How Can I Help My Child at Home?

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 daily what he is learning with his SLP, even if it’s only for 5 minutes.  It is far better for a child to practice 5 minutes every day than it is if they practice once a week for 35 minutes.  You can compare it to learning the piano.  The goal is to create speech and language habits, and that doesn’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 development.  This is true for all children, not just children with speech or language problems.  Here are some tips for interactive reading:

Choose Books Wisely

Make sure the books you choose for you children 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.

Don’t Just Read, Interact

What do I mean by interactive reading?  Interactive reading encourages the child to engage in the reading process, rather than 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 phonological awareness, which is the ability to understand that the printed word represents objects and ideas.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Rhyming

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!

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 on 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 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 go 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.