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Let's Play: the speech and language way

Speech and language therapy ideas for playing at home

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Strategies

Say what they see

Have you noticed how hard to it is to pay attention to something when your mind is elsewhere?  Trying to focus on someone else’s words while you have other ideas is virtually impossible.

How difficult is it to repeat a word you’ve never heard before?  What if that word is in a completely different language using sounds you’ve never even attempted to produce?  This is also virtually impossible – at least on your first attempt.

These two scenarios are KEY to helping little ones learn to talk.

We need to be using words that…

1) match their interest or activity and

2) are easy(ish) to imitate – at least attempt to imitate.

If you are playing with your child and have certain expectations of how that play should go, you may be using words that are of no interest to your child and therefore they pay no attention.  You can talk all day about how the car should drive along the well-defined road that you spent some time creating and how the car stops for gas and then parks in the garage… but then you notice that your child is not following along.  He has actually just noticed that the door on the car OPENS!  Instead of encouraging him to close the car’s door and put the car down on the road and drive so that he can play how the car is supposed to be played with, stop your car play ideas and use words that are meaningful to his play ideas: “open”, “shut”, “knock knock”, “ooooh”.  You may even notice that your child starts to pay attention to you and smiles and maybe even tries to say some of those words or sounds because you are now speaking the same language!

You may have heard that to help your little one learn to talk you should “narrate the day”.  This generally means talk, aloud, about what you are doing so that your little one can hear how language is used.  Yes, you should do that.  But, if you really want to impact how your child learns to pay attention, understand language, imitate sounds, and eventually learn to talk… say what THEY see.  This means talk about THEIR actions, ideas, and thoughts.  Not just yours.

When you are playing with your child (yes, you should do that too), reduce how often you give directions, commands and ask child-directed questions (asking them to complete a task or find a specific item).  Instead, spend several minutes increasing your comments, exclamations, and asking self-directed questions (like wondering aloud to yourself where something could be or how you could problem solve getting an object out of reach).

ideas for speech therapy at home

Here’s another example:  Your child has a shape sorter (or puzzle…or box with anything inside).  We may be expecting them to sort, match, and name the objects.  However, she just noticed that the objects “disappear” when you close the box and then reappear when you open it!

Instead of:

  • command “open it up”
  • give a direction “give me the yellow circle”
  • ask a question “where does the square go?”

Try this:

  • commenting “bye bye shapes!”
  • exclaiming “it’s gone!  uh-oh!”
  • ask a question to yourself “I wonder where it went”

Asking questions to yourself takes the pressure off of your child and gives her an opportunity to help you.  You just have to continue to look and pretend that you can’t find it.  “Hmmmm…where IS that circle?”

Once you are playing how your child wants to play you can add sounds and words that will be more meaningful.  If the box or shape sorter is hiding the objects, try “peek-a-boo” – remember to pause before saying “BOO” so that she has a chance to say it first.  If the objects or shapes are actually in a zippered bag then just say “zzzzzzz” as you zip it up!  She might think that is super interesting and try it too!  Don’t worry if she isn’t matching the colors or putting the shapes where they belong.  If she is watching you and listening to you and trying to imitate the sounds you are making…that’s much more powerful than playing with the toy how the manufacturer intended it to be played with.

I’m fairly certain I’ve never actually read on the instruction booklet for a shape sorter that it can be an amazing toy to use with peek-a-boo, but I have played peek-a-boo while hiding behind a shape sorter lid with MUCH success and laughter!

Bottom line is this:

Offer your children toys. Watch how they play with them.  Follow their lead.  Use words and sounds that match what THEY are doing and what THEY are interested in.

Say what THEY see.  You might find that they will then say what you say!


For a FREE, printable version of this post, go to: FREE Handouts you can print out


Other posts you may be interested in:

Where’s the speech in speech therapy?

Two little words to encourage communication

Playing with… PUZZLES!

 

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Where’s the speech in speech therapy?

“It looks like they are just playing.  Is that all they do?”

If you’ve ever watched a speech therapy session with a one- or two- year old, you may have asked yourself this question.  What looks like “just play” actually has a whole bunch of strategy and purpose that goes with it.

How do little ones typically learn to walk?  They explore.  They play.

How do little ones typically learn to talk?  They listen.  They watch.  They play.

Just as we don’t usually pick up a child’s foot and move it into position to teach walking, we also don’t take a child’s mouth and move it into position while simultaneously vibrating her vocal cords to create sound.  That just isn’t possible.

Children learn best through PLAY.  They are interested in play.  Play is motivating.  Play is fun.  They want to play… again and again and again.  Sometimes speech therapy starts with play and sometimes speech therapy starts before play.

I often wish that it was called “communication therapy” and that I was considered a “communication coach” but speech (and language) therapy is the name.  So, we have to explain.

In order to really play with others, the child first must be interested in others.  They have to learn the skills of making eye contact, imitating movements and sounds, taking turns, anticipating actions, smiling when things are funny, checking in with caregivers when things are scary, using gestures like pointing, and understanding that words and sounds have meaning.  When I say “uh-oh”, a child needs to know that something bad or messy just happened.  When I say “get your shoes on”, a child needs to anticipate that we may be leaving the house.  All of these things need to happen BEFORE speech and, sometimes, that’s where speech therapy has to start.  To figure out why a child isn’t yet using words we sometimes need to explore their PLAY skills.

“But my child plays just fine.  When do you teach him to talk?”

Great question!  If all of your child’s “pre-verbal”/play skills are developing on track then a speech therapist uses play to continue to engage your child on their level with a whole bunch of strategies to try and help little ones learn to use their voice.  Strategies might include offering choices, simplifying words, increasing meaningful sounds, reducing commands and questions, increasing visual attention to the speaker’s mouth, playing forgetful games, placing items just slightly out of reach, etc. etc. etc  (that’s a topic for entire textbook or two  – too much for one blog post!)  The point is, yes, we play.  However, we aren’t there to entertain a child.  We expect play to be a two-way street with communication as the ultimate goal.

So, the next time you watch a speech therapy session, look for the strategy behind the fun.  That’s the magic.


For a FREE, printable version of this post, go to: FREE Handouts you can print out


Need some ideas of WHAT to play with and HOW to play using speech and language strategies?  Check out:

Top 5 NON-toy Toys

Best toys and gifts: a speech therapist’s list!

POWER words

Toddler Speech: unraveling the mystery

 

POWER words

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?


For a FREE, printable version of this post, go to: FREE Handouts you can print out


Other posts you may like:

Toddler Speech: unraveling the mystery

Playing with…BOOKS!

Where are the WORDS?

Empower older siblings to teach

Your toddler doesn’t use many words.  If he has an older, very talkative sibling in the house you may have been told that this could be the problem…she is doing all of the talking for him.  So, you try to tell her to please let her brother have a turn to say a word.  She can’t seem to do that.  She wants to help.  She wants him to talk.  She wants to give him what she knows he needs and wants.  She’s his lifeline to the world of communication!

I love that.  Let’s use that.  She just needs some tools, some strategies…a game plan.

I often ask older siblings for their ideas about how to help their little brother say stuff or even just make sounds.  Their little brothers love to watch them, imitate them, be like them.  That’s hugely motivating!

In my experience, I’ve seen older siblings help little ones learn to use sign language, make meaningful sounds, say names of TV show characters that I never would’ve even known to try, produce new sounds accurately, and can sometimes even get their younger sibling to say a new word just by saying “say ______“.  This never works for anyone else.  Ever.

Older siblings who are learning about letter sounds or are beginning to read are even great helpers when it comes to identifying the sounds that the little one might be leaving out or saying incorrectly.  Encouraging the older sibling to identify and emphasize those sounds can help BOTH siblings learn.  Example:  Did you hear how your little brother said “doh” instead of “go”?  What sound do you think he needs to change?  Right.  The “g”.  That’s the sound that G makes.  

Rather than telling an older sibling to stop talking and give the little one a chance, empower that older sibling to help.  ASK THEM what they think might work to help their little brother make more noise or say more words.  They might tell you that their little brother always makes farting noises whenever they do!  Well, it’s a start.

Recently I had the opportunity to work with an older brother, let’s call him Jack.  He was his little brother’s favorite playmate.  Let’s call the little brother Max.  During the session I spent a lot of time with Jack talking about how he could simplify words into sounds so that Max might be able to say things just like him.  Jack was able to figure out that instead of saying train he could say “choo choo” and instead of saying dinosaur he could  “ROAR!”  Then we spent time chasing Max around with his shopping cart and saying “ready, set….” Jack easily figured out that he should let Max finish the phrase with “GO!”  Jack was so on board with everything that we were doing he even took the lead for the next 5-10 minutes.  Mom and I were an afterthought at best.  Speech “therapy” was happening without the therapist.  Yes!

Near the end of my time at their house, I asked Jack what he thought worked well and what he would like to keep doing with Max in order to help him talk more.  I was expecting him to say “use sounds” or “let Max finish phrases we say all the time”.  Instead, here was his response:

“Magic tricks”

Yep.  That’s what he said.  I was slightly confused and a little disappointed that my strategies weren’t immediately embraced.

I responded, “You want to practice magic tricks to help Max talk more?”

Jack:  “Yep, it’s just like magic.

Me:  “What do you mean?”

Jack:  “Well, when we were running around with the shopping cart we were like saying the things he should find.  Then I kind of took things away, hid them again, and he had to say something if he wanted it back.  Like magic.”

I started to get it.

Me:  “I think I understand.  You want to make things disappear and Max can make them reappear when he uses a sound or a word?”

Jack:  “Yep.  Like magic.”

Makes perfect sense.  Why didn’t I describe it this way to begin with?  Jack loved magic.  He made sense of what I was trying to help him learn by associating it with his favorite hobby!  When they were searching for objects to put in the shopping cart Jack would call out (in a sing song voice) “ba-aall” and “do-ggy”.  Max would imitate, not with an exact word, but definitely using that same sing song voice.  He was trying.  That’s what was important.  He wanted to be like his brother.  He wanted to make that object appear.  He wanted to see the magic trick!  Give an older sibling the right tools and they can be a powerful and motivating teacher for the younger sibling.

Sure, it might start with just imitation of farting noises or dinosaur roars, but older siblings understand silly.  Sometimes silly is what gets the magic started.

IMG_20160919_095549

Tips for empowering the older sibling who wants to help:

  1. Ask what she does that the little one always try to do just like her
  2. Ask what she does that make the little one laugh
  3. Ask if she knows what some of the little one’s sounds or gestures mean
  4. Show her how to use a single word to confirm the meaning of that sound or gesture
  5. Encourage her to sing and teach her little sibling the songs she knows
  6. Praise her efforts to encourage imitation and not just provide interpretation

Want to know more about a toddler’s speech?

Toddler Speech: unraveling the mystery

Looking for strategies to use at home?

Two little words to encourage communication

Where are the WORDS?

Toy recommendations?

Best toys and gifts: a speech therapist’s list!

Toys that do nothing


Be sure to follow my blog or “like” my page on Facebook for all of my play and language learning tips!

Thank you for reading and sharing.

 

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