It’s all over the news this week about the negative impact of lockdowns on children’s speech and language skills. And as a result, I’ve had a few enquiries about strategies to help children at home with their speech, language and communication development from parents and the press.
First and foremost, I want to stress- the experts in this area are the wonderful Speech and Language Therapists who have worked incredibly hard over the last year, as they always do, to support children and adults. And whilst I’m sharing some general tips below to help with Speech, Language and Communication development- if you do have concerns about your child then it’s best to speak to your child’s teacher or nursery/school SENDCO as they may want to refer to a Speech and Language Therapist for extra support.
Also if you’re just looking for resources and are in a rush- skip to my amazon page of recommended resources for developing Speech, Language and Communication skills at home here.
Here are my general tips for helping develop speech, language and communication skills at home:
- EXPERIENCES Experiences give children something to talk about, which is great if we are trying to develop their speech, language and communication skills. It’s the same with adults, we find we are often a lot chattier if we’ve been to a new place, seen something different, or met someone new! I’m by no means suggesting we need to be taking our children on exciting days out every day/weekend.. new experiences could be something as simple as finding a ladybird and chatting about what it looks like. We, as parents, can help facilitate this play by helping to provide new experiences for them- for example, taking them on a simple walk through a wood together for example. It provides opportunities to talk about what they can see, describing what things look like, what the ground under foot feels like and the sorts of sounds they can hear! And the activities don’t just stop when you get home, you could take photographs on a walk and create a scrap book together- providing an opportunity for children to talk about their walk with others (grandparents for example) using the photos as prompts.
- DAY TO DAY ACTIVITIES It’s not just about new experiences, day to day activities at home can provide brilliant opportunities for developing speech, language and communication skills. Take advantage of these day to day tasks to talk with your child and ask questions, listen and encourage. For example, whilst getting everything ready for their bath time you could ask them questions such as ‘how does the water feel?’ ‘How will we know when the bath is ready’ ‘what words can we use to describe the water’ . You can model examples of vocabulary yourself, introducing/reinforcing adjectives such as wet, splash, warm, hot, cold, freezing, bubbles etc. You could ask them how the towels feel. What we need to get ready for after bath time etc.
Another example would be when making dinner, asking them questions about the ingredients and equipment you need, how to describe them, what cutlery you will need to set up for dinner etc. Again introducing and reinforcing key vocabulary yourself. You could even make it a game and choose a letter and ask them to find ingredients for the meal beginning with ‘a’ and have a giggle together about which ones would be tasty and which ones really wouldn’t taste nice mixed together as part of dinner!
- PLAY!! PLAY!! PLAY!! I believe the most important way to help children develop speech, language and communication skills is through play. Play is incredibly important for young children for their well-being and happiness and for the development of important skills. In my book ‘100 Ways Your Child Can Learn Through Play (fun activities for Young children with SEN)’ I share my ideas of fun, play-based learning activities that enable children to develop a whole range of skills from speech, language and communication skills to fine motor and gross motor skills. And I can’t stress enough the importance of letting children play! Play is how they learn. Playing together with other children for example, is wonderful for developing speech, language and communication skills. This may be free play running around together, sensory play or children playing imaginatively together. For example, acting out toys ‘speaking to one another’ in a pretend scene or maybe by having a teddy bears picnic.
- Make learning unstructured and playful! Supporting your child to develop their speech, language and communication skills is not about (in my opinion) sitting your child down to teach them new words like a lesson. Children can learn lots through playing and talking with you.
Which games could you play?
- ‘I Spy’ where children have to guess what you have seen by choosing words beginning with that letter. For example, ‘I spy something beginning with ‘t’’ and they have to think about things you can see that begin with the letter ‘t’.
- ‘Rhyming I Spy’ ask them to find something that rhymes with a certain word, for example ‘I spy something rhyming with hat’ .
- ‘yes/no’ game where you choose something to ‘be’ (for example a type of animal) and they have to guess what you are by asking you questions that you can only answer with yes/no. For example, are you a farm animal? Do you live in a jungle? Are you fierce?
- Giving directions on a walk– Play a game where your child has to help direct you on a walk. Give the walk a purpose for example, they could direct you to the nearest post box to post a letter by telling you which way to go at each junction of the pavement. You could make it funny and encourage them to give more directions and detail by ‘accidentally’ going the wrong way!
- BOOKS! Reading together is wonderful for expanding vocabulary too. Make time to read stories at bedtime together and talk with your child about the book afterwards. It’s amazing hearing children use new words they’ve learnt the night before from their bedtime story! Have a look at our recommendations for books here
- SONGS AND RHYMES – Songs and rhymes are wonderful for children’s speech, language and communication skills. Theres a reason we are all taught nursery rhymes as children!! And as they are growing up, poetry is also fantastic (find out more about why children need poetry here)
- POSITIVITY AND PRAISE- This is really important, try to be positive, praise and encourage their speech. You can help expand their sentences by praising, repeating what they have said back to them and then expanding with questions or further information.
In summary, in my opinion it’s about less screen time, more books, experiences, chatting and play, play, play! And don’t underestimate the importance of songs and rhymes for developing speech, language and communication skills. Don’t forget, the experts in this are Speech and Language therapists and it’s incredibly important if you’re concerned about your child’s speech, language and communication skills to speak to your child’s school or nursery. It may be that your child needs extra support through referral to a Speech and language therapist, who are the experts in this and who provide absolutely wonderful and vital work to help children with their speech, language and communication development.
Looking for resources to help support?
Have a look at my amazon page and my list of recommended resources for developing Speech, Language and Communication skills at home here.
I’m going to be adding to this post with more resources and links so do pop back! Or send me an email if you think there’s a resource people need to know about.