones in their development from sitting up to communicating.

Other learning programmes for children with additional needs at home include:

  • Sure Start provides advice for families to help you find a centre in your area and to support your child’s learning at home
  • Local Children’s Centres provide learning programmes for parent carers and their children. See your Local Offer for more information.
  • provides free tools and resources online to maximise your child’s motor, sensory and communication development.

Therapeutic Services offered by children’s charities

There are a range of therapies and education systems, providing extra support and guidance for families with children who have hydrocephalus or neural tube conditions like spina bifida.


Brainwave is a charity which helps which helps children with disabilities and additional needs to achieve greater independence by aiming to improve mobility, communication skills and learning potential through a range of educational and physical therapies.

Conductive Education

Conductive Education (CE) is a holistic integrated educational system, which enables children and adults with damage to the central nervous system to learn to overcome the challenges they face. CE is primarily suitable for people with neurological conditions such as brain injury, stroke and cerebral palsy and helps to move people towards increased independence, and can work in different settings such as:

  • CEPEG has a list of CE centres around the UK.
  • Nottingham School for Parents offers sessional CE where parent carers are taught how to teach their child at home.
  • The Pace Centre, Aylesbury offers CE run by multi-disciplinary teams of early years specialists, such as physiotherapists, educators and speech and language therapists.
  • Paces Sheffield offers CE in a full EYFS nursery school setting.

The Movement Centre for Targeted Training

Targeted training is a specialist physiotherapy service, which makes use of bioengineering to develop movement control.

Montessori Nursery Schools

The Montessori Method is an approach to learning, which emphasizes active learning, independence, cooperation, and learning in harmony with each child’s unique pace of development from 0 to 6 years old.

Need more help?

If you need to speak with one of Shine’s specialist advisers about spina bifida or hydrocephalus, call us on 01733 555988 or click here to email us.

Our office hours are Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. We aim to respond to all enquiries as quickly as possible!

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