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.
It’s International Read to Me Day! Our speech therapists know that reading to your kids early and often helps them make tremendous speech & language strides.
The Cuyahoga County Library has TONS of great recommendations for amazing children’s books. Repetitive picture books are great for young children. Find one that captures your child’s interest, settle in for a snuggle, and get reading!
Sign language isn’t just for the hearing impaired. Many children with speech and language disorders who struggle to express themselves can be taught non-verbal forms of communication. As our Akron speech therapists can explain, this can help kickstart the development of verbal language and help ease their frustrations. For some kids, we’ll use sign language alone, but it can also be used in conjunction with tools like picture cards or electronic devices to further encourage engagement.
Recently, a new study published in the journal Developmental Science revealed that babies as young as 5-months0old can be influenced by sign language. Researchers used a gaze-tracking technology on two groups of infants between the ages of 5 and 14 months and children between the ages of 2 and 8 years. All were confirmed to have normal hearing. About half had parents who used American Sign Language at home and the other half had no exposure to it.
Infants who came from homes where ASL was used looked mostly at the adult’s face, barely registering the hand movements. Kids who were newly exposed to sign language still preferred the face, but watched the hand movements as well.
Among the many reasons children are referred to our Cleveland speech therapists are articulation disorders. A child with an articulation disorder has trouble forming speech sounds properly. This is slightly different from phonological disorders, in which a child can produce the correct sounds, but puts them in the wrong place or order.
Both of these are forms of expressive language issues. That is, they pertain to how well a child can communicate with others. This differs from receptive language disorders, wherein a child has trouble understanding what is being communicated with them. Some children struggle with both.
Keep in mind that it’s completely normal for young kids to make speech errors as their language is developing. However, kids with articulation disorders will be tough to understand, even when other kids their age are mostly speaking clearly.
Our Brecksville speech therapy team at Therapy & Wellness Connection understands that more screen time among children is practically an inevitable pandemic reality. Parents are overwhelmed with juggling work, childcare and other responsibilities. But if you’re shopping for families of young children just learning to talk or those who are speech/language-impaired, there are many options that don’t involve high-tech.
The good news is non-tech games and toys are typically less expensive while also yielding rich developmental benefits. Some of the features our speech therapy team looks for in toys are those that help teach:
- Hands-on play
- Real-world interactions.
We look for those that boost all of the foundational learning and language skills that we’re focused on building and sharpening in speech therapy.
In contrast, non-tech toys are usually less expensive and yield rich developmental benefits by encouraging real-world interaction with loved ones and hands-on play. These features build children’s vocabulary and social skills, and teach cause and effect, problem-solving, and nearly every other foundational language and learning skills.
Hearing loss can profoundly impact a child’s development of speech, language and social skills. The sooner a child who is hard-of-hearing or deaf begins receiving services, the more likely they are to reach their maximum potential. Speech therapy is one of the key services deaf children need – even if they receive cochlear implants.
September is International Deaf Awareness Month, and it’s important to address some misconceptions that might result in unnecessary long-term challenges for children who are deaf.
Speech-language pathologists at Therapy and Wellness Connection know that when these issues aren’t addressed early on, children may arrive at school behind on their language and reasoning skills. A cochlear implant can dramatically help children with hearing loss – but that isn’t where treatment should stop.
All kids develop speech and language skills at their own pace. The fact that your child’s speech and communication skills don’t fall within the exact window as a textbook definition doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be alarmed. Still, speech therapists know that when a toddler is a late talker, it may be impossible without in-depth testing to determine whether a child is simply late bloomer or if there is a larger problem.
Research tells us there are numerous factors that can help us determine if a child’s late talking is part of a developmental delay. Some of those red flags include things like:
- Limited use of gestures
- Lack of pretend play skills
- Difficulty with joint attention (sharing the focus of another individuals, indicated with eye-gazing, pointing or other verbal/non-verbal cues)
- Delays in cognition
- Receptive language problem or delay
- Repetitive movements
- Unusual vocalizations
Perhaps the most overlooked among these is a receptive language problem or delay. And yet, in the opinion of our Akron speech therapists at Therapy & Wellness Connection, it’s one of the primary reasons many toddlers with otherwise unexplained language delays aren’t talking.
Many parents, speech therapists and child development experts have long suspected a correlation between language delays and temper tantrums in young children. Now, a recent study by researchers at Northwestern University supports this. They found that late talkers are twice as likely to have frequent, severe temper tantrums compared to typically-developing peers. Study authors concluded that early intervention is important for toddlers with language delays, as they are at higher risk for developing mental health and language disorders.
This study of more than 2,000 children is the first to find a link between delayed vocabulary in toddlers and severe temper tantrums – including among children as young as 12-months-old. That’s a lot younger than many clinicians had thought problematic behaviors can be identified.
“Severe” tantrums were characterized as consistently doing things like hitting, kicking or holding their breath during a tantrum.
Humans are creatures of habit. Even if you’re a person who welcomes change, the fact is, it takes more effort than continuing on as you were. Our speech therapists understand that for a child, being asked to stop one thing and start another (i.e., “a transition”) is a really common trigger for problematic behaviors. This is especially true for children on the autism spectrum, who rely so heavily on routine to understand and feel comfortable with the world around them.
The anxiety and frustration of a transition can be especially overwhelming if a child is transitioning from a preferred activity (something we like and want to be doing) to a non-preferred activity (something we’d rather not be doing, even if it’s necessary).
As speech therapists, we’ve seen trouble with transitions manifest in a number of ways, including:
- Full-blown meltdown
Although it can seem like the child is simply overwhelmed by their emotions (and sometimes, they are), the ABA therapists at Therapy & Wellness Connection recognize that these are often the responses the child has learned to have been successful in helping them delay or avoid a transition.