I’m a mum of three energetic boys, and a busy paediatric speech pathologist (SLP).
As a working mum, I’ve had to come up with time saving tricks to use with my three boys, to help them with their learning, language and literacy development. Just like any other mum, I’m juggling a million different jobs at once – so anything that is simple, and easy to follow – well that has my 100% attention.
So you’ve got a young toddler or maybe a slightly older child who is struggling to combine words together and to talk with ease. What can I do to help my child progress – is naturally every parent’s first question. Here are my top three tips!
Step One: Repetition
Choose a special area in your house everyday – either a window or a door that is accessible to your little one with a view to the outside world – and use it. Spend time together looking out the window, talking about what you see. Now this sounds like a funny first step for an SLP to introduce! But believe me when I say – that learning to speak has a lot to do with our child’s visual memory – meaning where it took place, as well as the language spoken in relation to what you see!
Don’t use this area just once or twice a day and expect big things! Change happens with lots of tiny little steps, being repeated frequency with our little ones. Try to increase the time spent in front of the door, with your little one with every visit. You will find, as I did with my own toddler that our children then start to gravitate towards this part of the house by themselves, and start chatting as though having a conversation. They repeat phrases and common words you have used and repeated, and start to talk and to engage for longer periods.
So repeat repeat repeat – every day if possible – or as time permits, as we’re all busy parents so follow through as often as you can. This crucial step sets you up for my next step.
Repetition of language and visual based information, wires our little one’s brain for increased memory during the early years.
Step Two: Intonation
When you are in your special area, use lots of intonation in your voice – so exaggerate with lots of highs and lows – and repeat, what you are talking about and commenting on to your toddler.
Here is an example straight from the BackChat household:
– Start with a single word: Dog (said in a high pitched voice)
– Increase to a two-word combination: Big dog (with Big highlighted with increasing intonation)
– Repeated to include the words in a simple phrase: Look at that big brown dog (with big brown dog highlighted with intonation)
As you are lengthening the time spent together with your little one in this area, the language of the task can increase too. Stop and wait for your little one to repeat back to you, the word or phrases that you’ve introduced to them. When they’ve had time to process and to try and verbalise the combination, repeat it again and again. Also as you lengthen your time spent together in this area, discuss and comment on what you see. This may sound a lot like “Uh oh, here comes a little black dog – I wonder what that big brown dog is going to do – will they be friends or will they fight”. All the time using lots of repetition, and intonation. All from your favourite place!
Intonation in early conversations, gives our little ones the interest to persist and engage with, the language spoken.
Step Three: BIG Words
In over 20 years working as a paediatric SLP there is one thing I’ve noticed – many parents love to use baby words or shortened versions of real words – with their young children. My top tip is DON’T!
There is a huge body of research to suggest that using BIG words and talking to your baby, toddler and two year old as though they are indeed, a much older person, actually makes them smarter. Yes that’s right! It makes our little ones SMART.
Here’s an example of how it works. Every morning we all eat breakfast – but instead of asking your little one what they’d like for “brekkie” – give them a choice.
Take out all of your cereal boxes, and go through them as you say the BIG words! Offer a choice; so would you like some “Weetbix, Cornflakes, Sultana Bran or maybe you’d like some Porridge heated up with some honey on top”. And do the same thing repeatedly, every day. Pretty soon your little one will be asking using more BIG words and expressing them with ease.
So give your little one lots of exposure to BIG words. Never use the words biscuit, cake or drink – use the BIG word – Tim Tams, Oreos, orange poppy seed, raspberry ripple, water, orange juice, apple juice, pear juice. Provide lots of exposure to a variety of BIG words in your daily routines – and repeat repeat repeat.
Use BIG words with your little ones because when they understand and use BIG words, it means they can understand and use any word.