How Parent's Can Ehance Preschoolers Speech & Language Skills, Education Network Journal

Education Network Journal - Vol 1, July 1998

Can Parents Enhance Preschoolers' Speech & Language Skills?

By Helen Bartlett-Hanna

About The Author

Helen Hanna currently practises Speech Pathology in the Palm Beach County School System. Her experiences in Education began in Canada where she earned an Honors Bachelor's degree in English at The University of Windsor. She then received training in Speech Pathology in Memphis Tennessee, obtaining a Master's degree, and national and state certifications as a Speech & Language Pathologist, and as a Teacher, at the University of Memphis. She later received a Doctorate in Jurisprudence at The University of Memphis, and practised Speech Pathology in The Memphis/Shelby County School System. She is primarily interested in early childhood speech & language development, and in furthering the processes that afford children legal & educational access to proper care within school systems.

Parents frequently ask what they can do to improve their preschool child's speech and language skills. If you have similar concerns, a good place to start might be to listen to your child and determine where the breakdown occurs. This might require the help of a speech and language pathologist. Many school districts have early intervention programs which offer a range of services including various screenings, in-depth evaluations, and an array of intervention services. Contact your school district's Child Find or equivalent program for assistance. Private diagnostic and therapy services are also widely available.

Parents are often frustrated when their child is declared ineligible for speech and language services. School districts follow National and State guidelines, and eligibility criteria may differ from state to state. Frequently when a child is declared ineligible for speech and language services, parents are at a loss because they still have difficulty understanding some things their child says, or they don't know what to do to help their child's language catch up with that of other children his age. It is important to note that even though your child's speech and /or language skills may be within developmental expectations, there are still things you can and should do as a parent /caregiver to strengthen your child' skills.

If your child has had a formal evaluation by a qualified speech and language pathologist, be sure that you have the results of the testing explained to you. During the "test interpretation", ask questions. Seek clarification. Understand exactly what it is that your child is and is not doing and what is developmentally appropriate at this stage in your child's life. If the screening process determines that an in-depth, evaluation is not warranted, or the test results reveal that your child's speech and language skills are within developmental expectations at this time, it is still a good idea to ascertain just where the breakdown in communication lies, and what you can do to help. Begin by listening carefully to what your child says and how he/she says it. Take notes. See if there is a pattern of errors. This will make it easier to determine what you can do to help.

There has been much talk recently about the importance of talking to your child as early as conception. Well, almost that early. This is good advice. There has also been talk of the importance of using "baby talk". It's important to clarify this term. Babies respond to the melodic intonation of "baby talk". This is good for them-the ooing and cooing of all the wonderful people around them. There comes a time, however, when these lovely bundles of joy begin to imitate what they experience around them. Initially their efforts are primitive, and that's OK, but as they develop their skills they deserve to have accurate models to follow. Let them strive for closer approximations to "the real thing". They may say "Baba" but they need to hear us say "Bottle" so that as their skills are refined they too, will say "Bottle". They may say

"Ta -ta" but they need to hear us say "Thank you". They may say "Patuter" but they need to hear us say "Computer". They may say "Me want" but they need to hear us say, "I want". I'm sure you get the picture.

Encourage your child to make logical figure things out for himself. This fosters reasoning skills and is a good source of vocabulary building. Just today I witnessed such development as my almost three-year-old chatted with his godmother (who happens to be a certified speech and language pathologist, but you too, can do this, and I'm sure many of you do). The dialogue went somewhat like this:

ADULT: H (child), do you have a pet?

CHILD: No, I don't have a pet.

ADULT: I have a pet. My dog, Denver is my pet. Do you have any pets?

CHILD: Yes, I have two pets. My dogs Smokey and Dusty are my pets.

He came home and told his father that he has two pets and explained who his pets are. Now consider the options. In a situation like this you could explain to your child that he does indeed have pets and feed all the information to him, or you could go the godmother route and let him think it through. It could be fun.

At first this may require some practice. Should your child not give the desired response initially, walk him through the process a few times, or as many times as it takes. Just remember to keep it light and keep it pleasant. Pleasant is good. Try building gradually on what your child gives you. Here's a sample dialogue:

ADULT: Do you have a pet?


ADULT: I have a pet. My dog, Denver is my pet. Do you have a pet?


ADULT: My dog, Denver is my pet. Your dog, Smokey is your______


ADULT: Yes, your dog, Smokey is your pet. Do you have any other pets?

CHILD: Yes, my dog, Dusty is my pet.

ADULT: That's right. Now, how many pets do you have?

CHILD: I have two pets.

ADULT: Smo______

CHILD: Smokey and Dusty.

ADULT: You have two pets. They are your dogs, Smokey and Dusty.

This could go on forever. Follow your child's lead but don't be afraid to shift gears in order to make the communication exchange more productive. Have fun!

Occasionally the thinking toddler will take an unexpected turn and not do as you anticipated. This same child was practicing his sounds with his mother a few months ago. The "s" is a later developing sound but the speech and language pathologist in me could not resist the urge to "work on that sound" just a little. Yes I'm guilty of sneaking in a therapy session here and there. This is how this session went:

Mother / SLP: Look at me, honey. (Always get their attention before beginning). When I say "Some", I keep my tongue in like this (demonstrating the teeth closed, tongue behind the bottom front teeth)

Child: And when I thay "Thome", I thtick my tongue out like dith (demonstrating the tongue between the top and bottom front teeth).

So, maybe this sound really can wait until he is developmentally ready to acquire it.

This was months ago, and I continue to model correct production. Occasionally he lands it just right, and then there are those other times.  Patience is a good rule of thumb.

Have you noticed how quickly children learn songs? Have you noticed how quickly they learn commercial jingles? Try singing to your children - A LOT. So, you can't carry a tune in a bucket. Word has it that when Paul Mc.Cartney started his musical career he couldn't write a note. Lionel Richie took on the music industry without being able to read or write music. Look at them now. Look for songs that have the sounds and grammatical structures, which you want to target, and put these songs to work. Make it fun! Make it productive fun.

Contents Page
"Speech" Page of 1/1