Speech and Communication

If your child’s speech is coming later than their peers, run to a private speech therapist and get an assessment. It will give you guidance on what they need coaching with. It provides evidence that your child needs support in the classroom or government funding. Don’t assume your child care centre will alert you to a problem. Some might, but child care workers are not trained to make these observations and they are overstretched with their responsibilities.

A speech therapist will assess which language conventions your child is struggling with and then provide you with playful activities to help you model those conventions.

White board for kinds to play with.

Developing Speech at Home

While you are waiting for therapy funding, here are some ideas to help your child at home.

Narrate your day

This might feel a bit like rambling, but speech therapists encourage talking continuously to your new baby or young child.

For example, “I’m opening the cupboard and pulling out the chickpeas… Now I’m opening the tin and pouring the liquid into the sink. Look the tin is open and I’m pouring the chickpeas out of the tin.”

And make sure you don’t ask too many questions. Questions can be overwhelming and so while they need to be modelled, they also need to be balanced with lots of noticing and commenting.

Read to your baby or young children for as long as they can manage

You don’t need to read all the words if they can’t focus on full sentences…pointing to the pictures and describing them can be just as helpful.

Don’t persist if your child is tired of listening. Take a break and try again later.

Use Pictures and Real-Life Examples

A picture dictionary can be a great resource here, but real things are just as important. Name things in front of your child. Pointing at pictures and objects and naming them while your child is paying attention is a great start.

Add One Word

If your child is saying “girl”, start saying “girl running”… “girl jumping”… “girl eating”

If your child is saying “ball”, respond by saying “blue ball”…”round ball”… “ball bouncing”

Replace “Yes or No” answer questions with questions that make the child say a new word

For example, during snack time, instead of saying “Would you like an apple?” a better question would be, “Would you like the apple or the banana?” or “Would you like the train or the car?”

Model, Don’t “Correct”

If your child makes a mistake, restate the sentence they should have said.

Example: Your child says: “I gotted a drink.”

A good reply might be: “You got a drink. You got a drink from the fridge…You got a cold drink.” (Cheery voice).

An unhelpful reply would be: “No, we don’t say I gotted, we say I got” or anything that stops the flow of the child’s conversation.

We learn Best Through Warm Relationships

Remember that talking should bring good feelings. The more we delight in any effort at speech, the more our children will try. Imaginative play is the ideal way for young children to improve speech. Examples of imaginative play would be pretending to be astronauts, making a home corner and role-playing cooking. The internet is full of ideas.

Adding music to your play is also a good idea, if your child can tolerate it. Singing (even if it’s out of tune), learning a simple instrument like the ukulele are really valuable, even if you are making a tuneless racket.

Teach a Second Language

This might sound crazy and be more relevant when your child is gaining confidence with speaking their first language, but teaching your child a second language strengthens the speech centres in their brain. Don’t worry if your pronunciation isn’t perfect or if your grammar needs some work. The important thing is that the child gets the idea there are lots of different words and sounds to describe something.

For my sons, learning a second language has also helped them better understand English over time. They aren’t bilingual, but are genuinely enjoying the process. 

Feeling daunted?

When I realised my son had a speech delay, I was really worried and I felt very guilty and went into hyperdrive. A lot of our daily activities shifted to imaginative play and I cleaned the house in the evenings. During the day, we pretended to be pirates or bake cakes or made cubbies. I’d be lying to say I wasn’t incredibly stressed during this time, but it was a beautiful chapter of our family life. I feel privileged I got to spend so much time with my young children and I wish I’d had more confidence to realise these activities were going to be so important to the relationship we were building and my son’s later graduation from speech therapy. We put in hundreds of hours singing and playing…sometimes we plateaued, but then there would be a rush of learning again, and we eventually got NDIS funding and more ideas from therapists. He was about ten when he graduated from speech therapy. I felt like I’d outrun a bear when he did, and there was still much more to do…but we got there.

Reflection: If you were a child care worker, could you provide a quiet environment and active verbal feedback to all the children in your care? When I was studying Early Childhood Education (Birth to 8 years), we didn’t cover these ideas. It is possible things have changed, but the reality of child care is that carers lack the time, resources and training to help your child unless the centre is specifically focused on developing these skills (like AEIOU centres). It might be time to think about refinancing in the short term, to be able to give your child more one-on-one help at home?

It’s also a good time to ask for support from close friends and family. Perhaps start a play group for promoting speech where each parent prepares an activity to teach a new speech skill, like describing textures, or movement.

Resources for Developing Whole Sentences

Rainbow Sentences – https://apps.apple.com/au/app/rainbow-sentences/id427578209

Black Sheep Press – blacksheeppress.co.uk

Pelican Talk – www.pelicantalk.com

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