If you’re anything like me, typically when it comes to statistics and “your child should do this at this age, and that at this age,” you’ll have a more relaxed approach to development. You’ll realise that children are not textbooks, no two children will develop at the same rate. And it’s okay if a child has not one hundred percent mastered the skills mentioned in textbooks, at a certain point, as they lead you to believe they must. So what if they are slightly “behind” according to the textbooks. They’re healthy are they not? That’s the main thing. They will and can develop at their own rate.
However when it comes to speech, this is one thing that every parent (more than likely) would like to see develop at a rate, similar to their child’s peers. A child’s communication skills are key to demonstrate how they understand the world around them. That said, there could be several reasons as to why a child may not have a speaking ability, or vocabulary, on par with that of their peers by the time they start nursery.
One reason could be the child is not exposed enough to a language rich environment, therefore picking up words is lacking with not enough opportunity to do so. Or they are not encouraged enough to speak, listen, or communicate via play, or with adults to learn new vocabulary. Sometimes sadly, it could also be something a little more serious. For example, an actual speech development delay, this is quite common. Whatever the reason, there are some key things parents can do to help aid the development of a child’s speech. Whether the child does or does not have a medically diagnosed speech delay.
One: Build model sentences. Within your household try to build a language rich environment. It could be helpful if you allow your child to explore the house, and household with you. When they pick something up say the name of it. Allow your child to try and repeat the word. If you model a basic sentence using the item they picked up, it will encourage them to build on the new word they have learned. For example, you say “what’s that? It’s a brush” the child says “brush” you say, “yes let’s brush hair.” This allows the child to learn new words, and how to apply the use of a simple thing like a brush in a sentence. Keep the model sentence simple and clear with short words.
Two: Extend what they know. Build in time during the day or evening to learn and practice new words with the child. Switch off the television, and focus on just your child. One on one play with your child using speech to play. Remember children learn via play and imagination. For example, my son loves his cars and toy animals. When we get them out to play each day, I say things like “What’s pig doing?” He could say “sleeping, pig sleeping.” I would say “pig’s sleeping on the sofa.” He would repeat and learn a new word for example “sofa.” The key here is to extend what your child already knows via play. Give an extra word or two to build on what they can say. Encourage them to say more words in a longer sentence. Take ten minutes or longer if you can, every day, to learn via active play. With no television. Play with things that will hold their attention span.
Three: Reading. This is an absolute must! Books with pictures are a fantastic way to introduce new vocabulary. Don’t just read the story at normal speed. Slow down, take your time. Point to the pictures and have the child look at them closely also, recognise and try to say the things in the book’s pictures. Before you know it, they will be picking up books to look at, and read on their own. If you’re lucky they could get into the habit of climbing on your lap dragging the book with them saying, “book book” as they want to read. Once they have become familiar with a book, a child may then try to read the book back to you, by recognising what’s in the pictures and having the vocabulary to express themselves.
Four: Find local children’s chatter time events. This will depend on where you live and how well resourced your area is. The library offers some wonderful free children’s play days, where parents and children can gather. Watch plays, do crafts and all sorts of language and communication rich activities. It will also allow your child the chance to interact with other children if they are an only child. Interaction with other children is key. Often once a child is exposed to another child with a higher vocabulary it rubs off!
Five: Encouragement from you, and other adults. This is not just “oh well done.” It’s about encouraging your child to speak. When they want something prompt them to ask for it in a full basic sentence “I want, juice … please”, rather than just allowing them to say “juice.” Have conversations with your child that are more than yes or no. “What did we do today?” “We went park.” Rather than “park.” It’s okay if the child is not always grammatically correct as shown, clearly, it’s “we went to the park” “I would like some juice.” However, it’s not about being a grammar Nazi at first, it’s about encouraging your child to say more words. More words = vocabulary = longer sentences= increased speech. The latter is your final destination, worry about grammar when they are ready for that. Right now while they are little and maybe still of nursery age, focus on building and stretching their willingness to express themselves with more words.
Six: Singing. You might be surprised how willing your child is to talk more, when it comes to music and singing. Jump on Amazon or eBay and find a CD of popular children’s songs. Or even head to YouTube and play on your PC or laptop. Singing is a really effective way to encourage speaking and build on pronunciation and words. Sing every day! Build it into family life. It could be when you arrive home and are cooking, play music in the background and sing together. Also make up your own songs. This is a really good tip to help develop a child’s speech, overcome shyness and learn new words.