It happens all the time, kids are succeeding in the therapy room, but when they come back the following week, parents report that they aren’t using their new skills at home. In the speech room, kids are focused and thinking about what they are here to learn. As soon as we say goodbye, kids sometimes forget to use newly learned skills because they are no longer focused on them. Home practice builds the bridge between what happens in the therapy room to everyday life.
Just like our therapy, our home recommendations are specifically tailored to each child and their family. However, we have a few standbys and principles that guide our home practice:
The language needs of our kids vary widely, but here is a list of some of our broader suggestions.
Cooking: Cooking is a language-rich activity. It requires following directions, giving directions, sequencing, and provides the opportunity to use new words to describe tastes and textures. It should also (hopefully) be delicious!
Picture Books: For younger kids, we might recommend pictures of family and friends, including school. Picture books provide an opportunity to talk about family relationships and descriptors for people. For older kids, we recommend wordless picture books such as Pancakes for Breakfast or Journey for our more imaginative kids. It is fun to have kids make up their own stories and infer events based on picture clues.
Daily Recap: I do this with my two-year-old son. We talk about the things we did that day, starting from the morning—sort of like a highlight reel. Currently, I do most of the talking, but as kids get older, they can contribute more about their day. I make sure to sequence words such as first, then, finally. This helps with narrative and storytelling structure. Visualizing your day also supports executive functioning skills. As kids get older, we also encourage them to add a particular feeling or descriptor of one or two events.
Ask specific questions: This one goes with the daily recap. When they ask their kids, “what did you do today?” a lot of parents are met with shrugs or vague responses. Sometimes it’s because they don’t want to talk about it, but sometimes it’s because it’s too difficult for kids to prioritize what they should tell you. Asking questions such as, “tell me one fun thing you did at recess today” may garner a better response, and you can go from there.
Games: We love games like Headbandz, Taboo, Gnomes at Night, Scattegories, Story Cubes, and my new favorite for older kids, SuperFight. In Superfight you get a character and power up cards and you debate who would win in a matchup. This also makes a great writing game. All of these games support deductive reasoning, word retrieval, listening, and expressive language skills.
Audiobooks: We like this particularly for kids who are struggling to read. Audiobooks allow kids to be exposed to age-appropriate grammar and vocabulary even if they aren’t ready to read those books. Research has found that audiobooks are just as effective in building language skills as reading books.
Believe it or not, any game can be turned into a speech game! In our practice, we often take an inventory of games that are already at home. We then create specific and functional word lists. A crowd favorite is Uno. Sometimes we give families a list of practice words, and the kids say the word as many times as the number on the card. Sometimes the words are directly related to the game. For example, a kid working on /r/ may be practicing words such as card or turn.
To practice articulation in conversation we suggest parents carve out 5 minutes each day to have a conversation. This is the only five minutes of the day in which parents correct their child’s speech sounds. It can be frustrating for kids to be corrected throughout the day, especially when they are trying to get their thoughts out. Limiting to a specific time period takes some of the stress out of the practicing.
What can my child’s teacher do?
Part of home practice is also working on skills in the classroom where, let’s face it, kids spend most of their day. We have been lucky that most teachers are willing to conference with us and implement specific strategies in their classrooms. If we have a specific skill that we want a child to work on in class, we often have the teacher and child pick a silent cue to remind the child to use a strategy. This way, our kiddo can practice using the strategy in the classroom without calling any attention to him or herself.