May is Better Speech and Hearing Month

Parents can play a wonderful role in providing an environment that fosters their child’s speech and language development. This process doesn’t have to be boring either! There are many ways that parents and caregivers can adapt play and fun activities into incorporating skills that improve language expression and comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, language structure, use of speech sounds, and social use of language. Developing early speech and language skills results in better ability to participate in academics, better social skills, improved ability to develop skills necessary for literacy, and so much more down the line. The list below provides ideas for parents to incorporate during play, conversation, and everyday activities with children who are ages one to five.  This list is from the American Speech and Hearing Association’s article, “How Does your Child Hear and Talk?”


One to Two Years: What can I do?

  • Talk to your child as you do things and go places. For example, when taking a walk, point to and name what you see. Say things like, “I see a dog. The dog says ‘woof.’ This is a big dog.
  • Use sentences that are short to help your child with comprehension. However, even when using simple sentences, you should still model correct grammar.
  • Add to words your child says. For example, if she says “car,” you can say, “You're right! That is a big red car.”
  • Read to your child every day. Besides reading the words on the pages, you can talk about the pictures (i.e. elaborate about what you see, make comments on the objects/people in the pictures). You can also ask your child to point to pictures you name.
  • Talk to your child in the language you are most comfortable using or most proficient at.

Two to Three Years: What can I do?

  • Ask your child to make a choice instead of giving a “yes” or “no” answer. For example, rather than asking, “Do you want milk?” ask, “Would you like milk or water?” Be sure to wait for the answer, and praise him for answering. You can say, “Thank you for telling mommy what you want. Mommy will get you a glass of milk.”
  • Sing songs, play finger games, and tell nursery rhymes. These songs and games teach your child about the rhythm and sounds of language.
  • Put objects into a bucket or “mystery bag.” Let your child remove them one at a time, and say its name. Repeat what she/he says, and add to it. Help her group the objects into categories, like clothes, food, animals.
  • Talk about colors, shapes, descriptive concepts (i.e. big/little) and numbers. See if you can have a “scavenger hunt” while using these concepts. Place toys or objects around the room. See if your child can “find something red,” “find two toys,” “find something big,” etc.
  • Play Simon Says. See if your child can follow one or two-step directions. An example of a two-step direction is: “Touch your head, then jump up and down.”

Three to Four Years: What can I do?

  • Cut out pictures from old magazines. Make silly pictures by gluing parts of different pictures together. For example, cut out a dog and a car. Glue the dog into the car as the driver. Help your child explain what is silly about the picture.
  • Read simple stories. See if your child can retell the story by acting it out or drawing pictures of what happened in the story. You can ask your child to predict what will happen in a story or make up their own story by looking at the pictures prior to reading.
  • Act out daily activities, like cooking food or going to the doctor. Use dress-up and role-playing to help your child understand how others talk and act. This will help your child learn social skills and how to tell stories.
  • If your child has trouble producing a particular speech sound, you can read books that use that sound frequently or play with toys that start with that sound. Talk about words with the target sound frequently during play or reading. Use volume and tone to emphasize your target sound.
  • Talk about what happened during the day. Examples: Ask them about what they did during a playdate, a visit with their grandparents, or during recess at preschool.

Four to Five Years: What can I do?

  • Talk about where things are in space, using words like first and last or right and left. Talk about opposites, like up and down or big and little.
  • Put common objects in a container. Give your child clues, and have him guess the objects in the “Mystery Container.”
  • Talk about categories, like fruits, furniture, and shapes. Sort items into categories. Have your child tell you which item does not belong. Talk about why it doesn’t belong.
  • Let your child tell you how to do something. See if they explain the rules of a game to a new player or the steps to making a simple meal/snack.
  • Act out stories. Play house, doctor, and store using dolls, figures, and dress-up clothes. Have the dolls talk to each other.
  • Play game like “I Spy.” Describe something you see, like, “I spy something round on the wall that you use to tell the time.” Let your child guess what it is. Let your child describe something he sees. This helps him learn to listen and to use words to talk about what he sees.
  • Have your child help you plan daily activities. For example, have her make a shopping list for the grocery store. Or, let her help you plan her birthday party. Ask her opinion, and let her make choices.

Above all else, encourage your child to communicate! You can do this by praising their communicative attempts, responding by adding more information to their utterance, showing that you are interested in what they are saying, and being an active listener whenever possible. If your child makes an error or has trouble expressing their ideas, let them know that it’s ok. Make sure that they know they don’t have to speak perfectly. Instead, show them that you are interested in what they have to say, and let them know you will help them if they need it. If you think that your child’s speech and/or language is developing slower than their peers, they can be evaluated by a speech-language pathologist. The SLP will evaluate your child to determine if their speech and language skills are developing at an appropriate pace. The SLP might recommend that your child participates in speech therapy to improve linguistic areas (i.e. vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar, articulation/use of speech sounds, etc) that your child struggles with.