By: Lauren Gebhard, SLP
“Banana,” “Ba-nan-a”, “Ba-nnnnnn-aaaannn-uhh,” “Yes! That’s a yummy banana.” Most parents know the frustration of trying to teach their child language skills, and the correct way to use words. In some way or another you’ve all been there; you know, standing in a kitchen with a yellow banana in your hand, sounding it out in every possible way you can think up. Those are the moments you can be glad no one has a hidden camera filming you. For a parent of a child with special needs, sometimes this frustration can easily turn to discouragement. We’re here to lift your spirits and let you know that you can do it! Sometimes, it’s easy for teaching language to become a much more difficult feat than it need to be.
One of the easiest ways to develop your little one’s language skills is to talk with them about life, and the world around them. We all have a schedule of events that we do day in and day out, or happenings that occur in the same, or a very similar, way to the day before and the day that follows. These daily routines of mealtime, getting dressed, bath time and driving around in the car, are great opportunities for early language learning, because they are natural, yet repetitive! Narrating the events as they happen is extremely beneficial to your child and their understanding and use of language. However, we do not want to overload or overwhelm our children with so many words that they can’t make sense of the things going on around them. Here are a few simple ways to create opportunities for learning language during your daily routines:
First of all, it is important that the routines being used to teach language are consistent and able to be broken down into smaller, more concise steps. You can do this by using simple language for each step. It may be helpful to use phrases such as “first _____, then _____” or “now _____, next______”. In addition, it is helpful to show your child what you are doing as you do it. For example, you could say, “first, pick up your spoon,” as you demonstrate by doing exactly that.
Once you’ve demonstrated, allow and encourage your child to participate. This step may require a little bit of assistance from you, but that’s ok. We think hands on activities are the best activities anyway.
After speaking, and showing your child a step, allow your child to process what you have said. Once they’ve had a bit of time to process, you may attempt to repeat the activity, as repetition is always beneficial for little ones who are learning. You’ll soon see that after a few attempts at the activity, your little one will begin to understand and remember the steps of each routine. Once this happens, celebrate with them and hand over the reigns. It’s fun and helpful to allow your little one the independence to take the lead.
The timing of the words you use is also important. Try to look at the same thing your child is interested in at that moment and label it for them. This will help your child learn that word. If you say the word “cup” while your child is looking at and holding his fork, he may not correctly associate or learn the word cup. So instead you could say “put fork in mouth” while jointly looking at engaging with the fork. Through these and other daily routines, children will learn the words that are associated with each activity. For example, they will understand that the word “cup” is associated with mealtime and that the word “soap” goes with bath time.
Most importantly, be patient, and don’t be afraid to look silly. Every child learns at a unique pace, and your little one is no exception. If you have to repeat the word “banana” seventeen times before they grasp the meaning of it, that’s ok! Keep your head high and know that your hard work will pay off. Your little one is learning through everything you do!