Julie Anna Vest CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist from CORA Rocky Mount, VA contributed to this piece.
Warmer weather welcomes opportunities to promote the growth and development of your toddlers speech, language, and learning.
As we push onward and upward in May with Better Hearing and Speech Month at CORA, so does our seemingly “constant” state of social isolation. It’s the harsh reality that all of us have had to endure, and adjust to, over these last eight weeks or so. The future does look brighter with each passing day as stay-at-home orders are lifted and adjustments are made to our new normal.
As the saying goes, “April showers bring May flowers” and Springtime is officially upon us! So, why not get out of the house and take our toddlers outside to enjoy the warmer weather, regardless of what the future may hold? While we don’t know when this isolation will end and it will be safe for us to return to our regular way of life, we do know that you can probably use a break, and your toddlers are probably ready to release some of that pent up energy.
Our speech-language pathologists (SLPs) recommend five outdoor activities to improve speech, language, and learning skills for toddlers. Let’s explore (pun intended)!
What kid doesn’t love bubbles? But did you know that our children’s favorite pastime presents many speech-language opportunities for toddlers! You can label and comment throughout the activity. For example, say “open” when you first open the bottle of bubbles. Then, practice counting “1…2…3…blow” before releasing that last gasp of breath. Use adjectives with your child to describe how the bubbles feel with words like “sticky” or “wet”.
Does your child have a strategy for the way he/she pops bubbles? Most do. Have them describe how they “pop” the bubbles, then repeat these words over and over. Bubbles are particularly great for providing a communication temptation, they’re spontaneous, and they’re loads of fun!
Most bubble products come in packaging that is difficult for children to open and blow on their own. This offers another great teaching opportunity to 1) screw the lid on securely 2) hand the bubbles to your child then 3) wait and see. Your toddler may try to open the bubbles on their own; if they have trouble getting the lid open then they will likely hand it back to you – if your child hands it back to you (with those sad, curious eyes we know so well) then they have just made a request! Narrate their request by saying “more bubbles” and start blowing some more for an afternoon of fun.
Just Keep Swinging
Believe it or not, swings offer many teachable moments for learning, speech, and language development. You can comment “sit down” when you first sit down. Talk to your toddler as he/she swings with descriptions like “up” and “down”. Describe to them the need to “push” and how to do it. The activity of swinging is a tremendous outlet for developing communication skills because toddlers rely on their caregivers to push them. After you have been pushing them for some time, try pausing and waiting. If your toddler makes a gesture, let’s say reaches for your hand, or jiggles back and forth with their body, then they have just made a request. Narrate their request by making a statement like “more swing” and resume pushing your child on the swing!
Practice Your Ball Skills
Playing with a ball is another great activity for speech and language growth. Follow your child’s lead and watch carefully what they choose to do with the ball. Encourage them to “roll”, “kick” “bounce” and “throw” the ball. Then, take action by following through on your instructions of rolling, kicking, bouncing or throwing the ball back and forth with your child. After a short period of time, rather than returning the ball, pause expectantly looking at your child’s face as a way to let them know how proud you are of how they are doing. Your toddler may reach for the ball or gesture to you that they want it back. You guessed it – they’ve just made a request! Narrate their request “more ball” then roll, kick, bounce or throw it back to them for a game of catch.
Water play is not only clean fun – it is a wonderful activity for encouraging growth in your child’s speech-language skills. Start by filling up a pool or bathtub or water table. Once filled, you can then add toys, cups, items that you both can enjoy in a setting that can be playful, fun and educational. Again, follow your child’s lead by allowing them to dictate what you do during water time. Watch what they are doing then narrate the actions they are taking with the toys using words like: “pour”, “sink”, “float”, or “splash”. Give them choices: ask them if they want to “pour or splash?” and pause waiting expectantly for their response. Narrate what they choose (i.e. “Oh splash!”) and congratulate them with constructive dialogue along the way.
Slide and Glide
Small slides are another fun outdoor experience for any child! And sliding is another great way to practice language learning, especially since toddlers oftentimes need help going up and down the slide. Does your child look at you and raise their hands as if they want to go “up” or as if to say they are hesitant to climb to new heights? If they look to you for help, that is a request. Either lift them up onto the slide or help them go up the ladder and interpret their request as you demonstrate and speak the directions to them (i.e. “Oh, you want up?”). Narrate the request as they go “up, up, up!” and “down, down, down!” There is never enough repetition for a toddler, so continue to repeat those words over and over. At the top of the slide you can also pause and count down “1…2…3 (brief pause)…Go!” and watch them go down the slide. Each time you do this try pausing before “go” to wait for a return gesture, word, or movement from your child that indicates they are in fact ready to “go”.
Want more activities and information on Speech-Language Pathology?
Keep checking back all month long for expert opinions and advice on meeting key milestones and stages in your child’s development. Coming soon include topics that address feeding your child, learning disorders such as dyslexia and fun speech games for school-aged kids. Plus, we encourage everyone to visit the website for American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) which is full of resources created in honor of BHSM month and to recognize speech-language pathology across the board. Please join us in supporting the cause and supporting our very special SLPs at CORA!
If you feel the time is right to seek an evaluation for your child from a licensed speech-language pathologist, please contact our CORA clinic nearest you or schedule an appointment today. With 24-48 hour scheduling and over 4,000 insurances accepted, our SLPs are ready to serve you in the clinic or in your home with telehealth now available.