Encouraging Meaningful Communication With Your Children During This Stay-Home Period
During this period of isolation, it can be difficult to juggle different things at one go – from working, getting essential supplies (oh, the joys of finding that 24-pack toilet rolls at Woolworths!) to keeping children occupied (hands up if you’re feeling overwhelmed looking through endless parenting blogs and Facebook posts to find ‘stay-at-home activities’ and ‘home-schooling ideas’!)...if you are a parent reading this post, I just want to start off by saying you deserve a pat on the back!
This can be a stressful, challenging time for parents with children with additional needs as well. However, I would like to reassure you that there are many things that you can be doing to help your children develop their communication skills at home. Yes, that’s right, you don’t have to have a degree in Speech Pathology to be your child’s best therapist during this trying time! In fact, the increased time spent at home means you can assist your children in transferring the skills they have learnt in their Speech Pathology sessions to their daily routines.
Did you know that different parts of your daily routines can be used to target various speech and language skills? It doesn’t always have to be “fun and games”! Here are some ideas below:
1. Planning your day:
Writing or drawing a daily schedule, and placing it somewhere where your child can see it, can help create some predictability and structure in your child’s routines. It can also build excitement for all the fun activities ahead. For older children, you can also create your plan together.
You may find that short spurts of learning (e.g. half an hour of writing activity followed by a quick snack or movement break), may be more productive than dedicating 2 hours for English.
For younger children, mealtime is a great way to encourage basic oral language development. Get them involved in meal preparation and talk about what you’re doing “Crack the eggs into the large, red bowl” – you are providing the children the opportunities to learn various language concepts such as verbs (crack), prepositions (into), and adjectives (large, red).
Getting the children to help with simple tasks is also a great way for them to follow simple, 2-steps instructions – ‘Get the plates from the cabinet and put them on the table.’
During meals, you can get your child to comment on the colour, taste, and texture of the food, e.g. ‘The snow peas are green and crunchy.’ For older children, you can get them to practise conversation skills. Some ideas include: talking about one thing they are thankful for, one thing that didn’t go so well today, and one person they helped today (I got this idea from this blog post by Fun Cheap or Free). Get the conversations flowing, but also do remind them to wait for their turns!
3. Putting away grocery items:
This activity may seem mundane but it contains many great opportunities to target language concepts, such as irregular past tense – “Dad went to the shops and he bought ________ ,” as well as prepositions, “Put the apples on the bench, put the ice cream in the freezer.” If you bought 20 items from the shops, that’s 20 repetitions the child gets to practise his past tense verbs and prepositions!
4. Book Sharing:
It’s NOT about getting a specific book, but it’s about how you can share the book to make it a language-rich (and fun!) experience for the child. There are so many new and different things children could learn while listening to a story, so don’t be afraid to read the same story book a few times, focusing on different elements each times. Perhaps today you want to focus on labelling the objects on the pictures. The next time you want to focus on getting the child to describe what the story characters are doing, and after that you may want to get the child to practise his /f/ sound by finding all the words that contain the /f/ sound throughout the story book.
For younger children who are more hands-on, you can get those Touch-and-Feel and Lift-the-Flap books and model some verbs as the child carries out the action (‘pull’, ‘push’, ‘open’, ‘close’).
For children who are learning about emotions, you can get them to talk about how a character is feeling, and why they might feel that way.
For children who are working on their narrative skills, you can prompt them to retell the story in their own words, encouraging them to use “first”, “next”, “then” and “last”.
There are no hard or fast rules when it comes to reading a book to your children. The sky is your limit!
I always remember this quote from Stanley Greenspan - “Always look for the gleam in the child’s eye. Look for the affect. The biggest mistake to make is not looking for the light in the eye.” When you see the gleam in a child’s eyes, you know the interaction is going to be meaningful and functional. Even with seemingly mundane daily tasks, you can still engage in meaningful communication with your children.