How To Get All Kids Talking in 2016

The mission statement for my private speech and language practice is “to get ALL kids talking to the best of their abilities so they can reach their full potential”.  I take this statement to heart with every child I work with and with my own kids at home. That’s because, research shows that young children with strong speech and language skills are more likely to have strong reading skills and to do well in school. Longitudinal research also shows that these kids are more successful as adults.

Modern day parents are involved with their kids’ lives like never before and this is great to see! Now, as a professional in the field of speech and language pathology, it is my responsibility to give parents the proper tools they need to help their children’s language skills become as strong as they can be. Whether or not a child has a speech and language delay, special needs, or they are talking more than any other child, there is always a next step to help them achieve in language development and toward becoming their best selves.

Since engaging kids in conversation is the best way to help develop their language skills, in this post I want to share a basic strategy to get ALL kids talking more no matter what their skill level. Enjoy!

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The Best Tech Toys For Language Development: 0-5 yrs

Well here we are in the holiday season again! Seems to me every December kind of sneaks up on parents and before we know it we are crowding the streets and malls looking for the perfect presents for our kiddies. As I began my own Christmas hunt this year, I was blown away at what my kids were asking for! At 4 and 2 years old, I couldn’t believe how many electronic and tech items were their most favourite.

As a speech-language pathologist I always try to find toys that sneak a little language learning into the fun. That’s because I know that the first 5 years are a critical period for language development and children do so much language learning in play!

Research tells us that:

  • Children learn language through the back and forth interactions with adults
  • Young children learn more efficiently through active, multi-sensory exploration of the three-dimensional world

Tech toys (e.g., tablets, gaming systems, electronic toys) typically don’t offer a lot of these properties, making them one of my least favourite language learning items for young kids. However, technology is here to stay and even I will put tech toys under our tree this year. Firstly, because there are finally some companies out there making truly fun and educational tech toys for kids. Secondly, because I believe it is my job to help my kids navigate a healthy balance of technology in their lives, not hide them from it. Therefore after much research regarding technology and language development, here is what I will be looking for in tech toys for my kids under 5.

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When Saying “Wabbit” Is Not Ok

Few things are as fantastic as hearing your child say their first word. You never know what it’s going to be or which day it will be said, and sometimes it might even be hard to know for sure if what comes out is an actual word! That’s because even though the child knows the adult word, (e.g., “car”), their speech sound system still needs to mature, so it might come out sounding close to the adult word but not the exact pronunciation (e.g., “ta” for “car”).

Children’s speech sound systems develop from birth until kids are around 8 years old. By this age it is expected that children say each sound in their native language with correct pronunciation. Until this time speech sound errors occur and this is normal. When they are little these errors can be so cute! My 2 year old son tells me he needs a “nuggle” (he means “snuggle”) and my 4 year old likes to give “sums up” (she means “thumbs up”). Yet, as adorable as these words are, as a speech-language pathologist I expect my kids to say these words correctly at certain ages.

In this post I want to share a bit of information about typical speech development to help families understand what is normal and when to seek help.

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Pretend Play & Language Development: A ‘How To’ Guide For 1-6yrs

With Halloween right around the corner my kiddos are already in extreme dress-up mode! There are clothes, hats, toy food and trucks all over my floors….and I love it! It is priceless to watch their imaginations flourish as they create their own unique play scenarios or recreate something they have watched me do at home.

As a speech-language pathologist, I know that pretend play goes with language development like peanut butter goes with jam! I also know that pretend play is a skill that develops, just like gross or fine motor skills, and children need the opportunity to ‘practice’ this skill each day.

Although it is wonderful (and healthy even) to let kids pretend on their own, allowing us parents a chance to get a few things done, it is very important that we engage in these pretend play schemes with them too.

Research tells us that:

  • There is a relationship between play skills and word use in young children
  • Play skills typically lag behind in children with language disorders
  • Play contains a variety of elements that stimulate the kinds of conditions that grow language
  • Children who engage in play with attentive and responsive adults will improve their language skills
  • Children become more able to take advantage of opportunities to learn through play as they become more advanced learners and social partners

Most parents I meet are really eager to engage in pretend play with their kids, however in my practice I have heard many express that they don’t know exactly how or what to do.

So let’s begin with the ‘what’ and learn the developmental milestones your child should be meeting for pretend play from ages 1-6 years.

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Why I’m Not Teaching My Toddler ABCs

As a parent of a 4 and 2 year old and a professional in speech and language development, I spend a lot of time with young children and their families. One of the biggest trends I have noticed amongst today’s parents is placing a high priority on having their young children learn to identify their ABCs. In my experience this typically begins around age 2, but I have even spoken to mothers of infants who are encouraging their babies to learn letters too.  Parents buy flash cards, apps and toys that center around learning letter identification and when I ask families why this is a priority for them the most common answer I receive is that they feel learning ABCs is important for helping their children learn to read.

While it is true that letter knowledge is an important piece in reading success, it is only one small portion of the bigger picture.  Reading typically begins around age 5, and just as you need to crawl before you walk, there are certain early literacy skills children need to master before they can become strong readers.

In this post I want to share some information about the building blocks for early literacy and things you can do to help babies, toddlers and preschoolers get ready to learn their ABCs.

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5 Places To Go For Language Learning Before the Summer Is Out!

It’s hard to believe that summer is almost over. Too soon we will be back into sweaters and hearing the school bells ringing. I’ve had an amazing time with my crew this summer, exploring the city and beyond to see what’s new to learn and talk about. I find it so easy to encourage language development with my kids in the summer since all you really need to do is get outside!

Remember, the two most valuable tools needed for learning language are interest and experience. If a child isn’t interested you won’t have their attention to show them anything new, or the motivation to keep them engaged. Children also learn best through hands on experience. In fact most language learning for toddlers and preschoolers are often tied to specific events. For example, a child who has seen a cow at the farm, heard it moo and maybe even felt it’s fur, will likely have a more developed meaning for the word ‘cow’ compared to looking at a toy cow or seeing it in pictures. This experience is also more likely to encourage child-initiated communication.

Since I am feeling nostalgic, I thought in this post I would share some of my favourite places to go in the summer that are great for a wide age range, the majority of kids are interested in going and inspire communication and natural language learning. I also outline a few language learning ideas at each place to get you started!

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Did You Say Something? Understanding First Words!

One of the most exciting changes in language development is when babies start using words to communicate. I have to admit; I too experienced the anticipation as my children approached word use age. I couldn’t wait to hear their little voices and find out what they were going to say as their first words!

In my profession as a speech-language pathologist, I speak to many parents of young infants. When I ask at what age they should expect their baby’s first words many are unsure. In addition, I have been asked by almost every first time parent “what do you mean by first words”. Since this type of information is common knowledge to me because of my education and training, I sometimes forget that it may not be to the general population, which is a concern for me as a clinician.

It is very important that parents have a basic understanding of their child’s speech and language development for two reasons. First, if parents aren’t aware of the age at which their children are suppose to be hitting their speech and language milestones, they won’t be aware if their children have missed a milestone and how late they actually are. Second, if parents don’t know what to expect their children to do at each speech and language milestone they are less likely to be able to help them along. For example, babies will take first steps when they are developmentally ready, but when you know what to look for (e.g., pulling themselves to standing, cruising) you can be there to help them along. The same is true for first words.

With this post I would like to set the record straight about what a first word is and when to expect it in typical language development.

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To Baby Talk Or Not To Baby Talk? That Is The Question!

As soon as babies are born they begin to learn language. They do this mainly through the back and forth interactions they have with adults. During these interactions some adults naturally use a type of ‘baby talk’ and some prefer to speak to babies in a more natural, adult-like manner. As a speech-language pathologist I’m often asked, which method is best for language development?

As part of an evidence-based profession my answer comes from understanding the research. This is a big topic, with many different studies dedicated to determining whether ‘baby talk’ is actually beneficial and with whom. In this article I am going to focus my answer on English speaking babies, whose speech and hearing are developing typically, using a small sample of articles to describe some of the research findings.

First, we should begin with a basic definition. Professionals in the field of language development generally use the term ‘infant-directed speech’ (IDS) to describe what the general population calls ‘baby talk’. Other terms used are ‘motherese’ or ‘parentese’. IDS is a specific way of speaking to babies characterized by a higher pitched voice, exaggerated pitch contours, vowel sounds being stretched out, a slower rate of speech, shorter phrases, longer pauses and repetition of words and phrases. In general this type of speech sounds very ‘sing-songy’.

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Helping Kids Wait With Language: Taking (Some) Struggles Away

One of the most difficult things for a child to do is wait.  There are two big reasons why this is really hard for kids. First, young children have a limited understanding of time concepts (e.g., before, after, until, soon, etc.) until around age 5, which means they have a difficult time understanding when things are going to actually happen. Second, children have difficulty regulating their behaviour. So even if they understand when certain things will happen, it can be hard to be patient, quiet and still until the waiting period is over.

In my therapy sessions I use pictures, schedules, timers and other tools to help kids understand what is going to happen and then to wait. These visual tools are always really helpful but it’s not realistic for me to have these kinds of things on hand for every situation.  And it’s certainly not realistic for the average parent to use  these kinds of things during typical daily life. So what do we do? Well, here are few tricks I have come up with that I use both in my therapy sessions and with my own kids.  These are the ones I have found to be the most successful and take a lot of the ‘pain’ out of waiting.

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Learning Language With Bubbles: 6 Months – 5 Years

All parents will tell you there is nothing more heart warming than watching the joy on their child’s face as they play happily. As a professional who has worked with children for over a decade, and a mother of two, I can tell you that it is always the simplest things that young children love the most, and what could be more simple than bubbles!

Both in my speech therapy sessions and at home, I use bubbles CONSTANTLY.  We always keep bubbles on-hand in the house, there are large bubble wands for outdoor play and I even keep small bubbles in my purse! I don’t know one child (or adult for that matter) who doesn’t love bubbles.

You usually don’t need a lot of bells and whistles in regards to toys, even toys for learning.  All you really need is a child’s interest and you have a language learning opportunity.  As many speech-language pathologists will tell you, there are hundreds of ways to use bubbles to teach language skills.  I have chosen a few that I think would be pretty easy for parents to do at home with their little-ones. However, before I get into the actual activity ideas, here are a few basic definitions of some ‘clinical terms’ just so we are all on the same page.

Expressive Language – This is the use of gestures, sounds, words and sentences to communicate.

Receptive Language – This is the ability to understand language, including words and grammar.  Babies start learning vocabulary as early as 7 months of age. Vocabulary grows consistently as children get older.

Joint Attention – This is a pre-linguistic skill that is critical to language development.  Joint attention means to have two people looking at the same object, at the same time, and being aware that the other person is looking too.

Pragmatics (Social Language) – This is understanding and using verbal, but also non-verbal forms, to communicate effectively. For example using tone of voice, facial expressions and body language to convey different meanings, making eye contact and turn taking.  It also includes using language to behave appropriately in different situations.

Now for the activities!

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