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
Helping small children learn to communicate is something parents innately start virtually from the moment a child is born. But our Brecksville speech therapy team knows that fostering strong speech and language skills sometimes requires acting with a bit more purpose. Even if you have zero concerns about your child’s ability to communicate, there’s no harm in thoughtfully working to boost your child’s social skills and vocabulary.
As speech-language pathologists who work with young children in the process of acquiring and developing language, we have accumulated many effective techniques that help kids not only in learning to talk, but mastering broader language and communication skills. Here, we’re sharing some of the basics you can use with your child at home, in the community, and during everyday interactions. This is useful for kids with typically-developing speech and language, as well as those for whom such skills are a bit more challenging.
Talking isn’t the only communication skill on the table. In fact, it isn’t even the first. Babies communicate by crying. As they get older, they make eye contact, use body language, and point. Words eventually become the easiest way to convey specific wants, needs, and dislikes, but that comes later. As parents and caregivers, when we recognize, encourage, and positively reinforce those language precursors, we promote healthy speech-language production.
Interesting and of note: Language development and play are very closely related. Kids first start saying their first words around 12 to 13 months, and it’s not a coincidence that this is around the same time that symbolic play begins to emerge. (Symbolic play would be something like holding up a piece of fruit and pretending it’s a phone.) When you participate in that symbolic play, you’re encouraging her language development and helping to expand his/her capacity to represent things both mentally and symbolically.
Create Communication Opportunities
There are many ways parents can create opportunities to encourage their little ones to practice key communication skills. Some of those include:
- Putting desired objects slightly out-of-reach. Instead of simply handing your child the milk you know they want, place it just out of reach of their high chair. Wait for them to ask for it, or at least signal their desire (point, make eye contact, etc.). Reinforce their communication by saying back to them, “You want the milk? Ok, momma will give you the milk.” Same thing for much-loved toys: Put them just a bit higher up (but not so high they can’t be seen.)
- Pretend to be forgetful. Kids LOVE this game. You have lots of routines your child has probably already gotten used to – morning, afternoons, dinner time and bedtime. Let’s say you’re preparing her breakfast. “Forget” to pour the milk. She’s going to “catch” you being forgetful/changing the routine/what’s expected. This is a great way to initiate conversations with young kids.
- Pause during predictable activities. Same concept as “forgetting,” but you’re waiting for them to fill in the blanks. You can start with a favorite song your child loves. “Mary had a little -” and then wait to see if she fills in the blank. That prompts her not only to use her vocabulary, but also practice the back-and-forth turn-taking of language.
Other Helpful Strategies from our Brecksville Speech Therapy Team
Speech and language are skills every child develops at their own pace, but the goal should always be to help them master the next level – while also boosting their self-confidence and keeping it fun!
Other techniques our Brecksville speech-language pathologists use:
- Imitation. If the child is babbling or making nonsense noise, make another playful sound in response. Imitating a child’s sounds and actions – and later words – shows them that they have the ability to be heard! It also helps them begin to grasp the turn-taking element of language. Eventually, they’ll work their way to more complex communication skills.
- Interpretation. If a child points to a toy, they are communicating that they want it. Our speech therapists take this to the next level by interpreting their non-verbal communication with a response like, “Truck! You want the truck.”
- Expansion & recasting. If the child says, “white ball,” we respond by saying, “Yes, that’s a big, white ball.” If a child says, “monkey jump off bed,” we recast that grammar by responding with, “The monkey did jump off the bed.” We’re using intonation and stress to underscore the words on which we want the child to focus.
- Comment and description. Rather than direct your child during playtime, play a newscaster. Give them the play-by-play. “You’re moving the yellow truck around the track.” “You’re putting the brown horse in the barn.” “You’re throwing me the ball!” This not only helps boost a child’s vocabulary, it’s going to help them organize those thoughts while they’re playing.
- Contingent responses. This is important, but it’s often one of the toughest. It involves responding right away to any and all attempts at communication. That includes not just words, but gestures or other efforts to get your attention. Kids need to know that not only is communication in general important, but so specifically is their voice.
- Labeling. You can do this with infants who aren’t talking yet as well as small children – label everything around them. Everything from the rain in the sky to the fruit on their plate to the dog you pass on the street. Label everything.
- Labeling your praise. Rather than just saying, “Nice work,” get specific. “Nice work picking up your blue bunny and red ball,” or “Great job saying more milk please.” Not only does this boost language, it encourages expected behaviors and manners.
If you have any concerns about your child’s speech-language development, our Northeast Ohio pediatric SLP team can help!
Social communication is the way we use language in social contexts, encompassing social interaction, social cognition, pragmatics and language processing. Our Brecksville speech therapists recognize that while many of us take the “rules” of these exchanges for granted, they can be tough for children with developmental delays, disabilities, and other challenges.
Most language is social. Social communication skills include the ability to:
- Vary one’s speech style.
- Recognize the perspective of others.
- Understand – and appropriately use – rules for verbal/non-verbal communication.
- Use the structural elements of language.
There is a fairly broad range of norms accepted across cultures, families and between individuals for social communication, but these skills are critical for effective back-and-forth conversations in a social situation. When a child struggles with verbal and non-verbal communication for social purposes, this may be diagnosed as social communication disorder.