Top ten activities for developing and improving your child’s speech and language skills
There are many simple activities that you can do with your child to develop their speech and language skills.
1. Be a good model – speak clearly and slowly and face your child when speaking. If your child says a word or sentence incorrectly, rather than correct them or ask them to repeat it, just say the word / sentence back to them correctly to show you have understood. This way your child always hears the correct version. This is how children learn language.
2. Remember your language level – don’t use words or sentences that your child will not understand. Speak to them using language they can understand, and explain any new words.
3. Make time to sit down with your child – even if it is just for a few minutes a day (although the more one-to-one time the better), spend some quiet time with your child, away from distractions. Look at a book together and talk about the pictures.
4. Turn off the TV and take out the pacifier/dummy – children do not learn language and social skills by watching TV, and new evidence shows that too much TV watching prior to starting school can affect listening and attention skills, which will impact on their learning once they start school.
5. Observe and comment – when you are playing with your child, take a step back, do not feel that you have to fill the silences, just comment on the things your child is doing so they can here (and learn) the new vocabulary.
6. Let your child lead – let your child lead the play, let them be the boss of play. This can build self-confidence and does not put pressure on them to talk and respond to the adult all the time.
7. Books, books, books – books can be used in many ways to develop language and early literacy skills. Evidence shows that children that have more exposure to books prior to schooling often find it develop early literacy skills earlier.
8. Sing songs and nursery rhymes – songs and rhymes contain rhythm and rhyme, skills that help with speech and literacy development.
9. Feed language in, don’t force it out – comment and expand on your child’s words and sentences, rather than asking them to repeat words. If your child says “car”, respond with “big car” or “yellow car” or “fast car”. This is how children learn words, by hearing new vocabulary and linking it to the items or events they are focussing on.
10. Make every opportunity a language learning activity – if it’s a trip to the shops, or bath-time, you can make every activity a language learning activity. Point to things, name them, sing a nursery rhyme, or ask a question. You don’t have to set aside a specific time of day to learn language, every activity is a language learning activity.
Speech and Language
The first few years of a child’s life are key to the development of speech, language and cognitive skills. For this reason it is important to create an environment that helps to develop speech and language skills that give them all the stimulation, positive role modelling and human contact that they need. For a normally developing child, learning is easy and creating opportunities for learning is also not difficult. Through play, simple daily interactions and experiences, we can help the child acquire new language and skills.
Adults do not need special training to be able to provide a child with a positive start in life. There are a few simple building blocks that you can put in place to help your child grow, and as a parent, you just need to provide the time to interact with your children. By playing and allowing your child time and space to explore and interact in their own way, you allow your child to develop and learn in a fun and safe environment.
Speech and language skills do not just evolve on their own. They are part of a bigger picture involving social interaction, play, observation, manipulating objects, listening and attending. All these factors are working together and often, without one, it is difficult to develop another. Below, we have listed a few simple ideas that are fun and easy to do at home, remember, always praise your child for making any attempts at communication.
How children learn speech and how to encourage speech
If you want to encourage speech development, or your child is a little late with producing their first words, there are lots of activities that you can do to develop your child’s speech and help them produce more words.
First of all – TAKE THE DUMMY OR PACIFIER OUT OF THEIR MOUTHS!!!
An important aspect of learning speech is listening. A child learns new sounds and words by listening to those around him. This is why it is important to provide good speech for your child to listen to. Say words clearly and slowly and use plenty of intonation. If your child attempts a word and it is not pronounced correctly, praise him/her for trying. Do not try and get your child to repeat the word or correct it. Repeat the word back yourself to show you have understood and to give your child a good version of the word.
To find out more about good modelling and other activities to develop speech and language development go to the Resources Section
These are easy words and sounds to introduce to your young child when they are just starting to attempt some words, or when recognisable words seem a bit late in their development. Symbolic sounds often sound like, or refer to a sound that is related to the word e.g. “moo” for a cow, or “beep beep” for a car. These are fun sounds that you can incorporate when playing games or looking at books. Symbolic sounds are usually short one syllable sounds and words that are easy for the child to produce. They encourage vocalization, imitation, and early vocabulary building.
Motivating sound games
Sometimes, using games can motivate your child to make sounds. For instance play the game – ready… steady…. GO!! Blow up a balloon, hold it, then say “ready….steady….GO”, and let the balloon go. Do this a few times and then pause after you say “ready…steady….” and see if your child steps in and says “GO”.
Often by tempting your child with something motivating you can elicit some speech or a vocalization. For instance, holding onto the biscuit tin, but not opening it until he vocalizes a request, or only blowing bubbles when you get a vocalization from the child. In the early stages the child does not have to use the correct words or sentences, but just vocalize or make an approximation of the word. We want the child to learn that he can use his voice as a tool to initiate and request.
Listening, attention and observation
Listening and attention skills are the building blocks of speech and language development. The acquisition of these skills is vital in the early years if you want your child to be successful at school. The development of these skills is facilitated by interaction with others, with having a shared focus, and playing in an environment that is free of distractions. Listening, is not the same as hearing. A child can have perfect hearing, but be a very poor listener. Children with Autism, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder or Auditory Processing Disorders will have difficulties with listening, remembering, and following verbal instructions. Children that have had a lack of social interaction or poor role modelling in the early years of their lives may present with listening and attention difficulties. Studies are also showing that over exposure to television from a young age can have detrimental long term effects on listening and attention skills.
Some children find these skills more difficult to master than others. There are lots of ways to enhance your children’s listening and attention skills, not least by turning off the television and spending some quality time with them. Try to find activities that share your attention that you can both enjoy and focus on together. Also, don’t forget to praise good listening and good looking.
These skills require the child to stop and focus on a particular task. Having a shared focus helps this process. A shared focus means looking at things together and talking about what you are looking at. The activities mentioned below require your child to focus on a something for a few minutes and really use their observation skills. These tasks can be done at a table-top as a shared focus activity, or during an everyday activity.
If you think your child has a speech delay or disorder, see our Milestones sections to give you an idea of the normal rate of speech development. If you continue to be concerned about your child’s speech and language development visit your local speech and language therapist / pathologist.
To find out more about activities that you can do with your child to develop their skills – go to the Resources Section
Language – how to develop language skills
There are lots of activities you can use throughout the day to develop your child’s language skills.
Remember your language level
One of the biggest things to be aware of when using language around your young child is the level of language you use. This means using words and sentences that your child can understand and avoiding complicated words, long sentences and difficult instructions. Remember, with young children just use key words, and if you use a small sentence emphasize the important words. Talk slowly and point to what you are talking about.
Watching, waiting and listening
You can enhance your child’s development of language by sometimes taking a step back during play and letting them take the lead. This gives the child control of their environment and builds their confidence. Although you are still involved in the play you are not dictating what is happening. However, you can still be feeding language into the play as it is happening, by commenting on what they are doing. So the takeaway here is not to feel you have to fill in any gaps of silence, just watch and listen and add language.
Adding language is an easy thing to do and can be done in all types of different situations, not just play. You comment on what the child sees, commentate on what your child is doing, or expand on what they have said e.g.
The child puts a marble under a hat
Adult: “you’re putting it under the hat”
Adult: “fast car” or “red car”
The environment in which your child learns also has an impact on how they learn. Try and reduce distractions and background noise – TURN OFF THE TV!!
A busy household with lots of children will be noisy, but allows lots of play opportunities for the young child. However, sometimes you cannot beat some adult time, and if you get half an hour to have some one-to-one quality time with your young child then make the most of it.
To find out more about ways to encourage speech and language skills during play and everyday activities go to the Child Development Section of the Resource Centre.
Games & Play
Games and playtime activities are great opportunities to develop your child’s speech and language skills.
There are lots of simple games you can play and indirectly work on speech and language. Games can played while driving in the car from Kindergarten, or when you are at the park or in the supermarket. Learning language does not have to be done in a structured environment. Don’t forget when you are playing games to focus on speech and language, you will also be working on social skills, turn-taking, observing, listening and attention, so it’s a win win situation.
Toys are fun and great for involving your child. Even with the simplest toys you can create fun activities and provide lots of situations for learning and developing speech and language. Imagine building a tower with wooden blocks – a simple game, but with loads of opportunities:
Building a tower
Speech and Language opportunities: adjectives (higher, up), verbs (fall down, build), preposition (on-top), nouns (colours, numbers)
Communication and Social skills: turntaking, joint focus, sharing, listening, attending, observing
Here we can see even a simple game with wooden blocks involves all sorts of language and play skills.
Look at books
Books are great for having a shared focus and for learning new words. Books can also play a key part in developing early speech and literacy skills. There are many ways to use books and the pictures to focus on language. You can focus on books with symbolic sounds for early speech or storybooks to focus on language. Books are a great way to work on lots of skills and children love them. Look at the books together, name the pictures, ask questions, and talk about the story.
Dressing up is great fun and playing different roles will expand your child’s imagination. In fact you do not even have to dress up to do role play. Games involving different characters will allow you to introduce lots of new related language and stretch your child’s creative play skills. For instance, if you pretended to be firemen putting out a fire, think how many related words you could use” fire, fireman, fire engine, ladder, water, hose, burning, building, driving, climbing, up, down, smoke, hat, boots, jackets, save, squirt, bucket, fire out, hero, etc etc etc. Role play is great for expanding your child’s imagination and introducing new vocabulary.
Most types of interaction through play will have a positive effect on speech and language acquisition. The child’s social skills will also benefit because they will be using eye contact, turn-taking and listening skills. By letting your child take the lead in a game, they will gain confidence in communicating and feel that they are in control, so be relaxed in the communication environment.
Depending on your child’s language competence you may want to set a goal for each game, although it is important not to make it too structured because we want the game to be led by the child. Any goal should be simple and flexible. Language needs to be fed into the game, rather than trying to encourage the child to say particular words. This means we don’t want to be continually saying to the child “what is he doing?” or “what are you doing?” or “say running, say running”. Children do not learn language this way, children learn language by hearing it first and making associations between the word and the action. As adults we want to just feed the language in at the appropriate times.
Example of a language role play game:
Bus Driver game: Let your child be a bus driver and you can be the passenger. Set up some chairs for a bus and act the roles. As an example, just look at all the verbs you might use in this game: steer the bus, press the horn, ring the bell, sit down, pay the driver, drive the bus, find the change, walk down the aisle. If your child finds a game complicated, you could be the bus driver first and model it for your child, then your child can take a turn and you add language to the situation.
Music is also a great way to involve your child and can be used in many ways to enhance speech and language. Music is good for getting your child to listen, and experiencing a shared focus. You can read books and follow music singing the songs as you point to the pictures. Songs also focus on intonation and stress and have a beat to them which helps with aspects of speech development. These are skills we all use when talking and syllable awareness is important when learning to talk. Music can be used to enhance language and some songs can be sung involving actions and thus creating the link between words and actions.
Using everyday activities as a language learning opportunity
Using everyday activities can be a great way to practice and develop speech, language and literacy skills. These activities can also change a mundane event into a pleasurable one. The child may also not realise that you are practicing speech and language skills because the activity will be fun.
Using everyday tasks to promote speech and language is relatively easy, you just have to use your imagination:
Bathtime – Use lots of vocabulary during bath-time, talk to your children, and model the words for them. Introduce vocabulary: Verbs: wash, scrub, rinse, clean, brush, dry, splash, sink, float. Nouns: soup, towel, water, tap, flannel, bath, sink, body parts. Sing songs in the bath.
Cleaning the bedroom – Play “I-spy” to practice initial sound awareness (good for speech and language development).
Talk about what the people on the street are doing (e.g. walking, working, riding etc) to focus on verbs, or name as many different occupations that you can see (driver, policeman, road-worker, shopkeeper etc). These are just simple ways to use everyday opportunities to find entertaining and simple ways to focus on speech and language.
Remember, if you make speech and language sessions into games your child enjoys it more, is more motivated and may not even see it as speech and language practice, but as a game. Children like games and are motivated when it becomes competitive. This means you can create ideal situations away from the table-top activities to work on speech and language. Just use your imagination because almost any daily event can be turned into an educational game.
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