Whether your child has been identified as having a language disorder or you would just like ways to help your child further improve their language skills, this post is for you. You have stuff in your home and in your brain that can facilitate better language skills in your children.
My firstborn spoke at 9 months naming everything in sight and by 12 months was speaking in sentences which was most frequently “Shut the door!” My second, not so much. I was considering augmentative communication and PECS when she wasn’t speaking more than a few words at 18 months! I can assure you her language at age 8 is perfectly fine, but at the time, even with my extensive education and training in the science of communication, I was worried.
As a Speech Language Pathologist and most importantly a parent of two children who had very different communication styles as preschoolers, I would like to share with you a few ways to increase language skills outside of the school year or even before entering Kindergarten.
I think as parents we are frequently distracted and have our thoughts scattered by other children in the home who may be older and require more help with homework, sports practices, or discipline, that brief opportunity to communicate with our spouse which can and should take precedence over the incessant questioning of a preschooler, technology and it’s convenience to entertain and keep quiet, and simply the absolute presence of time can name a few issues. With the fast pace that we live our lives, our communication skills are diminishing. Not by any fault of our own, but more a fault of our entire generation and society. As a result, language development and social communication skills are at risk.
Let’s look at some simple activities that when used intentionally can become habitual and increase the expressive language skills of the children in your home:
1. Ask open ended questions, not yes/no questions.
Get their opinion about anything.
Now that I am primarily working with children under the age of 6, I catch myself eavesdropping on “conversations” parents are having with their children at the grocery store. A recent one I heard went something like this…
Parent: “Do you want cheese?” Kid: shook head no.
Parent: “Do you want Lunchables?” Kid: “nuh-uh”.
Parent: “Do you want chips?” Kid: shook head no.
Parent: “How am I supposed to know what to put in your lunch?”
I wanted SO BAD to say, “Just ask her WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR LUNCH?”
Kids have to use their language to get good at it. They need to hear you asking them questions that start with “What, Who, Where, When” before they can ask those same types of questions.
If they can’t answer the “WH” question yet give them two options. Hold out your hands palms up and say, “Do you want pizza (present left hand) or cereal (present right hand)?” You may have to ask them twice. If they touch one of your hands or say one word model the correct answer for them, “You want pizza.” Have them repeat it back to you. ALWAYS have them repeat something back. It may not be perfect but let them know that their communication gets them something in return…even if it is cheese.
2. Read to your child.
From the time they are born, reading to your child is something that will make a lasting impression on them. Hearing the vocabulary words, listening to your voice rise and fall, understanding that print has meaning, and simply knowing that reading is important to you are all reasons to read to your child from day 1. As you read, point to the pictures and the items named in the story. When your child begins to point, have them point to things that you name aloud.
The Usborne Books are perfect for early language development. I preferred these with my own children because the pictures were great, there was little background distraction and there were always great vocabulary words in each book. They are all very sturdy and lasted through both kids and were still in great shape when we passed them on to a friend.
As you are reading aloud, ask TONS of questions. Try and ask one of each of these questions on every page of the book, even if it is not exactly related to the story: Who, What, Where, When. For older kids ask “Why”. You can somehow relate a question to something on the page.
Ask questions about other things in the picture: “What is the child holding?” (meaning the balloon). On this page alone you could ask more than 30 questions. Some examples are:
I think I will do another post entirely focused on language prompts to use when reading books so I will move on now!
3. Play category word games.
When riding in the car, during bath time, or when waiting in line at the grocery store (oh you can do therapy in the store too!), name a basic category. See how many things your child can name in that category. For example: “Let’s name animals.” Take turns naming them with your child. Let siblings join in. Try to get him/her naming 5 or 6 things in the category.
Download and print this list of example categories and either laminate it or put it in a sheet protector and hang it by the bathtub. Refer to it as you work on language skills during bath time. Stick it in your purse or planner to reference when out and about.
A good one to work on in the car is “Transportation”. As you see different vehicles, point them out to your child. As your child masters basic categories, move on into more complex ones like holidays, things that are hot/cold, things that are round etc.
4. Play Board Games.
Get out the CandyLand, Trouble, Uno, High Ho Cherry O! and Chutes and Ladders. When playing these games use descriptive location words like “up, down, over, around, first, next, last” and the kids will start using them too! Hedbanz is always a favorite and is great for word associations at the preschool and early elementary age. Connect 4 is great to work on positional vocabulary.
For older elementary kids play Scrabble, Clue. Use interactive games like Twister and Charades. Any of the Cranium games are wonderful for language. Taboo is perfect for descriptive language and word associations.
Visit my store to download more language products: