As we make our way through the lazy days of summer, schedules change, and things relax. My usual theme is collaboration; parents can be one of our biggest assets in promoting language development. Parents of young children usually want to know what they can do to support their child’s language development in the absence of a structured day. Though I teach children with disabilities, I find I continually revisit the following tips with parents of young children regardless of whether a child is typically developing or needs a little more support. Here they are in no particular order of importance:
- Pay attention to body language, when a child is looking toward or reaching for something, they are communicating. Talk about what they are reaching for, “Oh, you want the bubbles!”
- Avoid the “say this” tendency. Don’t pressure the child to speak; keeping the experience positive is important. Instead, model what the child might say when he/she is ready.
- Take time to sit and read with your child every day. Label everything you see, and encourage them to point to the words and pictures as you talk about them. Books with repetitive lines are great.
- Be playful. Sing songs. Use lots of inflection. With familiar songs, leave some of the words out and see if your child will hum or sing the words.
- Provide limited choices when you aren’t sure what your child wants. Holding out 2 items, lessens the stress of having too many choices.
- Talk with your child about what you are doing, then provide the opportunity for your child to reciprocate. “I’m making some cookies, do you want to help?”
- Use first/then language to guide behavior, and then be consistent, “First you need to eat, then you can read.” Use this language even when moving between activities that are preferred or less preferred.
- Use pictures: Take pictures of your child’s day and talk about what is coming up next, or make a photo album of fun activities (vacation, going out for ice cream) to talk about.
- Remember language is everywhere, even if you child doesn’t understand everything you are saying, he or she needs the exposure. Car rides, walks outside, blowing bubbles are just a few examples. Describe what you see, and ask questions, e.g, “I see a cow. What does a cow say?”
- Simplify your props. Sometimes the simplest toys can bring out the best language. Summer is full of such opportunities: A spinning toy, taking a turn kicking a ball, bubbles…all can support your child’s development, simply by talking to them.
Kerry Davis EdD, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist in the Boston area, working with children who have significant communication challenges. She conducts trainings and workshops, and serves as a volunteer and consultant for Step by Step Guyana, a school for children with autism in South America. The opinions expressed in this blog are her own, and not those of her employer.