It was difficult to accept my son’s speech delay. At 18 months old, Evan still hadn’t spoken a word. I longed to hear him babble, “ma ma, da da,” and his father and I tried everything. Alas, there we stood at the pediatrician’s office agreeing to an evaluation.
I knew the steps that would follow. If he didn’t demonstrate age-appropriate language abilities during his evaluation, my sweet bundle of joy would be placed in early intervention and begin speech and language therapy services. At first, I was resistant as I didn’t want Evan to be labeled as a child with a learning disability. His speech therapist, however, reassured me that the services would only help. Still, as his mother, I wanted to do more, even if that meant becoming a pseudo speech therapist. If you have a child with a speech delay like I do and want to help him or her develop language, Cindy Caro-Ortiz, M.S. CCC-SLP, TSSLD, a certified bilingual Spanish Speech-Language Pathologist, suggests the following speech and language activities to try at home.
Shared reading time
Sit down with your child and read a book! Books are amazing tools that enhance language and introduce new vocabulary. Ask your child to make predictions, like, “What do you think will happen next in the story?” and to identify familiar objects by labeling them. For example, pointing to a cow and stating “cow.” If your child is currently nonverbal or at the beginning stages of language expression, Caro-Ortiz suggests using “visuals or pictures to provide choice in circumstances when making predictions.”
A cooking session together
Most kids love to help their parents in the kitchen. It’s messy, fun and can also increase their language skills. So, whip out the aprons and prepare some lemonade, bake brownies or even make a pizza. Give them step-by-step verbal and/or visual instructions. This will help enhance their receptive language while learning new vocabulary words, like “mix,” “bowl,” and “spoon.”
Create your own sensory bin
A sensory bin helps stimulate the senses and engages children. It’s easy to create a sensory bin at home. First, you take an empty plastic bin and fill it with rice, beads, pasta, sand or any other filler. Then, hide smaller objects inside and ask your kids to identify what they find. “This provides a sensory input tactile (touch) and visual input. You can even get creative and add dyes or scents to increase the sensory experience,” Caro-Ortiz says.
Sing your heart out
Most kids love to sing and dance, which makes karaoke a go-to at-home activity to support your child’s language development. “Karaoke is an activity that focuses on literacy while being super fun. Choose songs a child can practice reading from the screen while belting his or her favorite hits,” Caro-Ortiz recommends. If you have a younger child, you can work on your toddlers’ memory recall by singing a few seconds of his or her favorite song and asking them to sing the rest. “This gives your toddler the opportunity to fill in the words to improve language development.”
Take a walk
We can increase our child’s language development in our own backyard. Take a walk around your neighborhood and model what you see on your walk. “Have a descriptive conversation about the things that you see in your community,” Caro-Ortiz says, “for example, as you’re passing a tree, point out the white flowers that are beginning to bud.” You can also encourage your child to make predictions with the sounds that they hear outside or even inside the home. For instance, if they hear an ambulance in the distance, ask where they think the ambulance is going. On a colder day take your child to the supermarket and have them name their favorite fruits, vegetables and snacks. What matters is that they are actively engaging in language as part of their daily routine.
Use technology for learning
Your child is probably obsessed with his or her iPad or even your smartphone, so why not use it to your advantage? Download apps like PBS Kids and GoNoodle. These apps cater to children with content and games that engage them while teaching language skills. For older kids, Caro-Ortiz suggests to incorporate TikTok and/or YouTube that feature movement or a fun (and kid-friendly) challenge. One activity includes having your child recall the steps to a fun and age-appropriate TikTok video. You can also ask your child to name their favorite YouTube influencer and give you the top 5 reasons why they love them so much. This is an engaging way to increase their conversational skills, plus, it helps you connect with your child. It’s a win-win!