Speech & Language Tips

Friday February 5, 2021 at 4:17 PM


Speech & Language Tips

In today’s blog, we’ll discuss ways for parents to increase their children’s functional communication skills. Now more than ever, kids are at home with family and have limited access to peers and different environments. Here are different strategies that you can utilize from the comfort of your home.

Reciprocity in Conversation

Children with emerging language skills often have difficulty with the back and forth flow of conversation. To encourage reciprocal exchange, initiate activities that require interaction between you and your child. This could include participating in activities that involve turn taking in both natural and structured activities. For higher level kids, encourage the use of verbalizing “my turn” and “your turn” to model use of appropriate pronouns. Here are a few ideas of games you can do at home:

  • A simple turn taking activity such as putting objects in a box. The concept is for your child to understand they have to wait their turn before they place their object into the box.

  • Another great activity is rolling a ball back and forth. This may require an adult to assist the child with moderate-to-full hand over hand model and for another adult to be on the other side. You can also focus on words like “ball” or the phrase “ready, set, go” This is a great activity for eye contact and joint attention as well.

  • Take turns touching different body parts with the goal the your child will imitate and identify body parts following your prompt. This activity also targets receptive language and one step directions.

  • Take turns feeding a toy animal using utensils. This activity targets fine motor coordination & identifying/labeling foods.

  • Higher level activity such as a memory game, board game, or card name (UNO) are great activities as well.

Narrating Daily Routines

Verbalizing your child’s actions in activities such as cleaning up toys, washing hands, taking a bath, or preparing food exposes them to language and allows them to connect actions to the words. We encourage you to produce concise phrases in hopes that they will imitate and eventually use the phrase in a natural environment on their own. Use of visuals and gestures are encouraged as well. Here is an example:

  • “Water on! Let’s wash hands. Put hands in the water… now get some soap! Soap and rub. Rub your hands… rub, rub etc.” This all becomes very natural as you observe what your child is doing. If your child produces a word such as “hand”—expand upon it and encourage it by saying “Yes, let’s wash your hands!”

Communication Temptations

What does this mean? A communication temptation involves arranging the environment so that items are just out of reach or require a request or adult assistance to access. This motivates a child to use a visual support such as an AAC device, a gesture, a word approximation, labeling, or use a phrase (“I want ___” or “Can I have?”) in order to gain access to the desired object. For example, if a child wants their cup, you can prompt them to point to the cup, produce the /k/ sound, label cup, or use a phrase like “I want cup”. For nonvocal children who communicate using pictures or a device, this is where you can incorporate their AAC device. The following are ideas you can do at home to stimulate phrase use at home or out in the community:

  • Complete an arts and crafts activity. For example, have pieces of a dog out (nose, ears, eyes, etc) and have your child request, based on their ability, through pointing, using a sound, using a word approximation, a word phrase to put the dog together.

  • You can have a board of scenery (city, zoo, farm) and have animals, objects, and people who belong on that board for a child to request.

  • If you want your child to assist in the kitchen, you can have them ask for utensils or foods necessary to make a dish. Easy dishes such as macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or pancakes are a great place to start. The goal here is for your child to learn through an interactive, fun activity without them realizing it.

  • If your child typically has snacks readily available to them, you can place the snack items within view, but just out of reach to prompt them to request.

Play-based Routines

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, verbalize, “The cow is hungry” and “The cow wants an apple.” Next, you can model feeding the cow while producing cow sound “Mooo” and describing action “Cow is eating, yum” in hopes that the child will follow your lead. 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 praise what they do, repeat what they say and expand upon it. Repeating phrases increases exposure to different words and shows your child that you are listening to what they are saying. You can also assist them as needed based on their level of development. If your child is engaging and attending during this activity, they are likely listening to and absorbing what you are saying.

Expanding Utterance Length

A lot of children with emerging language primarily label or use two to three-word phrases. It is important to encourage use of longer phrases when age appropriate. To do this you can produce their phrase and add on additional words to their phrase. For example, if your child is eating an apple and produces phrase “apple”, you can say “Yes, you are eating an apple” or even simpler, “Eating an apple”. If your child has limited language, you can encourage production of sound “ah” for apple. If your child is using an AAC device, and they tact apple, you can expand on their device and use icons to say, “You eat apple”. These instances model language in a natural

The Importance of Asking “Wh” Questions

You can ask a child what they are doing, where something is, or who is doing an action. A great tool to target questions is going through a book. It’s not about reading what is on the pages, but rather describing and labeling What is happening, Where it is happening, and Who it is happening to. You can go through the book once and read these phrases and then go back and target words/questions. Here are a few examples of skills you can target with books:

  • Have your child follow simple one step commands including: pick up book, open the book, point to, turn the page, close the book etc.

  • Target identifying common objects, attributes, and actions by asking child to “Point to__.” You can assist them as needed and repeat the name of the object/attribute/action multiple times.

  • You can focus on expressive language by asking child to label objects, attributes, and actions by asking them “What is this?”, “What are they doing?”, or “What color is this?”

  • Work on “Wh” questions such as “What is happening?”, “Where is the apple?”, and “Who is eating?” by looking at pictures and pointing to the target. This will target working on present progressive verbs, prepositions within phrases, and pronouns within phrases

“Wh” questions can be targeted both in pictures as well as the natural setting. You can ask your child what they are doing while they are playing, eating, etc. Additionally, you can have them attend to an object and ask “Where is the ___?” or sit with your child at a table and ask them “Who is sitting at the table?”. This is focusing on verbal exchange and appropriate use of verbs, prepositions, and pronouns within phrases.

We hope you find these tips fun and helpful for incorporating language into everyday routines and activities!

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