“Helping”: My Favourite Real Life Language Boosting Activity

28849066 - young father with his little son washing car

Picture this. You are playing happily with your child, enjoying each other’s company. You look at the clock and realize you need to… (fill in your chore of choice here) so you tell your child “You keep playing. I’ll be back in a minute”. You have barely started into whatever task requires your attention (dinner, dishes, laundry, etc.) and you turn to find your kiddie still glued to your side; either pawing to get picked up or asking you to do something for them that requires your immediate attention. Then for the remainder of the evening you ping-pong back and forth between your child and all the other tasks you need to get done until you fall into bed.

Does this scenario sound familiar? Well, it happens to me EVERY SINGLE DAY! There are countless comic strips out there about the perils of trying to get things done with kids around (which can be maddening!), but what I’ve come to realize is that if you take a step back you begin to see that most of the tasks you are trying to accomplish can actually be very child-friendly if given a few tweaks. This is great because with child-friendly tasks kids can be included as “helpers” and in doing so a parent can achieve 3 important goals:

1) Give kids the attention they are seeking at that moment

2) Accomplish the task that needs to get done

3) Help develop a child’s vocabulary and language comprehension skills

It may seem so basic, and some of you may already be letting your kids help out every now and then.  But if you can include your kiddies as “helpers” during basic activities of daily living, at least once a day for 10-15 minutes, you will be offering a major language boosting opportunity for them. Studies have shown that young children develop language in the back-and-forth interactions they have with adults during daily activities. Of course this includes when we play with our kids, but mostly it involves the language they are exposed to during the common, repetitious daily living activities we do all the time.

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Improve Reading Comprehension In Toddlers and Preschoolers

The importance of reading to young children cannot be overstated. Years and years of research have described the benefits from improving language skills, to developing strong literacy skills, to long-term academic success. But did you know that not all reading is created equal?

In fact, it’s actually the style of reading, more than the frequency, that impacts children’s early language and literacy development. Although this may be a bit surprising to hear, it’s not sufficient to simply read a text aloud to a young child in order to encourage them to learn from it, and since most parents I know are reading to kids to help them with their language and literacy, the question then becomes, “what should I be doing instead?”

I was recently reading a study that stated, “the earlier parents become involved in their children’s literacy practices, the more profound the results and the longer-lasting the effects” (Mullis, Mullis, Cornille et al., 2004). Reflecting on this statement, I felt it was time to do a post that discusses the meaning of the word “involved”.

Books before bedtime are great, but sometimes we all need a few tips on how to really make the most of these moments together. When adults make some simple changes to how they read during story time, which goes beyond just reading the words on the page, this has a major effect on how children engage with books, and ultimately their comprehension of what is being read.

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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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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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How To Read To Busy Babies And Toddlers

As a speech-language pathologist working with families of young children I am constantly asked about book reading.  We have all heard that reading to babies is very important but sometimes it can be challenging to read to those squirmy little ones!  I can relate to these challenges as a professional, having read to hundreds of different children, and as a parent of two very active kids!

It can be frustrating for even the most well-intentioned parent to keep reading to their child when they seem to be ‘uninterested’ in staying put for the story. Let me begin by saying I understand these frustrations, but I would like to share a few things that highlight why it’s important to keep reading!

• Early language and literacy development begins in the first few years of life

• A child’s early literacy skills develop through regular daily positive interactions with literacy materials and the adults in their lives

• Strong early literacy skills are related to later literacy skills in school

As a professional in speech and language development I have lots of tips and tricks up my sleeve to make book reading enjoyable for ALL kids.  Today I will share my top 5 to hopefully help you inspire a love of literacy in your child at home.

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Bilingualism And Language Development: Answers To 5 Frequently Asked Questions

With the holiday season upon us I am always excited to see how different people celebrate. The month of December holds a variety of celebrations such as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas, so it should be no wonder why this time of year highlights, not only the diverse communities we live in but the different cultures existing within the same households.

As a speech-language pathologist one of the most common questions I get from parents is in regards to learning multiple languages.  More and more families are making the decision to expose their children to bilingualism and with this choice comes additional questions on how to approach this the best way.

So, with the holiday spirit inspiring me I would like to provide families with some answers to frequently asked questions regarding multiple language learning in children.

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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! 

Enjoy!