I previously discussed the importance of family-centered speech & language therapy in order to ensure meaningful and generalized gains. For parents and caregivers, learning, developing, and incorporating the techniques needed to support the learner may appear like a considerable amount of work.
Time is tight. Schedules are hectic. As a parent, I understand wanting to spend your time with family on the “fun stuff.”
The secret is that promoting language is part of the “fun stuff.”
Every family has daily routines and activities. Parents can capitalize on these routines to encourage communication and help their children acquire new words. It sounds simple, and it is.
The first step is to be aware that every activity is an opportunity for language growth.
It is easy to work language into games and fun routines (e.g, ring around the rosy, bath time, or making breakfast). The key is to make sure that the specific steps of the routines are followed in order and that the routines are repeated many times to provide predictability and practice.
It is also important to use the same language each time so that your child can memorize and predict.
Routines are a great way to elicit new words for beginning speakers. Even if your child isn’t ready for first words, any of the following examples can be used to encourage important communication skills:
- Turn-taking: An important base to conversation skills, children learn that conversations follow an initiation/response pattern. Early turn-taking is not verbal; it’s simply the understanding that we each play a part in activities.
If you are playing peek-a-boo, take your turn and prompt your child to cover his face on his turn. Act surprised and excited. These fun high points are what make routines interesting. At first, you may say “Daddy’s turn. Baby’s turn.” With time, your child will take a turn without prompting. If your child is at the first words stage, he can say, “My turn.”
- Initiation: The skill of starting conversation, initiations take many forms. A beginning communicator may initiate by making eye contact or pointing, while a verbal child may say, “Look!”
If you are playing “horsie,” you can use the same pillow each time as a “saddle.” When your child has learned to take turns, he may initiate the routine himself. If he is verbal, he may say “Horsie!” If not, he may bring you the horsie pillow. This is still initiation and an early form of requesting.
- Requesting "More": More is often one of the first words or signs that children acquire, and it is a great way to build two-word combinations (more juice, more tickles, etc.).
If you are playing “up and down” by tossing your child in the air, you can encourage requesting more by pausing your routine and looking at your child at the high point (right before throwing her up again). She may just look expectantly and wiggle at first or she may point upwards—which is great! When she looks or points, continue the routine immediately. You can model words by saying, “More up?” or “Again?” If she is a beginning speaker, she may say “up” or “more” or “again.”
- Targeting New words or Word Combinations
When making cookies, talk about all of the steps as they are happening. To elicit words, pause before a favorite part of the routine. So, if your child likes to mix, you can say, “First we crack the eggs, then we… “ (Then pause while holding the fork.) Your child may say “Mix.” Then you can say, “Mix the eggs!” Or, if your child loves to add the ingredients, you can say, “Chips in, nuts…” (Then pause while holding the nuts until your child says “in.”) Once your child has mastered “in,” you can elicit two-word combinations by starting the pause before nuts so your child says, “Nuts in.”
These principles can be applied to any routine or game that you and your child share. By being deliberate and intentional, you can facilitate language growth with your child throughout the day (and have fun doing it)!