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Talking Mats is fun! Whether you are sitting on the floor completing your mat or sitting at a small table, young children enjoy the fact that they can give information through multiple channels – Talking Mats is visual, auditory and tactile. It is an engaging tool to use when consulting children.They can express a view without words if they want to or they can have a conversation if they enjoy chatting. Watching a young child thinking and reflecting about where they place their symbol on the mat can be a humbling experience. Some adults still consider young children as incapable of expressing their views or opinions but in reality they can often express strong views about things and are very capable of grading their responses. Sometimes we just don’t take the time to ask them about the issues in their lives and free up some time to listen.

Talking Mats has created a specific Early years resource to make consulting young children easier. The symbols have been graded according to their developmental stage. When using the picture symbols it is important to remember:

  • Most of the symbols in the Early years pack are concrete and you can quickly identify the shared meaning for example – “drawing”drawing
  • Others are concrete but have a broader meaning. An example of this is when asking about “eyes”
  • eyesight

We have found that it is best to allow the child to interpret the meaning at their level so it maybe they have sore eyes; they don’t like their glasses or they have brown eyes. Try not to be too prescriptive when presenting the option to the child; a symbol can act as a jump off point capturing what fits for the child at the time. Just allow the meaning to emerge.

• The abstract symbols do need a bit more explanation because they ask about more complex concepts such as safety. The Early years pack asks about safety in relation to the road,  physical safety and safety around others.



Asking about daily routines will give insight into how nurtured and cared for they feel. Let the child lead the discussion as much as possible.


Using visual communication is a great way to have a conversation with children in the early years and a good tool to involve children in decision making. Listening to the child’s view is essential for the GIRFEC process in Scotland and for co-producing Education Health care plans in England and Wales. Talking Mats has created a unique resource which is based on the “International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health – Children and Youth version” Talking Mats uses a framework which helps children to express themselves in a way they feel comfortable with. As adults we need to be able to facilitate the conversation.

We find that to realize the full potential of Talking Mats it is best to attend a Talking Mats course . The courses allow you to focus on your situation and how you can be creative and apply it in your own work,


We wanted to develop a tool that would give a holistic picture of how a child or young person feels about their lives at home at school and in their communities. We took into account the significant developmental changes that occur from 3 to 17 years and the influence of environmental and personal factors surrounding the child or young person.

We asked our artist to reflect the age and stage of the child in developing a symbol set for:

  • Early years
  • Primary and
  • Secondary

The symbols are organised into three topics:

My Body and Skills: In this section you explore how the child is growing and developing by focussing on the functions of the body as well as skills that are emerging.  You can gain an impression of how the child feels he or she is progressing physically, socially, cognitively and behaviourally.

What I do and my support: In this section you look at the child’s lived experience by asking about the activities they participate in, as well as how they feel about the support they receive.

My Wider world: The communities in which children grow up have a significant impact on the well-being of both children and families. In this section you look at the child’s wider world by exploring the impact of nursery or school as well as the support system available to them.

Talking Mats prompts you to cover the relevant topics for each age group you’re working with. You can help children and young people to see their personal strengths and abilities and take time to consider what their problem areas are.

The mind map below shows what is included in the Primary pack – What I do and my support.

My body and skills 5.7.13

If you want to read about how Talking Mats were used to help young people think about targets for their IEP read the 2012 research report.

If you would like the complete Consulting children and young people pack, covering Early years, Primary and Secondary then buy the silver resource which can be purchased either as an original or through a digital subscription.



One of the things I love about Talking Mats is that it can be used by all agencies. When thinking about the rationale behind GIRFEC the main focus is to encourage professionals to work together. It is so refreshing to have a resource that is recognised and used across the agencies.
It is not necessary to have written reports with names of assessments or measures that are a mystery to each other. Talking Mats uses visuals to capture feelings and views. The reporting of those views can be understood by children, parents and professionals.
In developing our new resource we listened and responded to a wide range of professionals. We have researched the Well-being indicators and have provided a tool to give an overview of the issues in the lives of children and young people.
Our vision is to provide a tool to listen to and capture children’s voices. We have a responsibility to be open and realistic about how we respond to what they tell us. Taking time to listen means we need to take time to respond.
We hope that Talking Mats will improve understanding throughout the whole GIRFEC team as we seek to get to the heart of what matters to the child.  Margo Mackay

Talking Mats role in child protection

Here are 3 stories of how Talking Mats has been helpful to staff from Edinburgh Council – Child Protection Team.

Use with parents

N. works with chaotic drug using parents and said “TMs was a turning point – like gold dust – it helped parents identify important issues”.

Involving child in access decisions

A young girl completed two mats the first one about going to mum’s and the second one about going to dad’s. The social worker was then able to explain to the parents how the child felt and TMs allowed the parents to discuss positive ways to unify care. The visual impact of having two differing viewpoints is very powerful.

Use of Talking Mats in children’s panels

L. has trained many Children’s Panel members in Edinburgh and some are now asking social workers if they have used a TM. Using the actual mat rather than a photo was considered to be more beneficial. “it is like the child is present in the room”. An example was given of a young child bringing in her mats about cats. She showed the panel member her mat and it acted as evidence to show the panel that the girl is now able to separate from her mother. Her mother had suffered abuse as a child and she had become over-protective of her daughter. TM increased the child’s participation.

If anyone has used Talking Mats in Child Protection we would love to hear from you.

Involving young people in making decisions that affect their education can be both challenging and time consuming. Margo Mackay has just completed a research project, funded by NHS Forth Valley, which examined whether using the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health – Children and Youth Version (ICF-CY) can be usefully combined with Talking Mats to provide a practical framework for decision making and target setting. It tested whether:

  1. combining Talking Mats and the ICF-CY framework was acceptable to secondary pupils with complex needs, and
  2. using the information obtained from them is helpful in setting targets for their Individual Education Plans

The project found that Talking Mats, when combined with ICF-CY, is a powerful tool with the potential to greatly enhance the nature of partnerships between pupils, parents and professionals.