Thursday, May 24, 2012

5 Activities to Promote Language Development

Over the next few days I've asked some talented guest bloggers to contribute to Life with Jack. I hope you enjoy and leave a comment letting me know what you think!
Communication is an essential part of being human.  It forms the connection between individuals as we share who we are with others.  Many children with special needs (and many without) struggle to communicate.  There are simple activities that can promote language development and facilitate growth in communication.

  1. Communication Temptations:  finding ways to entice the child to use language to get what they want.  Putting desired toys or snacks (or anything that motivates your child) in a clear container with a lid and then handing them to the child can encourage them to ask for help to get to the item.  And asking for help can take many forms – a word, a gesture, sign language, or a picture card of the item.  Once the child makes an appropriate attempt, they get what they want.  Putting desired items out of reach on a shelf is another good idea.  Anything that gets the child asking for what they want will begin to teach them the power of communication.  
  2. Upping the Ante:  asking the child to move up to the next level in his/her communication.  As a parent, you usually know what your child wants so it’s easy to simply get it for them.  But sometimes, children benefit from being pushed a little.  If the child usually shrieks to get what they want, see if they can use even a simple sound like “ba” instead.  If they typically grab items, hold it just out of reach and see if they will look at you and say a word or sound.  If they use one word, see if they can use two. 
  3. Picture Books and Cards:  Make a simple book using scrapbook supplies, a flip photo album from the dollar store or a deluxe online photo book…it doesn’t matter.  What does matter is to choose photos of things that intrigue and delight your child – favorite toys, snacks, family members and pets.  Make the pictures large and if your child is a chewer, make the book durable.  Flip through it daily, talking about the pictures, modeling (saying out loud) the single words for the pictures, asking questions.  It’s a great language building activity that nearly every child enjoys.  You can also make simple cards by pasting photos to index cards and laminating.
  4. The Pause:  We often ask questions and then answer them ourselves without waiting to see what the child might say.  Or we point out something interesting and go on and on.  When a child doesn’t talk a lot, it can be even easier to try to fill the silence.  But a pause can do wonders.  When you ask a question, count to five before you say anything else.  When you see something interesting in a book, point to it and draw their attention by saying something simple like “Look at that” and then wait to see if they have a comment.  It may take longer than you think – be patient!
  5. Join In:  Follow your child’s lead.  This can be so hard.  But if your child is interested in banging that pot for the umpteenth time, try banging along with him instead of trying to interest him in a different toy.  You just might be able to engage him in a simple turn-taking game and turn-taking is one of the basics of learning how to communicate.  What seems like a simple activity to you may be a fascinating learning endeavor for your child.  Try to see it through their eyes.

Most of all, have fun!  Communication is hard work and children who struggle with it are carrying a heavy load (and so are their parents!).  But it is also one of the richest, most rewarding things in the world to spend time doing.  It is worth it.

Julie Swanson is a Speech Language Pathologist who lives with her husband and two adorable children in Montana. Besides being Jessi's good friend, she is also Jack's amazing speech therapist who works tirelessly to help our little guy communicate.

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Michelle said...

This was really good. We do most of those things already suggested by our speech therapist, but the one that really stood out for me is the "pause". I think I don't give nearly enough time for a reply or comment from my twins. I'll take this piece of advice and try it out with my kids. Thanks!

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