How Can I Help My Child with their Speech & Language Development?

This is one of the most common questions I’m asked as a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP).  Parents want to know how to help their struggling children succeed, and rightly so.  Here’s a few things that can ALWAYS be done at home, regardless of the current therapy goals your child may have.

Practice Makes Perfect: Do Your Speech Homework

This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s at the top of the list for a reason.  It is essential that your child practice his speech exercises every day.  Progress will happen much more quickly if a child practices every day for 5 minutes instead of once a week for 35 minutes.  I tell my clients that speech therapy is very similar to learning the piano.  You cannot expect to master the piano by only attending lessons once a week.  In order to become proficient, you must practice daily.  The goal of speech therapy is to create speech and language habits, and that can’t happen if the child only practices once a week.

READ, READ, READ!!!

The importance of reading cannot be stressed enough.  Engaging your child in interactive reading is critical to his language development.  Children learn lots of language concepts through reading.  Also, children with speech or language problems are at an increased risk of future reading difficulties, so early, consistent reading is crucial.  Here are some tips for interactive reading:

Choose Books Wisely

Make sure the books you choose for your child are engaging, age-appropriate, and developmentally appropriate.  Just because a book is classified as “children’s literature” doesn’t mean that it’s an appropriate and engaging book to read.  Here are some tips for finding good books:

  • Choose books with colorful, realistic illustrations.  If you need ideas, Scholastic.com has a wide range of engaging children’s books for a great price.
  • Choose books with 2-3 sentences per page.  Some “children’s books” are really just mini novels with pictures.  Avoid books with long paragraphs of text.  They aren’t engaging for children.
  • Choose books with repetitive text.  Books such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See, and Are You My Mother are great choices because they are highly repetitive.  Children learn through repetition, so using books with repetitive phrases allows for learning and carryover.

Don’t Just Read, Interact

What do I mean by interactive reading?  Interactive reading encourages the child to engage in the reading process, as opposed to  just listening to a narrative.  Here’s how:

  • Read the words slowly and with enthusiasm.  Children process language more slowly than adults do.  Therefore, the rate of our speech should be much slower when speaking with children.  The same is true when reading to them.
  • Point to the words on the page as you read them.  This will help your child develop print awareness, which is the knowledge and understanding that printed words have meaning.
  • After reading a page, talk about the page.  Point to objects in the illustrations, explain what the characters are doing, etc.  Speak in simple and short, yet complete and grammatically correct sentences.
  • Let the child flip through the book while you talk about the pages that interests him.  It’s OK if the pages aren’t discussed in order.
  • Ask the child questions about the book using simple wh questions.  For example, if you are reading a book about farm animals, you might point to a cow and say, “This is a cow.  The cow says moo.  What does the cow say?  Moo!  Where is the cow?  There he is!”
  • DON’T GIVE UP!  Some children, especially children with speech and language problems, have very short attention spans for reading.  Your reading activities may only last a few minutes at first, and that’s OK.  The goal is exposure and consistency.  The more often your child is exposed to books and reading, the more likely it is that he will improve his language skills and become a competent reader.

Rhyme With Your Child

Rhyming with your child is critical, especially if they have speech or language difficulties.  Research shows that the ability of a child to rhyme by age 5 is directly related to their ability to read by the 3rd grade.  In other words, if your child learns to rhyme at a young age, it will improve their chances of becoming a good reader as they get older.  Here are some tips on rhyming:

  • Sing songs, lots of them!  Kids love songs!  Children’s songs contain lots of simple rhymes, so they are a great source for rhyming.
  • Teach your children the classic nursery rhymes.  Humpty Dumpty, Mary Had a Little Lamb, Little Miss Muffet: they are all great for teaching rhyming and rhythmic language.  Knowing the classic nursery rhymes is also an academic goal in Kindergarten, so if you start early, your child will be ahead!
  • Read books that are written in rhyme.  There are several great choices out there, but Dr. Suess is a great example of these kinds of books.  As you read them, point out words that rhyme.  For example, if you are reading Cat in the Hat, you can explain to your child that “cat” and “hat” rhyme because they sound the same at the end.  You can then encourage your child to think of other words that rhyme with cat.  This is a great, fun way to encourage phonemic awareness!

Have Play Time

Young children learn about the world around them through play.  This is how they learn basic nouns in categories (food, animals, clothes, etc), preposition words (under, over, on, off, etc), and opposites (open, close, in, out, etc).  Here are some tips for playing with your child:

  • Set aside 10-20 minutes a day for play time.  You’re a Mom, and as such, you’re busy!  Don’t feel guilty when you can’t always play with your children.  It’s OK for them to play alone.  But, they do need play time with you on a daily basis.  Set aside 10-20 minutes of daily structured, language-filled play.
  • Role play with your child.  Role play is the same thing as pretend play.  You can pretend to cook food in a play kitchen, have tea parties, play restaurant, be explorers, etc.
  • If you’re stuck for ideas, I recommend the following books: Baby Play and Toddler Play by Wendi Masi.  They are excellent sources for play ideas for young children.

Talking, Talking, and More Talking

Talk with your child about everything you do and see.  This allows your child to hear lots of models of simple, grammatically correct sentences.  For example, if you are making cookies with your child, the dialogue might sound something like this:

“Look, John, we’re making cookies!  What are we doing?  Making cookies!  First, we need to pour the sugar.  What are we doing?  We’re pouring the sugar.  Oh no, the spoon fell on the floor!  Where is it?  It’s on the floor!”

Keep going with this kind of dialogue (simple sentence, lots of wh questions, repetition, etc) throughout your various activities of the day.  Remember to pause after questions to give your child a chance to respond, but don’t be disappointed if they don’t respond at first.  In time, they will learn the routine and begin to respond with appropriate language.  Above all, remember to keep it fun!  Enjoy the process of being involved and watching your child learn and grow!

Until next time,

Aersta Acerson
A Utah Speech Therapist
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