Oh the joy I get from having a conversation with a young child, I really get a kick out of it. The natural flow of words and comfortable eye contact, hand gestures and wide eyes to emphasize the exciting bits are thrilling. Of course, the humour is a big part too. Sometimes the humour is one-sided as a story, which can be very serious in their eyes, could be completely bonkers and hilarious when I reiterate it at my family’s dinner table later that day!
It is a wonderful skill for a child to be able to keep a conversation flowing and to be able to understand the timing and ‘rules’ of conversing (e.g. taking turns). These skills are encouraged and developed by a stimulating environment and a listening ear. It is important that families and childcare providers realize the important role they have in this developmental milestone.
Language and communication is the ability to understand others and to express oneself. For some children, this skill is delayed or impeded for various reasons such as learning disabilities or hearing problems to name a couple.
How do you know, as a parent or care giver without a relevant medical qualification, of the type or cause of your child’s language/communication problem? You Don’t! It is always best to get the advice of your health professional. There are routine developmental checks for your child at certain ages but if you have queries or concerns at any time you should approach your local health clinic or GP.
The next few paragraphs aim to help you with children who have mainly a developmental delay or impediments that are already diagnosed by a speech therapist. Those who attend or are due to attend a speech therapist in the coming months can benefit greatly from the following tips and activities which will encourage the growth of speech and language development.
MIX WITH PEERS
Get your child mixing with their peers. They are great teachers for each other especially when it comes to social and communication skills, even if they don’t realize it! A child with language and communication delays will benefit with meeting up with children of their own age and if possible slightly older, on a regular basis. I’ve noticed that young girls and boys really enjoy looking up to and following the older girls and boys (even if it’s a year, which can be a big gap in a child’s eyes). So much can be learned from their vast knowledge of the world 😉
With their peers, a child will learn how they should be expressing themselves as they will find similar things exciting, leading to more engaging conversations.
Including chanting or singing of nursery rhymes in your child’s daily fun is a great way for him to practice the sounds of words. Even if they don’t make complete sense (would those poor blackbirds really be singing when the pie is opened up?🤔 😀), the repetition and rhyming of words is beneficial to the child as he practices sounds and moves his mouth, tongue and throat to make shapes that are needed to speak clearly.
I have found that nursery rhymes, or any simple rhyming games, work very well with children who do not have the local language as their mother tongue. It’s a fun way for him to practice the different sounds of a language that is foreign to him.
Examples of Activities
In a childcare setting (and at home, of course) the chanting or singing of a nursery rhyme can be extended with art activities and dramatization. A whole week of fun can be had running on a theme of one nursery rhyme. At our preschool, using different materials like wool and matchsticks, we created a visual of ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ that had pride of place on the wall. This encouraged the children to burst into a fun and spontaneous sing song for months!
A story bag of any rhyme can easily be put together. For example, a Baa Baa Black Sheep story bag can simply contain balls of wool and puppets or cut outs of the 3 lucky recipients of the wool (Master, Dame and that guy who lives down the lane). Children can take turns or work together on recreating a production of the story/rhyme. This is another opportunity for a child with communication delays to work on his power of speech in a fun way.
Early year educators.. if you would like some lesson plans related to Nursery Rhymes, why not check these out They are our pre-planned packs ready for you and the children to use!
The extension of nursery rhymes through art, drama and other games will help in encouraging pronunciation, vocabulary and fluency.
An example of a simple rhyming game that can be played anywhere is when an adult and child take turns with rhyming words. Start off with any word and take turns by saying a word that rhymes with the previous one. The more nonsensical the better with this game as its purpose is to perfect the sound of different structures of letters together and the nonsense part will make it fun. This is a clever way of getting a child to practice working on a certain impediment/mispronunciation issue they may have. For example, if a child is having problems with the ‘r’ sound, the adult could start the game with the word ‘Try’ or ‘Pry’. He will not get it perfected at first, but keep at it, keep it fun and he’ll get there eventually with practice.
SAND, WATER, CLAY
Sensory play like sand & water and creative arts like painting, play dough and clay are an ideal opportunity for children to slow down and get lost in their thoughts. They have the time to think things through which will lead to them making sense of their world.
Manipulating the ‘goo’ in their hands can distract from any anxieties that may be holding back their communication skills. This is a lovely method to help deal with a child who has a slight stammer. Many young children develop a temporary stammer around the age of 3 years. I have come across a few young boys of this age who seemed to have so much to say and talk about that they just could not get the words out smoothly. This stammering was a worry for their parents but when the boys focused on a calm ‘mundane’ activity like sand sifting or making ripples in a water tub, they were more able to regulate their breathing and focus their thoughts leading to the ability to say the words they wished to say without so much of a hurry.
Example of and Tips on an calming sensory play activity..
Table top water tray.
All you need is a basin (as large as possible) for water. Some tubs, plastic bottles or empty soap dispensers. Anything that can be used for scooping and pouring water can be added. For interest you can ad bubbles or food dye. Have the children stand at this table rather than sit so that they can move from one leg to another. They would get fed up of sitting quicker than standing as movement is restricted.
Make sure the ground rules are set early on in the activity like ‘No Pouring Water onto the Floor Excessively’ and ‘No Shouting’. This will ensure a calm experience. Waterproof aprons can be offered. However, as you want the child to be as comfortable and relaxed as possible, he should have the last say on this. Some kids love to wear them and others find them restrictive. Have spare clothes at the ready and a towel on the floor so there’s no fussing!!
LISTEN AND RESPOND TO YOUR CHILD
An important point to remember when it comes to encouraging your child to communicate is your role in listening, that’s real listening with your eyes and ears. When you listen intently to your child, you are able to respond appropriately. How rewarding for your child to know that they are being heard and at the same time learning two important conversational skills – listening and turn taking. Your positive role modelling will help him with his interactions with others.
If it’s a story he has been telling you, ask him later in the day to retell it. He will note that you are interested and this might lead to a further conversation on the topic. To be honest, I find this a handy trick that gives me a second chance to hear the story that I actually failed to listen to properly the first time .. Oops 🙈!
To access lots of pre-planned activities that are linked to Early Years Learning Goals (specifically Aistear which is the Irish Curriculum Framework), Click here to have a browse.