To effectively communicate, a child needs an interaction, a reason, and a way to communicate. The Rise School’s team of teachers, assistants, and therapists keep this in mind as they encourage speech and language development throughout the school day.
Here are some strategies you can try at home too.
Set up the Environment
· Keep developmentally appropriate toys and books in play areas. Free play and exploration provide great language opportunities and promote global development.
· Place some preferred toys out of reach, but visible. This provides a built-in opportunity for your child to communicate to gain your attention, request help, label, or describe objects.
· Rotate or change toys occasionally to encourage requesting, problem-solving, ideation, and play expansion.
· If your child uses picture communication systems, make sure they are accessible. Have extra or backup copies available and post them in various locations around the house, and model using alternative communication strategies (e.g. pictures, signs) with your speech whenever possible.
Create Reasons to Communicate
· Offer choices when possible. The options can be small and simple, like “blue cup or green cup?” or replace a demand (and decrease opportunities for a power struggle), “What should we clean up first? The books? Or the cars?”
· Pause often to allow your child time to process what you’ve said and to cue her that it is her turn to communicate. For example, offer a choice or present a toy and wait. If your child does not respond, count to at least five before prompting your child. I usually adjust my facial expression and give a gestural prompt (e.g., point, show or tap item), before repeating myself.
· Initiate an interaction. Watch your child in play and imitate, comment, and describe the play. By following your child’s lead, you are modeling great skills like speech, motor imitation, and following directions.
· There is more than one way to play with a toy, read a book, color, etc. Allow your child to teach you new ways to play.
· Ask questions to encourage play rather than quiz or redirect. For example, “Hmm. What color should I use next?” Answer your questions if your child does not. Again, this is great modeling! Quizzing or challenging questions can halt rather than develop play and communication.
· Have fun! Our children learn by watching and imitating what we do.
· Forget a step in a routine and pause. Wait to see if your child initiates an interaction and communicates. If not, you can always narrate your mistake and model problem-solving to fix it.
· If your child requests a snack, give it without opening it, requiring her to request “help” or “open.”
· Play with toys in a silly or unusual way (e.g., push animals on the train track, pretend to rock and feed a toy car or book). This may prompt your child to communicate to correct your play.
· Model language to identify and correct silly play (e.g., “uh oh” “that’s silly” “like this”).
Model Many Modes of Communication
· Model using many ways to communicate: speech, signs, gestures, pictures, communication devices.
· Communicate with your child how you want them to interact with you. If your child is not yet using speech, continue to model speech, but pair it with simple signs, gestures, and sounds to increase your child’s success with imitating you.
· Talk with your child’s teacher or therapist for specific ideas about activities your child enjoys and ways to model and encourage communication at home.
Julie Demes, MS, CCC-SLP
Speech and Language Pathologist