Children of different ages will all need something a little different when it comes to speech and language intervention. While the point may be obvious, sometimes it can be difficult to know exactly how to get started with putting together targeted speech and language work for your child which is both effective and engaging. You may have been given some targets and activities to carry out, but how to deliver these to your child at home is another matter altogether.
It is not always necessary to plan dedicated and specific sessions for a child. It is possible to adapt everyday activities and make lifestyle changes which can support speech and language development all the time. However, setting aside dedicated time to spend with your child, with specific goals in mind, will always have additional benefits.
There are always two key factors which are always relevant for planning targeted speech and language sessions. The first is to have developmentally appropriate expectations in terms of the child’s attention and stamina. In this sense, ‘developmentally appropriate’ means planning according to the stage of development that they are currently at, not what is ‘typical’ for a child of their age (which may or may not be aligned with the child’s current skills). Every child is different, and it is essential that children experience success during targeted intervention, which means that your expectations need to be pitched at just the right level for what your child can achieve. The second is to plan according to what will be most engaging and motivating for that child. It will be your job to make the task seem fun and exciting!
These two factors are the same things you will need to keep in mind for children of any age, but this week I will share my advice for working with children at the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) – up to 5 years of age.
- Try a little and often approach. Plan to spend 5-10 minutes doing your speech and language ‘work’ every day. If your child is really engaged, you can keep going, but it’s best to have a consistent expectation, so once the time is up, if their attention and enthusiasm begins to wane, it’s time to stop.
- For very young children, playbased learning can often be the most motivating. Just because you are playing with your child doesn’t mean you can’t have specific goals in mind for them! Spending 1:1 time with an adult who is able to model language for them has huge, proven benefits for early language development. Allow your child to choose the activity and follow their lead, describing the play out loud so they can learn new language skills. You can repeat things your child has said to gently correct them (this is called recasting), and add new things on to their utterances to help them take the next steps with their language.
- As your child gets older you may want to introduce more structured activities and games. Allow your child to choose the activity when possible (if they need help, you can offer them a selection to choose from). This will help your child to feel motivated.
- Sometimes it can be difficult to make speech and language work exciting. For example, practicing saying speech sounds can be quite boring and your child may be reluctant. If you find that this is true for you, it’s time to get creative!
- Use a reward activity which is highly motivating for your child. Let your child choose which reward they want to work towards from a selection. Tell them exactly how many tries they will need to have before they get their reward and stick to it! Don’t be tempted to change the rules – if you feel like you made it too easy, it would be better to change your target for next time. Count down your child’s attempts and use some visual support to mark of their attempts if you can (this can be as simple as filling in smiley faces or ticking off boxes on a piece of paper) to show that they are getting closer to their chosen reward.
- You may need to find the right balance between ‘work’ and the reward. You can set a timer for the ‘reward’ activity or agree a number of turns if you need to, and this can help the child return to ‘work’ once the reward is finished.
- Be creative! You can use any kind of activity to work on speech and language, so be creative and find a way to use you child’s interests. Using physical activities or arts and crafts can help to change things up and keep your child engaged.
- If your child is struggling to maintain their attention on a structured activity, try saying “one more, then finished” to help them to extend their attention just a little bit more. But do stick to your word! It can be tempting to ask for more again, especially when things have gone well, but it’s important that your child knows what to expect and changing the rules might make it more difficult to engage them next time. If it’s difficult for your child to complete the final task you can make it easier by giving them some extra help this turn.
- Build the sessions into a routine if you can. It is often easier for a child to engage if they know what to expect and when to expect it. Daily practice is ideal, but if that’s a difficult commitment to keep up, then try to plan your sessions on a schedule you can (mostly) stick to. Working at the same time of day (e.g. always after lunch, or before their favourite TV show) can make it easier for your child to engage as it will become part of their routine. Keeping the session length consistent will help your child to know what is expected of them.
Remember, you can find more advice for supporting your child in our Top Tips videos, and you will find lots of activities to try in our ‘Activities’ tab, along with advice on how to make the most of things which you are already doing every day.
Next week: I’ll be sharing my tips for supporting children in Key Stage 1.