With schools closed and families spending more time at home, it can be difficult to find new ways of keeping young ones engaged and learning. Luckily there are many ways for parents to promote language learning in the course of everyday routines. Our Speech Language Pathologist, Marika Gaul, shares more techniques that are easy to integrate into daily activities and even during play with your child.
Set up ‘communication temptations’
Finding ways to enhance your child’s motivation is one of the most important strategies to encourage more independent communication. For example, you might keep desired items like toys or favorite snacks somewhere that’s in view but out of reach, ensuring that your child will have to ask for your help. This can be effective regardless of your child’s skill level, whether that’s using full sentences like “Can I have the cup?” or producing just the “k” sound or even simply pointing to the cup. Encourage your child to engage in whatever means of functional communication is within their abilities.
This strategy can also be incorporated into fun, structured activities like arts and crafts projects. For example, perhaps you and your child want to assemble an animal out of household materials. Have all the different pieces (nose, ears, etc.) ready and available so your child can request (based on their ability) each item piece by piece. For an added visual element, you can use a board with magnets and have your child indicate what picture they want. If your child is helping out in the kitchen, you can have them ask for the utensils or ingredients necessary to complete a dish. This idea can be applied across a variety of fun activities to increase language and learning!
Engage in functional play-based routines
Another method for supporting language production at home is engaging in functional play. Get on eye level with your child and bring out highly motivating toys to stimulate joint attention, eye contact, following directions, imitation skills, and reciprocal exchange. For example, when playing with farm animals, narrate your actions by saying things like, “the cow is hungry” and “the cow wants an apple.” Then you can model feeding the cow while making cow sound “mooo” and describing an action “cow is eating, yum!” in hopes that the child will follow your lead. In this example, the goal is for your child to pick up a food and a different animal and imitate you. If they imitate, it is important to positively reinforce their behavior. Providing praise and repeating what the child says back to them can help your child see that you’re paying attention and excited about what they’re doing. You can also assist them as needed based on their level of development. As long as your child is engaging and attending, you have succeeded.
Expand on your child’s utterance length
For children with developing vocal skills, look for ways to increase the length of their requests and other spoken phrases. For example, if your child is eating an apple and produces the phrase “apple,” you can say “Yes, you are eating an apple” or even simpler, “eating apple.” If your child has minimal vocal skills, you can encourage production of the sound “ah” for apple by repeating the sound ‘ah’ three times while your child is engaged with the apple. If your child is using a communication device and they label apple, you can expand on their device and use icons to say “you eat apple” or vocally respond by echoing the label. This is modeling language in a fun natural way.
We hope you found these techniques fun and easy to integrate into your daily activity! Stay tuned for more tips and strategies to work on speech and language skills.