Are you worried your little one is not developing speech as quickly as their peers? Has lockdown made you anxious about your child’s communication skills? Would you like some activity ideas to encourage language in your child’s own back garden? We have asked Marie Barnes to write a blog about Speech and Language and how nature can help develop children's communication skills. Marie is a Paediatric Specialist Speech and Language Therapist working in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust. Over the last 14 years Marie has worked extensively with children aged between 18 months and 18 years with a wide range of speech, language and communication difficulties.
What is Communication? Communication simply means ‘sending and receiving information’. Whenever two people send messages of any kind to each other, even without words, they are communicating. Motivation is key! Children need to have the desire to communicate, to express their thoughts, feelings, ideas and intentions. Not all children will use words to communicate, some will use crying, grunting, pointing, eye gaze, signing or even taking an adult by the hand. These are all forms of communication. When a child is doing this they are showing us that they are motivated to communicate. It is really important that as adults we know how to respond when a child is trying to communicate with us. How we respond can really help a child to develop their communication skills.
What can parents do? Parents can encourage communication development by providing children with a range of learning opportunities, taking an interest in the child’s interests, following their lead and their choice of game/activity and showing great excitement and enthusiasm. The outdoor environment can be a highly motivational place for communication. Most children learn best by doing and observing. If we match our language to what a child is looking at, playing with or engaged in, it will help the child understand what the word means in a very powerful and effective way. We make much stronger connections when we use a range of our senses at once e.g. sight, smell and touch - this is known as ‘multisensory learning’ and happens very naturally in play. This way of storing new vocabulary will enable the brain to retrieve the information much more efficiently later on. We want to create a positive association with learning and developing language so make sure to praise your child often e.g. “beautiful looking”, “great listening” or “good talking”. Avoid asking questions! This can make them feel under pressure and feel like we are testing them. Very often they just won’t respond! Parents have the amazing opportunity to be the best language model for their child. Always consider what new words to add to the activity and repeat these often.
Activity Ideas: Sing or tell Nursery Rhymes, e.g. - 5 little ducks… - 1,2,3,4,5 once I caught a fish - Old Mac Donald…. - Itsy bitsy spider…. - Round and round the garden…. Songs with ACTIONS are great for developing vocabulary https://www.bbc.co.uk/teach/school-radio/nursery-rhymes-a-to-zindex/z4ddgwx Bubble time – Bubbles can encourage a range of vocabulary e.g. “open” “more” “big” “small” “sticky” “wet” “pop” “blow” Comment throughout the activity e.g. - “open bubbles” when you first introduce the bubble pot. - Practice counting “1..2..3..” before you actually say ”blow” and blow the bubbles. - Describe the bubbles “big bubbles”, “yuck, sticky bubble”. Encourage turn-taking “my turn / your turn”. - Encourage your child to request (put the lid on tight, hand the bubbles to your child, wait and see……they need your help and will likely hand the bubbles back to you). Model the language for them “more bubbles please” Repeat, repeat, repeat!
Go for a listening walk and draw your child’s attention to sounds you hear, e.g. - birds chirping - dog barking - leaves rustling - water trickling Encourage the child to make the noise / guess what is making the sound
Water fun Fill a little basin or water table, add toys/ items you have (various sizes of cups, cars, spoons, ladles, leaves, stones, flower petals, grass). Follow your child’s lead in play and narrate their actions. E.g.”splash” “pouring the water”, “uh oh stone’s sinking”, “wow the leaf is floating”
Bug play Uncover worms, beetles, ants, snails around the garden. Lift rocks and logs and discuss what you can see, smell and touch. Introduce new vocabulary or encourage your child to add a word to their pre-existing vocabulary .e.g. “heavy rock”, “creepy crawly”, “a small pretty ladybird.
Useful Websites for further advice There are FREE downloadable resources for parents / carers on all of these websites!
I CAN is the children’s communication charity. I CAN helps all children develop their speaking and listening skills. www.ican.org.uk Booktrust / Bookstart encourage book reading in children. www.booktrust.org.uk Talking Point is a website all about children’s speech and language. www.talkingpoint.org.uk Talk to your baby encourages parents and carers to talk more to children from birth to three years. www.literacytrust.org.uk/talktoyourbaby The Communication Trust /Hello campaign raises awareness to children with communication needs. www.thecommunicationtrust.org.uk