Let’s Play! The Stepping Stones to Verbal Communicators

If you are a parent of a toddler receiving speech and language therapy, you may have noticed your child’s therapist playing games such as peak-a-boo, and wondered to yourself, “What do these games have to do with learning to talk?” While learning to talk is of course the ultimate goal in speech and language therapy, there are actually many skills a child needs to develop before they are ready to start talking. Some of these skills include joint attention, turn-taking, and responding to people and their environment, among others. One of the best ways to support acquisition of these pre-linguistic skills is to engage in social games with your child.

What are social games and why are the important?

Social games are people-based in that they are interactive games between you and your child rather than the use of toys. Examples include peek-a-boo, songs with corresponding actions, hide and seek, tickles, etc. Engaging in social games with your child will help to develop their interaction, communication, and social skills. Through social games, children learn to pay attention to others, anticipate what will happen next, and imitate actions. Additionally, through these games children learn important skills such as how to take turns and connect with others. These pre-linguistic skills are the foundation of verbal language. For example, a child who has difficulty using joint attention, which is shared attention with another person, will not have as many opportunities to learn about their environment from the people around them. Additionally, a child who is not using turn-taking will have difficulty understanding the back and forth nature of conversation. Through acquisition of these pre-linguistic skills a child becomes ready for communication and verbal language use.

How to play and what to look for?

You will want to engage in social games repeatedly so that your child learns the routine. For example, if you play peak-a-boo with your child play it over and over again and look for your child learning the game. You may notice that they have learned the game once they start to smile or laugh in anticipation of you saying, “boo!” Over time, you might see your child’s initiation skills emerging when they cover their eyes with their hands or cover themselves up with a blanket to request playing a peek-a-boo game with you. Eventually, you can try to pause after “peak-a…” and see if your child can fill in the word, “boo!” Once your child has learned the routine they will be able to anticipate what is going to happen next.

When thinking about your child’s language development it is important to remember that there are many steps that come before talking and children must master pre-linguistic skills before they can be successful with verbal language. So, when think you are just “playing” remember that you are actually teaching your child foundational skills to become an active learner and communicator!

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about the importance of social games and your child’s language development, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Claire Hacker MS, CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist

Photo Credit: from Pixabay

Parent Question: How does developmental therapy support speech and communication skills?

“The initial evaluation team recommended developmental therapy for my child but my concerns are with her speech. How can developmental therapy help support her speech? I thought that it focused on preschool readiness skills?” — Concerned Parent

Developmental therapy (DT) focuses on the whole child and often addresses different areas of development, including speech and communication. DT can often be used to complement and support speech therapy by helping your child learn pre-communication skills. These skills include sharing joint attention, attention span, imitation of gestures and play ideas, and general play skills and are essential in learning how to speak! This blog will explain these skills and how you as a parent can help your child with their pre-communication skills.

Pre-communication skills
Joint attention: Joint attention is when two people share attention with an object or activity. This can be demonstrated by sharing eye contact, using gestures, and/or other non-verbal and verbal communication. While children can learn some skills from toys and objects independently, they absolutely need to be able to share joint attention with another person to learn language and how to communicate with others.

Attention span: In order to learn any new skill, one must have the attention span to attend to an activity. On average, a child is expected to attend to a single activity for – at minimum – one to one-and-a-half minutes per year of age. And as they age, a child should be able to attend to several activities in a row.

Imitation of gestures: Imitation of gestures always comes before imitation of words. It is important for your child to learn that they can imitate what other people are doing! Once your child is consistently imitating familiar gestures (such as waving or clapping), novel or play gestures (feeding the baby a bottle, for example), and “invisible” gestures (this is a gesture that you can do but not see yourself do, such as sticking out your tongue or tugging your ear), we know that your child is on track to using sounds and words to communicate.

Play skills: A child’s “work” is play! It is important for your child to engage in functional play with toys to learn the concept the toys are targeting. Engaging in functional play provides your child opportunities to use language to communicate. Play is also a great measure of a child’s cognition!

How can parents support pre-communication skills?
Joint attention: Engage in a preferred activity that your child has mastered – we want to make sure they can focus on learning the skill of joint attention and not forcing too many cognitive demands at once. For example, if your child does not yet match, you would not use a puzzle for this activity. Activities with lower cognitive demands – such as popping bubbles – is much more appropriate for a joint attention activity (but if your child has mastered matching, feel free to use a puzzle!) After blowing bubbles a few times for your child, pause the activity. Give him or her the opportunity to come to you and show you that they want “more” by using eye contact or gesturing to you what they want. If they only look at or touch the bubbles, bring the bubbles near your face to encourage eye contact. Once they look to you, provide praise and blow more bubbles! Continue this routine as long as your child will tolerate.

Attention span: Toddlers are notorious for having a decreased attention span! Everything is so new and interesting to them, no wonder they want to bop around the room and get into everything! Make sure you create a learning and play space that is conducive to attending to activities. Having a large number of toys available at all times or always having the television can create many distractions for your child.

When starting to work on increasing your child’s attention span, your goal should be to complete one activity – that’s it! An activity with a clear beginning and end, such as a puzzle or book, are great activities to start with. Engaging in symbolic play with a baby doll, for example, would be considered an open-ended activity that can be finished after one minute or ten. And again, you want to choose something that they have mastered so they are not expected to complete an activity that is new or particularly challenging.

Imitation: To work on a child’s imitation skills, you can start by imitating them! If they bang a toy on their highchair, you do the same. Encourage your child to do the gesture again before imitating it again. Once you go back and forth a few times, change the gesture – rub an object on the highchair instead for example. If your child does not imitate this gesture, do it again. If they continue to not imitate this gesture, provide hand over hand assistance to show them exactly how to imitate this gesture.

Play skills: Sometimes, children need to be taught how to play functionally with objects! Just like any other skill, play needs to supported and taught and it is up to the child’s first teacher – their parents – to show them just that. Parents should be modeling appropriate play with toys and encouraging the child to do the same (this is also where those imitation skills come in handy!) Help your child master functional play by setting aside a few minutes every day to provide your child your undivided attention and PLAY!

Questions or concerns?
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s pre-communication skills, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Kimberly Shlaes, MAT, DT
Director of Developmental Therapy Services

Reference:

Teach Me to Talk. (July 30, 2018). Sorting Out the 11 Prelinguistic Skills… Retrieved April 25, 2019 from http://teachmetotalk.com/2018/07/30/sorting-out-the-11-prelinguistic-skills/

Photo Credit: PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

What’s in Your House: DIY Activities for Language Development!

Due to all that’s available online and in stores, many parents feel inclined to buy the newest toys on the shelf to support their children’s development. Unfortunately, as a result, parents can overlook the valuable materials in their own homes! Tons of common household items can be converted into toys or activities that stimulate your child’s creativity, expand his or her play ideas, and facilitate language growth and development. Not to mention encouraging your child to play with common household items can reduce clutter, cut down costs, and help your child get creative with what they have! Here are some common household items that function as agents for language use during play. You might be surprised by all you can do with what you have!

Toilet Paper Rolls

Save your empty toilet paper rolls! Encourage vocal play by turning your empty toilet paper rolls into microphones! Taking turns saying sounds and words into your microphone helps to build your child’s imitation skills. You can also tape two rolls together to make a set of binoculars! Use your binoculars to target object naming and object identification, through fun games like I-Spy and hide-and-seek.

Pots, Pans, and Spoons

Channel your child’s inner musician by playing with pots and pans! You can sing familiar songs or model strings of single words or sounds, such as “tap tap tap” or “bang bang bang,” as you play with your culinary instruments. By imitating the things you say and do, your child is practicing a critical step in learning reciprocal communication.

Laundry Basket

Laundry baskets (or any other open container) can easily be transformed into cars, trains, boats, or planes with a little imagination. As your child drives the makeshift vehicle, model target phrases and environmental sounds, such as “drive,” “go car,” “choo choo,” “vroom,” “beep beep,” etc. After taking your laundry basket for a spin, try using it as a basketball hoop and ask your child to throw different objects inside. This is a great way to target object labels and following single-step directions within a fun routine!

Painter’s Tape

Tape a line on the floor to serve as a road or balance beam. To target verbal requests, rip bits of tape off at a time to verbal requests such as, “more road” or “tape on” or “need tape.” You can also take turns hopping, crawling, or tiptoeing on the tape to practice imitation of gross motor actions! Imitating gross motor actions is a great precursor to imitating gestures, sounds, and words!

Blanket

Aside from using blankets for pretend play (i.e., putting a baby doll to sleep), you can use blankets for a variety of social games. Peek-a-boo is a great game to target joint attention and verbal turn taking. After you lift the blanket up, say the phrase, “Peek-a….” and wait for your child to fill in, “Boo!” before lowering the blanket. This helps build anticipation and establishes a cause-effect relationship between your child’s words and your actions. Other social games include blanket swing, blanket train or magic carpet, and silly sneezes (i.e. Lifting the blanket and saying, “Ah, ah, choo!” as you lower it).

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s responses to noise, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Jill Teitelbaum, MS, CF-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Photo Credit: Michal Bar Haim on Unsplash.com