As a child develops, their brain may make it a bit difficult for them to learn language. Whether it is how many words, the order of those words, the variety of words, the use of the words given a context, and so on, a child’s brain might have a tricky time sorting it out — it’s complex. The following tricks can best set up a child’s chance to learn language regardless if their development of language has been typical, delayed (slow to come), or disordered (out of order).

As a speech-language pathologist & a mom, I have read the monthly posts on child development sites and the development hand-outs from the well-child checks at the pediatrician’s office. They give thorough outlines to guide the expectations of our little ones. At the conclusion of these resources, there is often a paragraph that discusses the fact children are unique and they develop within a wide range. So- many feel their child’s development is just fine. It can be an unsettling feeling when one finds out there are some things that are much trickier for a child in your life than they should be. So, what’s next?

Speech-language pathologists use strategies and supports that help develop language effectively and efficiently, even when a child’s brain is having a bit of a difficult time organizing it all.  Let’s talk strategy.

5 Effective Tools for Home:

Tool # 1: Keep your Words & Messages SIMPLE A good rule-of-thumb is to use one more word than what your child uses independently (i.e. by themselves without someone saying it first and considering the average- how many words they typically use together? 1? 2?).  Keep in mind, children can “say” a lot more if they are repeating you. Consider what they actually “know” and use independently to get their needs met to get an idea of how many words to use. If you communicate, with one more word than the child is using, you are sharing a message that is far more likely to be at their level of understanding AND the message is less intimidating to repeat. For example: CHILD: “BALL”, ADULT: “MORE BALL”, “BIG BALL”, “GIVE BALL”, etc.

Tool #2: Use one of the Best Learning Tools- PLAY! An engaged, happy, and interested brain learns best! That’s one of the reasons why play is SO powerful. For an adult, it sometimes takes a lot of energy to play. Block out two 10 minute periods (at a minimum) to play with your child per day.  Play with what interests them and model how to use language while you play. Play allows different areas of the brain to work together. It is an incredible skill to develop and it only helps to facilitate language development.

Tool #3: NAME IT! Language Rich Environment = Lots of Communicating You may already be labeling (saying the names of items and actions in) your child’s environment. Keep it at their level (See Tool #1) and use many opportunities to use words to talk about your child’s surroundings. By keeping your message frequent and simple, you are giving your child’s brain food for language growth. We don’t have to feel pressure to tell them everything we know about an item, in contrast by narrating a few key actions and items in their environment we really help to link the child to their environment through the use of language. For example: ADULT: “Water”, “Take Bath”, “Splash Splash Water”, “So Clean”, “Wash Nose”, etc.

Tool #4: During Routines- Pick your Key Words & Repeat-Repeat-Repeat Those who spend the most time with the child, may find it helpful to pick 1-3 key words you’d like to focus on during each predictable routine in the child’s life (e.g. breakfast time, dressing, car rides, playtime, dinnertime, bedtime, and so on). Pick a few of the routine times and focus on your key words or skills you want to help your child learn. The brain often needs 15-20 repetitions to really get a handle on something new and own it. You’ll feel like a broken record, but your child’s brain will love it. For example: Bath Time Words-splash, water; Dinner Time Words- eat, more, all-done; Bedtime Words- book, brush, night-night

Tool # 5: Books- A Common Recommendation for GOOD Reason Books. When reading a book, you can use it as the author wrote it and go through it page by page reading the text. Sometimes, it is very helpful to prepare the brain for what it is about to learn. You could turn through the book, perhaps saying little to nothing and just allow your child’s brain to observe. Then, start the book labeling very simple elements of each page. As you continue to experience the book, increase the information you share with your child. For more ideas and information about literacy development check out Dr. Megan Mahowald’s Kid Talk Post.

Patti Peichel :: Speech Language Pathologist