Recently, I was looking online for pictures to include in another post by searching with terms like “speech therapy.” You know what I found? A bunch of pictures showing an adult and child sitting at a table in front of a mirror or working with flashcards. That is not what speech therapy looks like, and it disappointed me to think that is what parents may think speech therapy activities are all about. If your child hasn’t yet started working with the speech pathologist, you may be thinking your child is supposed to sit in a chair for 30 to 60 minutes looking at flashcards. I want you to know that’s not the case. Speech therapy activities should be fun, involve you as the parent, and not just end when the session is over.
This the first in a three-part series addressing speech therapy activities and what a speech and language therapy session should look like for your child. In this first part of the series, we’ll focus on infants and toddlers. Part two will look at kids in preschool and kindergarten. And part three will focus on school-age children.
Speech Therapy Activities for Infants and Toddlers (under the age of three)
Infants and toddlers who are receiving speech therapy may be there due to a variety of reasons, but all sessions should have a few criteria in common.
In the simplest terms, speech therapy for children under the age of three should not look like therapy. It should look fun and resemble activities that the child will do in their everyday lives. Play, books, and vocabulary that focus around a child’s daily routines should be present in every session. Actual objects and not just flashcards should be used. And the people that matter most in the life of that child should be included.
Therapy should look like play
Especially for children under the age of three, speech therapy activities should first and foremost be fun for the child. Children need enjoyable activities to help them learn. That’s not to say that sessions should not have some sort of structure to them, though. Speech therapists will usually take out only a couple toys or activities at a time for a child to choose from so that kids don’t get too distracted or overwhelmed with a million toys out all at once. However, a session should not be filled with just drill and flashcards either. They may have activities that help a child learn to sit and attend for a few minutes, or to complete a task before moving onto another activity or toy. The therapist may also include pretend play because children who have good pretend play skills actually have a better prognosis for learning language. Pretend play also offers kids the opportunity to practice everyday routines, such as mealtimes, bedtimes, and going to the store.
Younger children may be allowed to move around the room, play on things such as slides and swings, or just sit on the floor with the therapist to play with toys or look at books. As children get closer to three years of age, the speech therapist may start to move toward doing activities at a small table and chairs. This is done to help prepare children who may be making the transition to a preschool or early childhood program with the school district. Children with good attention skills or children already in a daycare or toddler school program may already be used to sitting for 5-10 minutes at time, but for other kids, this may need to be worked up to over several sessions. Some children may also need to switch between table activities and some freedom to play away from the table.
You as the parent should be involved in the speech therapy activities in every session
As a parent, it is important that you insist on being in the room for your child’s sessions and not just sit in the wait room. For children under the age of three, it is important that parents not only be allowed in the room during therapy sessions, but that the speech therapist takes the time to teach parents strategies they can do at home to follow-through with what their child is learning in therapy. Some children who are shy or slow to warm-up may get off to a better start if the therapist takes a back seat to you interacting with your child until your child is comfortable separating from you for longer periods of time. In the start, the SLP may teach you strategies on how to interact with your child in everyday routines. Then, as your child warms up over several sessions, the SLP can be the one to interact more with your child and you can start to sit back more to watch, ask questions, and learn what to do at home. As your child approaches his or her third birthday, the speech therapist may start to talk to you about having sessions where you sit back more or even wait in the wait room until the end of the session when you can have a chance to review what was learned and what to take home and practice. This is to help get your child ready for speech therapy activities from age three on, when you might not be directly involved.
“Homework” should be given regularly
If a child can improve in their listening and talking skills from one, 30 to 60-minute session each week, imagine how much more they can learn and how much faster they can learn if you – the parent – practice with your child throughout the rest of the week. It’s very important for parents to ask the speech therapist what types of activities they can practice at home. Make sure that your SLP is giving you more than flash cards and coloring pages. Kids learn best when they are in motion, actually practicing with their parents and family in their everyday routines. It’s great when parents ask question such as, “How can we practice following directions in our daily routine?” or “How can I help her use her words during play or snack time?” Make sure that you are given ideas about specific words or sounds to practice and which you should wait on. Just because you see a therapist practice something with your child doesn’t always mean it is something that you need to be doing at home, too. Sometimes, a speech therapist may feel a child is successful enough with some words or sounds to start to practice them at home, while others are still difficult for the child and require the skill of the SLP to learn before practicing them with less assistance.
Overall, children under the age of three may have a harder time than older kids when trying to transfer or generalize what they have learned with a stranger and in an unfamiliar environment to their everyday routines. Some SLPs may be able to come to your home or daycare to do therapy, which is a best-case scenario for infants and toddlers, because this will be the most conducive to your child transferring their skills to their everyday routines. Unfortunately, not all speech therapists can afford to provide therapy services driving around town from home to home. But just because your child attends a clinic doesn’t mean that their time in therapy can’t make a difference in their speech and language skills. The key points noted above can help make it easier for kids to not only learn in their therapy sessions, but be able to apply and use those skills to when and where they matter the most – in their everyday routines and with their families.
How did you imagine speech therapy sessions for your child going, and was it different than what you read here or how the actual sessions went?