While it is easy to think that normal speech develops no matter what, that is not true. Exposing children to high quality speech is the key. Research tells us that TV and radio won’t do, and that it must be an interactive process made up of both spontaneous self-expression directed at someone and responding. In general your child will make certain errors of speech and of grammar and then naturally correct them over time.
However, there is also a specific role that you can play to guide your child through the process.
Here are the major components of that role:
• Modeling speech by repeating back a word correctly.
Example: “Dis is my hat.” You can say something like, “Oh this is your hat.”
• Expanding a simple sentence with more words and additional information.
Example: “The tree is big.” You might say, “This tree is very big with beautiful green leaves.”
• Reading, singing, and talking to your child as much as possible, the R S & T of language development.
Hint: Make sure for these activities that you have your child’s attention and that you are both enjoying what you are doing.
The Following are activities that focus on speech that are designed to be both fun and helpful.
1. Picture Talk
Talk with your child about pictures from child-oriented magazines like Highlights High-Five or National Geographic Little Kids. With an older child, you might want to cut out pictures from other magazines and use those instead. The next step is to continue on with “who, what, where, when, and why” questions about some of the pictures. Your child will love this kind of speech stimulation and benefit at the same time.
2. Walk Hand in Hand
Take a walk together with your child and enjoy an amazing conversation. This kind of walk is different from when you go quickly with your child to a destination. Stroll hand in hand and let the conversation flow.
3. Block Building or Related Sets
Use any building set you may have–wooden, plastic, Lego (R), etc; and play together. Start off with talk about what you are doing and then extend your conversation to other topics of interest. As you share in this creative activity, watch your ideas flourish.
4. The “S” Sound Search
Take seven index cards and write the letter “S” on each one. Then take turns hiding the “S” cards for each of you to find. As you or your child find each card, say any word that comes to mind that starts with the letter “S.” Repeating words are fine, but thinking up new ones is even more fun. This example is with “S” because that is a sound that children often have difficulty learning to say. Use the “S” or any other letter(s) that you think will be beneficial to your child.
5. Word Notebook
Buy a little spiral-bound index card notebook or another kind of writing book that your child would like. Then each day or every few days ask your child for a favorite word to write in it, one per page. Even if your child is too young to read, he or she will love to have a book of favorite words to carry around and show to others. Here are examples: Pizza, App, iPod, Cell Phone, and Shoe. Exposure to the letters and to your pronunciation will be a wonderful tool for your child for future speaking, reading, and writing skills.
Special Tip: Avoid at all costs “What did you say?” A much nicer request is, “Please say that again with all the syllables” It could be “with separate words, louder words, clearer s’s, without slurs, more slowly” or with whatever you think will be received in a helpful positive way by your child.
Sally Goldberg, Ph.D. was the first parenting expert on “Parent to Parent,” a FOX TV Channel 7 weekly news segment. Dr. Sally is a professor of education and parenting book author. Currently she gives parenting tips on www.earlychildhoodnews.net/parenting-tips.