May is Better Speech & Hearing Month, and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports 1 in 12 kids age 3-17 in the U.S. has a disorder related to voice, speech, language or swallowing. Our Cleveland speech therapists recognize that speech problems (difficulty being understood by others) are the most common among kids ages 3-10. Language problems (difficulty understanding others) ranked No. 2. More than one-third of kids with communication disorders has more than one.
As Cleveland speech therapists, we have decades of combined experience in engaging with children with speech-language disorders and delays, and helping to encourage their development on these fronts. But we also recognize that speech therapy is only part of the puzzle! The more consistent practice and carryover a child has across environments, the better these new skills are going to “stick,” and the faster kids will reach their speech therapy goals!
So what’s the best way to practice these skills with your kids? Play!
“Your child’s most important job is to play. It’s through play that young kids learn and grow. So playing with your child is really the best way to help them sharpen those speech & language skills.”
Jaclyn McClymont, speech-language pathologist, owner and founder of Therapy & Wellness Connection.
Any play that engages your child is generally going to be good for encouraging speech and language (as well as positive mental health and interpersonal connection). That said, there may be some activities/games that are more beneficial than others.
Here, our Cleveland speech therapists offer a few of our simple favorites!
Pretend Talk on the Phone
Pretending to talk on the phone is great for teaching kids important words, family member names, and social skills like turn-taking. If they’re very young, you can work on the basics, “Hi!” “Ok!” “Yes.” “No.” “Momma.” “Grama.” “Bye!” Modeling speech & language doesn’t need to be super complicated for it to be effective. The key is to keep it fun!
“Who’s on the phone? Is it Daddy? No, Ok. Is it Momma?”
“Did you tell Momma hi? Hi, Momma! Ok, bye!”
Sing Songs in Motion
The list here is endless, but to name a few:
- Wheels on the Bus
- Itsy Bitsy Spider
- Old Macdonald
- Five Little Ducks
- Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes
- Baby Shark (if it doesn’t drive you crazy!)
- Hokey Pokey
Often, kids will copy the motions first. Eventually, they’ll wade in with a few of the words. Before you know it, they’ll have it all down to a T!
YouTube has some engaging videos to go along with these, and the extra visual may help too.
Look Through/Read Books
You don’t have to read a 40-page book. Most kids won’t sit through that anyway. But start with picture books. Think small – 3-5 pages. And you don’t necessarily have to “read” them all either. Look through the pictures. Point to various objects or people in the story. Label them. Talk about what might be happening.
It will take time, but eventually you’ll be able to get through the whole book. Then you can start reading it. Rhyming or sing-songy books are often best for memorization.
Kids love balls. They’re great not only for gross motor skills, but also for development of joint attention, turn-taking, and other key social skills.
You can work on words like roll, throw, bounce, catch, down, up, around, over, your turn, my turn, etc.
If you’re trying to encourage requesting, wait a few beats after you’ve gotten the ball for them to motion or ask for it returned.
“You want the ball? Say, ‘Ball!” or “Ball please!”
Narrate everything you’re doing.
“The ball went over the chair!”
Once they master some of the basics, you can start adding other adjectives.
“You’re playing with the big, blue ball!”
Play With Bubbles
Bubbles are so easy and simple, they’re sometimes overlooked – but they can be a source of ENDLESS fun and enjoyment for kids.
Help your child work on requesting the bubbles, model for them “more bubbles” and say words like, “up, down, pop, jump, catch, circle, over, under,” etc.
Bubbles are great at bath time year-round, but spring & summer are perfect for taking it outside, and giving them a chance to get some fresh air & soak up some Vitamin D!
Play With Pretend Food
Kids are crazy about pretend food. They love to play as if they are planning, preparing, and eating it. It’s been our Cleveland speech therapists’ experience that even when kids don’t have utensils or plates or cups or play-food, they’ll get imaginative and make do with what they have. So if you have pretend food – cool. If you don’t – no sweat. Kids’ imaginations are a wonder. You can use a block, a box, or even empty boxes or cans, cartons, etc.
You can model pouring food, cooking food, drinking, and eating. You can model words like, “Yummy! Great job! Hot! Cold! Yucky! cup, plate, fork, all done, mine, yours, good,” etc. You can also label different food items, and even put them into categories. “Apple is a fruit.” “Chicken is meat.”
Cleveland Speech Therapists Encourage Parent Involvement!
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you play – but that you’re engaged. The best thing parents can do for their kids day in and out is talk to them. Narrate what you’re doing. Narrate what others are doing. Talk about colors, shapes, animals, weather, foods, people, cars – anything that captures their interest and imagination.
If you have questions about how you can engage your child during playtime, our speech therapy team can help!
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
The Importance of Play: How Kids Learn by Having Fun, Sept. 28, 2020, Healthline.com
More Blog Entries:
Why Our Cleveland Speech Therapists LOVE Repetitive Picture Books for Kids, March 19, 2022, Cleveland Pediatric Speech Therapy Blog
Any speech-language pathologist will tell you that pretty much all books are amazing tools for encouraging language development in your child. But when it comes to younger kids, it’s the predictive, repetitive picture books that are best. This is especially true for kids who may be struggling with those speech and language skills. Why, though? As our Cleveland speech therapists can explain, the repetitive nature of these books helps reduce what we call the “cognitive load.” In other words, they don’t have to think so hard to figure out what’s being said and how to say it themselves.
With repetitive picture books, kids get the chance to engage by filling in the words, phrases, and character’s names as the content of the book becomes more familiar – which is easier when it’s simple and repetitive. Bonus points if it rhymes. Repetitive texts are predictable. Lots of kids enjoy predictability because knowing what to expect provides a sense of calm.
When we’re reading to children, it’s a form of engagement and they want to participate. Non-repetitive books can be great too, but studies have shown that with those, kids will try to participate by answering reader questions or imitating the reader’s words – skills that can be really tough for them early on, particularly if they have conditions like childhood apraxia of speech, autism spectrum disorder, or speech-language delays. Repetitive picture books decrease their frustrations, which can boost participation, turn-taking, comprehension – and fun!
Pictures are a necessary component for children’s books because they help introduce new vocabulary in context, aiding comprehension.
Our Cleveland speech therapists use these types of books to target all types of goals, including the skills needed for receptive language (understanding what’s being said), expressive language (using language to express yourself), articulation (proper pronunciation of the words), and fluency (the continuity, smoothness, rate and effort in speech production). If a child has trouble producing certain sounds, the frequent practice provided by repetitive picture books can do wonders.
Research has shown that kids whose parents spoke to them frequently had larger vocabularies and tested higher in cognitive ability. On analysis published by the American Psychological Association tracked parents’ interactions with 107 kids between the ages of 2 and 4 with audio recorders placed in their home (with their consent, of course). Over the course of three days, study authors examined the total number of words each child heard from their caregivers and the diversity of that vocabulary. What they discovered was that the sheer number of words and the greater variation of those words was positively correlated with with kids’ cognitive ability and speech development.
Of course, this doesn’t mean if your child’s speech & language skills are delayed that you aren’t doing your job and talking to the enough. What it means is that all young kids substantially benefit when they’re spoken to early and often. While you may not be able to change their starting point/genetics, it’s clear there is a definite interplay between a child’s environmental experiences and their development.
Although some parents may feel a bit odd speaking to a baby or small child – knowing they can’t understand most of what’s being said – sometimes it’s as simple as narrating your day, and all that you’re doing. “Now mommy is going to walk to the mailbox to see if we got any letters.” “Let’s use the pink soap to wash your hair.” “Our fluffy dog loves going for long walks on his leash!” “Mommy likes to pick the bright, red, shiny peppers.”
Activities to Boost Baby’s Speech & Language Skills
The American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) has a whole host of ideas it recommends for encouraging babies to engage and talk.
Some of those include:
- Saying sounds like “da” and “ba” and “ma” and trying to get your infant to repeat them back to you.
- Being sure to respond any time your baby laughs or makes a face. If they make a face, make the same one back to them.
- Give your baby your attention anytime he or she makes sounds. Talk back and pretend you’re having a conversation.
- Anytime you notice colors or shapes, point them out.
- Use lots of gestures like pointing and waving.
- Count the things you’re seeing, touching, or working with.
- Talk about all the sounds that animals make.
- Read to your baby. You don’t even have to read every single word (especially if you’re tired of the same books over and over, though repetition can be helpful for kids). Pick large, colorful picture books and point out all the things you see in the picture, label it, ask questions (and answer them if they’re still too young to talk).
Once your child gets to be about 2-years-old, you should be regularly modeling clear speech for your child (eliminate baby talk if possible).
If you have questions about other ways to help kick-start your child’s speech & language skills, our dedicated Brecksville speech therapists are available to help.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
More Blog Entries:
Brecksville Speech Therapy Insight: When Do Babies Learn Their Names? September 2, 2021, Brecksville Pediatric Speech & Language Therapy Blog