BAM! POW! ZOOM! If you were a superhero, those might be your “power words”. When you’re a toddler, your “power words” are the ones that are:
FAVORITES and FREQUENT
When thinking about words that might be highly motivating for your little one to learn, stick with what their interests are and what they may need to say frequently or what they see frequently. For many families, teaching their child academic words like letters and colors and shapes and numbers is a high priority. If your child is interested in these concepts and you teach them to use them functionally “the red car, the ball is a circle, you have two crackers”, etc… then that’s great! However, when you’re thinking about helping a little one learn to communicate who has no words or very few words, think POWER WORDS. When you use the right power word at the right moment, you may hear your child attempt to imitate you – and then you know you chose the right word! It’s a Magical Moment.
- Start by making a list of your child’s favorite/frequent foods, toys, people, activities.
- Add some functional/frequent words like “more, no, yes, hi, bye, all done, mine, go, stop, uh-oh (yep, that’s a word)”
- Make a purposeful effort to use these words throughout the day
Seems simple, right?
When your child is playing with cars, say “car” many ways and many times – not in long, complicated sentences but just the single word. Make car noises, wave hi/bye to the cars, and when the car successfully makes the jump you celebrate with “YESSSSS!”
When your child is eating, say “eat” many ways and many times. Personally, I sing songs about eating, but that’s just me. Give them only a small portion of what you think they will want and give them the opportunity to request “more” or respond “yes” when you ask if they want more. Purposefully give them the wrong food or utensil and YOU say “oops, NO” (in a playful, mommy made a mistake kind of way). Teach them words, feed them words.
When you are looking at a book, pick a power word and stick with it. If you want to practice the word “hi” then just say “hi” to every person or animal on every page. No need to read all the text. If “ball” is a power word and it’s in the book somewhere then search each page for it asking “baaaalll?” When you find it, say “BALL”. That’s it. No need for long sentences. Focus on the power word.
In each example above, I wrote what YOU the adult should say. Speech therapists like to call that “modeling” words. YOU are saying words, your child is listening. They are listening to words that are favorites and frequent. There’s a much better chance they will try to imitate these words.
The same concept applies when working with preschoolers who might be working on saying specific sounds.
Recently I was looking for some words that have the “sh” sound and most of the pre-made materials included words like “sheriff, ocean, chef” – not exactly things this preschooler is going to talk about on a regular basis. So, we had to make our own pictures for POWER words like “show” (to request a TV show), “shoe” (because he puts them on and takes them off at least 2-3 times per day), “sure” (because that’s how he likes to agree), and “push” (because he frequently needed his mother’s help to push something closed or to connect train tracks/race track pieces). These words were motivating, interesting, useful, and highly repetitive throughout the day. No need to carve out artificial “speech” time. Just work on the words as you go through your daily activities. The power words will give you plenty of opportunity to practice without needing to have 30 minutes of “speech” time.
What are your child’s power words?
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