As a school-based SLP, I get asked this question quite a bit from parents. I love being asked this question, because it tells me that parents are truly invested in helping their child make progress and doing what they can to support speech therapy at home. It’s so much more important now that we are home even more than ever before!
Often in the schools, we only get to see students once or twice a week for 20 or 30 minutes at a time. Parents are at home with their child way more than that!! This is especially true now, during the COVID-19 pandemic!
So, I love to be able to provide parents with actionable tips that will be simple, and effective and will help their child make progress.
And… because of this pandemic, this question of “What can I do to help at home?” is even more relevant, as parents are scrambling to figure out how to supplement the services their child used to get at school. Although some students have already returned to ‘in person’ learning, all students are required to wear masks… which begs the question:
Umm… I wish I had a good answer for this, but the best one I can come up with, and maybe I’m biased because I have done online/tele-therapy with so many students, but I honestly think doing online speech therapy is the better option than in person therapy when you are talking about working on speech sounds/articulation.
Most, if not all of the speech therapy, specifically articulation therapy (working on pronunciation and how to say speech sounds correctly) is based on visual cues for lip and tongue placement.
I cannot think of a time that I have done speech therapy with a student to work on articulation (speech sounds) where I didn’t use visual cues... visual cues for me to observe what the student is doing with their mouth, and visual cues for the student to see what I am modeling with my mouth so they can copy me.
And, not to mention how to work with a child with hearing loss, autism, intellectual disability, social deficits… We rely so much on those visual/nonverbal facial cues!
Although I consider myself quite an experienced, ahem… shall we say, seasoned therapist… I have to say, I’m kind of at a loss on how to provide effective articulation treatment with masks on..
There are clear masks, and that would probably be the next best option, but these can fog up… as long as you can find a fog resistant mask that actually works! Face shields may be an option as well.
I am hopeful that we are nearing the end of this pandemic and will all be happily wandering the school hallways and speech therapy rooms mask-free, but in the meantime, I think parents are concerned and wanting to know how they, as non-Speech Language Pathologists can help their child with speech and language at home.
So….let's get to it!
We’ve all heard how important modeling is… Model talking! Model appropriate sounds and sentences! Model words you want your child to learn!
So, how do we model speech sounds in a way that will help our child improve their speech sound production?
This can be trickier than it seems. Of course, you will model clear, precise speech for your child and you can speak at a slower pace. But, what can you do if you know your child struggles with certain speech sounds?
-Emphasize the sound when you notice your child makes a specific sound error. Example: if your child says, “I wike cake!” You say, “I L-ike cake too!” You emphasize the L sound when you repeat it back to your child.
-Make sure your child is watching your mouth or at least looking at you when you are modeling sounds back to your child.
-Repeat the sound several times when you model it. Example: your child says, “Can I have a poon?” You say, “A S-poon? Yes, a S-poon. Here’s your S-poon!
Be aware of what sounds are expected at your child’s age
Make sure that when you are modeling sounds, or working on specific sounds with your child that you are working at your child’s level. You don’t want to be expecting your child to produce sounds that are above their developmental or age level.
I have included the most recent and updated sound charts at the end of this blog post so you can refer to it and see which sounds are typically acquired at what ages.
Say the sound by itself
If you know your child struggles with a particular sound, isolate that sound by itself and see if your child can say it easily with your model. Sometimes all it takes is you modeling the sound for your child and giving some gentle instruction.
Example: If your child says the S sound with their tongue out between their teeth, you can say, “Try it with your tongue behind your teeth like me! Watch… SSSSS.” You can make it into a fun game, like, let’s sound like a snake! SSSS, and show them how you put your tongue back.
If your child can’t easily do it, becomes frustrated, or if the sound starts to sound “off”, like a slushy sound for S, those are your cues to stop! Just model it and move on. You don’t want to be working on things incorrectly.
Break up long words into syllables
When your child has difficulty with multisyllabic words, or producing clear speech in sentences, they may be leaving off parts of a word, called syllable reduction.
Example, your child might say “efant” instead of “elephant”. Try breaking the word into one syllable at a time and have your child try it that way: e -- le--- phant. You can try clapping or tapping out syllables so your child can practice hearing all the parts of the word, which may help them to sequence the word parts if they can hear it.
Model and have your child say one syllable at a time: E…. then add another syllable added to it: Ele….. then work on that until your child gets it… then say ‘phant’... then add the sounds together: E - le - phant. You can go back to practicing just part of the word if it seems too hard, or take a break and try again later!
*Remember to keep it light and fun, you don’t want your child to associate the time you work on speech with frustration.
Look in the mirror together
Go to a mirror with your child where you can both look in the mirror at the same time. Model the sound for your child, and have your child look in the mirror to see if they can copy what you are doing with your mouth, tongue, and lips to produce the sound.
Certain sounds are going to be more “visual” than others, think of sounds like L, T, D (where the tip of your tongue goes up and you can see it because the mouth is open), P, B, M (your lips come together), K & G (the back of your tongue goes up, but the tip of your tongue stays down).
Sometimes all your child needs is a visual and to know where their tongue should go, and then they can do it! Of course, this isn't always the case, but definitely worth a try!
Model mouth movements without making a sound
Try having your child put their tongue, mouth, and lips in the right position, without saying the sound. Example: If your child struggles with the F sound, have your child put their top teeth on their bottom lip (first without making the sound).
Once they have mastered this, then you can try adding the sound. If they still struggle, just go back to trying the mouth movement, without saying the sound and practice some more. If your child still can’t do it, just go back to modeling the sound, and try again another time!
Try Auditory Bombardment
This involves saying target sounds for your child correctly lots of times and in many different contexts. Example, if your child is working on the K and G sounds, you would say lots of words with these sounds and have your child listen and watch. Here are some ideas:
-Say words with these sounds at the end and think of words that rhyme (G: bag, lag, tag, sag, K: back, sack, rack, pack)
-Read a story out loud to your child that has a lot of the target sounds in it
-Make up a story and use these sounds for the character so you can say the sound in words over and over.
Avoid working too much on sounds your child can’t yet say
If your child isn’t easily able to produce the sound from your model and with some gentle instruction, you should just model the sound and move on. Trust me, incorrect practice is worse than no practice at all!
There may be another reason your child is not able to yet produce the sound, such as motor planning difficulties. It is always best to refer to a Speech Language Pathologist when your child is having speech difficulties, and especially if your child struggles to do the sounds from your model.
Remember that some sounds will not have a very obvious or visible tongue or lip position for your child to copy. For example: When the S sound is produced, unless the tongue is out in between the teeth, you can’t tell what the tongue is doing. In a lateralized production of S the sound sounds slushy, but it’s hard to correct the placement when you can’t see what the tongue is doing!
R sounds are also very tricky, even for SLPs to work on!! Did you know there are 21 variations of R sounds and the sounds are produced differently depending on what other sounds are next to them? For example, “er” as is sister, is a different production and different tongue movement than “r” as in rabbit.
It's a good idea to consult with a SLP, especially for these difficult sounds.
Remember: it’s always ok to model & emphasize sounds in words and sentences.
Also! In addition to going back to just modeling the sound when your child can’t yet say it, doing auditory bombardment (as mentioned above) with your child may help their speech development along too and you can try coming back to having your child try the sound in isolation once you have done the auditory and modeling techniques for a while and your child seems to get it.
And the last tip…
Make it fun!
You want your child to associate the time you spend working on sounds to be fun!
Make sure your child does not get to a point of frustration. If they are struggling too much and getting frustrated, just stop and try again another time!
Keep it light and fun and when you are “working” on speech sounds, do it within the context of a game.
There are plenty of fun word games or made up games you can do with your child and sneak in some speech practice too. Think: “I spy…” or try practicing sounds when you play “Go Fish” the card game. Example, use a sound your child needs to practice in the game repetitively, such as, “K”, as in, “Can I have a 4?” Just make sure your child is able to say the sound at this level (in a sentence) before you do this! If not, back up and practice the sound in one word, or the sound by itself first!
Another fun game that I like to play with kids is “Teacher and Student”. So, the child gets to be the “teacher” and I say a word and they have to guess if I said the target sound correctly or not. Example: Instead of saying, “I see the sun.” I would say, "I ‘thee’ the sun." Kids love to be able to “catch” your mistakes.
Be careful when playing this if you decide to switch roles and have your child be the student and you are the teacher (make sure they are able to produce the sound correctly in words before you switch roles) because they might get frustrated if they can’t yet do the correct production of the sound.
For older children, you may want to choose a time of day to work on speech, but just in short increments… like 5 minutes after dinner and 5 minutes before bed.
*Make sure you work with your Speech Language Pathologist to determine the best plan of action for your child. Your work at home should not replace an evaluation or treatment by a professional.
You can get the most recent, updated sound chart here: https://www.csu.edu.au/research/multilingual-speech/speech-acquisition