How To Keep Kids “Speech & Language Healthy”

Boy and Muscles

Speech and language skills begin to develop right from birth all the way into adulthood. This is an ever maturing and changing part of life as kids grow up and I think sometimes we may take for granted that these skills will just develop properly on their own.

As parents, we make sure kids exercise, sleep and eat well for good health. We make sure they get regular check-ups and we nurse them when they get sick. Speech and language requires similar attention and care to help kids reach their full potential.

In this post I outline some basic things all parents can do to make sure their kids have a healthy speech and language development and get them ready for success!

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Why Babbling Is A Critical Language Milestone

I find infant language development fascinating! It’s remarkable to think about the complexities involved in learning a language, yet these little bundles do this at such a rapid rate and seemingly with such ease! In addition, although it may seem like your infant is a passive agent in the language learning process, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Their little brains are actively integrating information from the moment they are born and by the time they hit around 6-9 months old they are expected to have reached a critical language milestone known as babbling.

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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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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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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 Your Child Learn Language From Birth

The holidays are officially over and 2015 is here! The new year is a time for fresh starts and new beginnings, especially for those new little babies who have been welcomed into the world.

As a professional in speech and language development, and a mother of two, I am constantly trying to spread the message of why it is critical for parents to take the lead role in their child’s language development from the start. I try and do this by sharing three important truths all parents should know:

• Babies start learning language right from birth

• First words occur around 12mths and there is a HUGE amount of language learning infants need to do before they can talk

• Babies spend most of their time in daily routines with their parents and the majority of their language learning will occur in these interactions.

So with that in mind here are five simple, but powerful things to do with your baby to make sure they get a strong start in their language development!

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Give Me Patience: How Behaviour And Language Develop Together

Parents of toddlers are familiar with statements like, “I don’t want to!”, “Let me do it!” or “NO!”. Children may suddenly breakdown into tears, they might scream, throw or even hit. These are just some of the things I have experienced with my daughter and why I decided to bring my professional knowledge into our personal life.

I am a speech-language pathologist. In my job I assess and treat children with language disorders and I take behaviour into consideration on a daily basis. I know from my training that language and behaviour go hand-in-hand. Let me explain.

Behaviour regulation is the ability to have control over the way we act. It involves managing our feelings and attention, even during stressful environments.   This skill develops over childhood and environmental stressors may affect each child differently. One child may do nothing if their toy is taken and one child may hit.

Studies show a strong connection between children who can regulate their own behaviour and their language skills.

  • Toddlers who have larger vocabularies are better at self-regulation
  • Preschoolers with strong behaviour regulation skills show better literacy and vocabulary skills
  • Kindergarteners with language delays have poorer behaviour regulation skills

This research suggests that children with strong language skills are better able to cope with their environment in more socially appropriate ways.

Sounds good! So, how EXCATLY do I help my child? Here are a few things that have worked at our house.

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Let’s Get Talking!

Hi! As a speech-language pathologist, and a mom of two, I know first-hand how important it is to get a child’s language development off to a good start!  I decided to start writing this blog in response to the many questions I get from families I speak to every day. The purpose is to provide parents with education on typical early language and literacy development, and offer ideas and activities to help support their child’s language at home in fun,easy ways!