How important are language skill-building exercises for kids? From our baby’s first cooing and babbling sounds, they’re beginning to use language to express their thoughts. In fact, all types of nonverbal communication, from pointing and gesturing, to facial expressions, to crying, are early signs of language that help set the stage for more complex language structures and eventually speech production.
As parents, it’s our job to identify and encourage these early communication abilities, and help children make the connection between their vocalizations and getting their needs met. Nurturing these foundation skills will help improve your child’s speech and language abilities as they get older, improve their reading ability and comprehension, and have a large impact on both their academic success and emotional development.
9 Helpful At-Home Language Skill-Building Exercises for Kids
By spending ample time at home with your child, and incorporating language-building skills into their educational curriculum, you can continue to improve these abilities and turn your child into an effective communicator. At an early age, language development is best done through play. So let’s jump into a few fun and engaging activities you can do at home with your child.
- Animal Sounds: Many children are naturally gravitated towards animal sounds. Who doesn’t love saying “woof woof,” “bahhhh,” or “mooooo?” Placing printed pictures or magazine cutouts is a great way to start getting them familiar. You can start by mimicking the sounds yourself, and then asking your child to follow suit.
- Songs and Rhyming: From “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” to “The Wheels on the Bus,” parents have been using songs and nursery rhythms to engage, inspire, and console their children since the beginning of time. These songs are so vital because they help children recognize and practice the natural flow of speech as well as improve their vocabulary.
- Telephone: The telephone game may sound simple, but it can be essential in help setting the foundation for early communication skills. Start by getting a toy telephone and, if you’re up to it, you can even decorate one to create some visual intrigue. Call your child on the phone, “ring, ring,” and have them answer. Even if they’re just babbling into the receiver – that’s okay! If they’re a little older, get them to respond with simple conversational etiquette, such as “hello,” and “goodbye.”
- Labeling: You don’t need a desk or materials to practice the foundations of language – in fact, everyday activities, from walking, to brushing teeth, to bed prep, is the perfect opportunity to incorporate language. One super simple way to help your child with name recognition and object labeling to regularly introduce them to new words. Next time your at the grocery store, for example, spend a few minutes going through common fruits and have your child repeat them back to you. Or label plants of wildlife outside during afternoon walks.
- Put on Puppet Shows: Holding sustained conversations with your child to improve their language skills isn’t always that exciting – but googly eyes and funny voices sure do help! Puppet shows are a perennial favorite – many children love not only the creative process of decorating a sock or brown lunch bag, but also speaking and engaging with other puppets. Make sure to ask your child lots of questions, or come up with fun and imaginative storylines using the things your child already loves – like dinosaurs or space!
- Use Complete Sentences: While this isn’t necessarily a game, it’s vitally important for parents to keep top of mind when speaking with their child. Often, children (and adults) are prone to giving one-word answers, or nodding their head, when responding to a question. However, encouraging them to answer in full sentences will help improve their ability to string words together in coherent sentences and better articulate their thoughts. For example, if you ask your child whether they are hungry, have them respond “yes I’m hungry,” or “I want an apple please.”
- Make Reading a Routine: It’s pretty much impossible to stress how vital reading is for children of all ages, including infants and toddlers. Reading regularly to your child not only improves their vocabulary, comprehension, and stimulates their imagination, but it’s an essential first step in helping to develop your child’s own reading, writing, and spelling skills. While some kids are inherently bookworms, others avoid books at all costs. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to make reading fun and enjoyable and inspire a passion for reading: choose books that they love; use dramatic voices for each of the characters; asking them either simple “yes or no” questions or more thought-provoking questions,, have them point and sound out the names of different pictures, and more. You can find more tips on teaching your child to love reading here.
- Play “I Spy” Using Sounds: Place a few common objects that your child is already familiar with on the table. This can be one of their toys, a banana, a plate, etc. Next, tell your child, “I spy something that starts with ‘ppppp.’” Make sure to repeat and emphasize the sound, and give them enough time to process the information and find the right item that starts with the matching letter. This game helps your child associate the pronunciation of different sounds with their corresponding item, as well as expands their vocabulary. As children get older, play “I Spy” outside, or during car rides, identifying items that aren’t readily apparent, like a yellow car, or street sign, or tree. When your child guesses correctly, make sure to heap praise on them – positive encouragement does wonders for a child’s confidence.
- Mystery Box? For older children, this is a great way to practice using nouns and adjectives. Fill a box or bag was a mystery item, say an orange. Then, have your child reach in and use different words to try and describe the object – ultimately guessing what it is. “It’s round, squishy, and small – is it an orange?”
Getting Professional Help and More Language-Skill Building Exercises for Kids
Every child acquires language and speech skills at their own rate, however, there are important milestones they should be hitting by certain ages. If you feel like your child’s development is going slower than expected, or see them lagging behind other kids their age, consider speaking with a speech-language pathologist.
Speech therapists are communication experts. They work with children of all ages, from infants and toddlers to young adults, to help assess, diagnosis, and ultimately treat communication issues.
Many parents with young children, homeschooling parents, and parents looking for a more affordable and convenient alternative to in-person speech therapy, opt for receiving these services online. Online speech therapy is just like conventional therapy, except you use a secure video platform (like Zoom or FaceTime) to connect with your speech therapist.
Children make more progress when parents are actively involved in their speech therapy, reinforcing lessons and best practices into their daily life. Unlike speech therapy delivered in a clinic or school-based setting, online speech therapy helps parents sit alongside their child during sessions, and build a strong relationship and rapport with their therapist. This helps the speech therapist not only “teach” the child, but also “coach” the parent as well. Whichever route you choose, make sure that your speech therapist provides additional language-skill building exercises for kids that you can use at home.
About Leanne Sherred, M.S. CCC-SLP:
Leanne calls Austin, Texas home but studied Speech and Hearing Sciences at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and gained her Master’s in Speech-language pathology from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She has worked in pediatric outpatient clinics, schools, early intervention, and home health. Leanne is currently the President and Founder of Expressable online speech therapy, a company that envisions a modern and affordable way for anyone who needs speech therapy to access these vital services. You can check out her blog here.