How To Improve Your Child’s Speech at Home Using A Structured Approach

(If you would like to see how to improve your child’s SPEECH at home, please read this post. If you’re not sure if your child needs help with speech or LANGUAGE, please read the paragraph below that is in italics).

If you want suggestions regarding how to use EVERYDAY ACTIVITIES at home to improve your child’s speech, click here.

Hey ya’ll. It’s 1:33 a.m., so good morning. Today’s post is for parents, guardians, caregivers, anyone that has a child, infancy to upper teenage years. I’m speaking to you today as a speech-language pathologist AND as a fellow momma. Maybe you’re reading this because you’re worried that your child’s speech and language is not developing as it should be. Maybe your child has already been diagnosed with a speech or language disorder. Maybe your child is developing as expected and you want to ensure that you keep headed in the right direction. Either way, this is for you. Before we go any farther, two items of business. First, any suggestions I make in this post are just suggestions. Pick just one or two ways or do them all! There are lots of different ways that one can improve their child’s speech and language at home and there are lots of different factors that play a role in your child’s speech and language development. If your child is not yet diagnosed with a speech or language disorder and you have concerns, please have them evaluated by a speech-language pathologist. Second, you need to know the difference between speech and language in order to benefit from this post:

Speech is how clearly a person says each sound. Either you can say a sound the correct way or you can’t. For example, if your child is older than 4 years old and substitutes their “k” for “t” (saying “tat” instead of “cat”) their speech is impacted. Another example of a speech delay or disorder is if your child is 5 years old and you can only understand about 50% of what they say. Pretty cut and dry. Language is much broader. Language is how well a person processes information (what they hear, see, or read), and how effective they are at communicating their wants, needs, thoughts, and opinions to others. “Communication” can be speaking, writing, gesturing, or sign language. Language also deals with memory, attention span, following directions, vocabulary, basic concepts (colors, shapes, sizes, animals), the list goes on and on. If it has something to do with thinking and what you need to know in order to form thoughts and opinions and communicate those to other people, it’s language. An example of a possible language delay or disorder would be if you asked your 4 year old their name and they reply with “Daddy” or “4 years old”; they are not comprehending your question. Another example would be if your child is wanting some type of item/activity, but is unable to convey what he/she wants. Your child KNOWS what they want and may even be able to see a mental image of the desired item/activity in their mind, but can not effectively communicate that to YOU. A person can have trouble with only speech, only language, or BOTH.

If you would like to learn ways to help improve your child’s speech at home, please continue reading. If you want to learn how to help your child’s language development at home, please keep tuned for a post about how to help your child’s language development at home. This post is a bit lengthy and will be split into two parts, but is very informative, so hang in there with me!

jurassic park hold onto your butts GIF

#1) Know what sounds your child should already be saying
Please see the speech development milestones chart below.

This chart was taken from the following website: http://www.playingwithwords365.com/speech-articulation-development-whats-normal-what-isn’t/ 

#2) If you’re not sure about which sounds your child is saying correctly, please click  here to give your child a screener. A screener is where you show your child pictures and write down EXACTLY the way they say it. For example, if they say “gog” instead of “dog,” write down “gog.” (A screener is not a replacement for a speech sound production evaluation that is administered by a speech-language pathologist, but it gives you a good idea of your child’s speech performance and allows you to know what sounds to work on with your child).

#3) Pick one sound that your child is saying incorrectly, and focus on improving that one sound. If you want a cut and dry, structured approach, in addition to the other suggestions, read #4. If you want a less direct approach, skip to #5. Do what works best for your child in regards to their age, likes and dislikes, attention span, whatever have you!

#4) Follow the sequence below for the one sound you chose to target. I am going to use “k” as an example. There is no timeline in regards to how long it should take your child to master each level in the following sequence. If it takes a few days or several weeks, that’s okay! FYI: Many speech-language pathologists, including myself, follow this sequence with our therapy clients/students that work on speech sounds because we need some sort of structure that allows us to track each client/student’s progress. We’re really good at making it fun!

 Isolation
saying the sound all by itself (i.e. k-k-k-k-k)

Syllables
ka, kee, ki, ko, koo, ku

Words
cat, cave, key, black, make, rake, making, raking, pancake
*Don’t forget to target the sound in every position of the word (beginning “cup”, middle “baking”, end “bake”) I personally like to target one position at a time. Once my child/student has mastered that position, then I will move on to another position

Phrases
“a black cat”  “in a cave”   “little key”   “my black shirt”   “make food”
*Don’t forget the word positions!

 Sentences
“I see a black cat”   “The bear is in a cave”   “I found a little key”   “I need my black shirt”
*Don’t forget the word positions!

    Structured Conversation
Choose certain times of the day for your child to practice using the “k” correctly during conversation. For example, you could say, “Sam, I want you to use your “k” sound the right way on the way to the grocery store” or “Sarah, I want you to try to use your “k” sound correctly the whole time we are eating breakfast.” Over time, increase your child’s structured conversation times to longer periods or more frequently through the day. Remind your child as needed to use their sound correctly.

Unstructured Conversation
The goal of this level is for your child to use the sound correctly without any reminders. No matter who they’re with, where they’re at, or how they’re feeling.

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STILL WITH ME?!?!

Whether a child develops all their sounds naturally, or someone else directly teaches them how to say their sounds, the above sequence is the normal pattern in which a child develops their sounds; it’s just something we as parents generally do not pay attention to unless there is cause for concern.

For consistency, purposes, the “k” sound will be used as an example in all of the suggestions below.

#5. Let them watch your mouth. Children learn so much just by watching your mouth. Some children learn how to say sounds correctly just through repeated exposure and observing correct models of speech.

#6. Increase your child’s awareness of “right” v. “not right” way to say sounds. Say a sound incorrectly yourself, or have a toy “say” it, and challenge your child to catch you or the toy saying words incorrectly. Or hold up one hand while you say a word the correct way and hold up your other hand while you say the word incorrectly. Have your child point to the hand that said the word correctly.

#7. Model your child’s incorrect speech and then immediately say it the correct way. For example, if your child asks for a “cookie,” but says “tootie” instead, say, “Oh! CooKie! You want a CooKie.” Make sure you overemphasize the “k” sound in order to draw your child’s attention to the sounds.

#8. Directly teach your child how to produce a sound correctly. This can be used in conjunction with either taking the direct approach or indirect approach. When you are teaching any sound, a great method is to stand in front of a mirror alongside your child, tell your child to watch your mouth as you say a sound, then ask your child to imitate. This is going to be a long list because I don’t want to leave anything out, so just find the target sound you are going to work on in the list below. “Verbal cue” is something you say to your child. “Visual cue” is something you do that your child can see. PICK JUST ONE VERBAL CUE AND ONE VISUAL CUE!! CONSISTENCY is key! That way if you use a verbal or visual cue, your child knows EXACTLY what they need to do.

****FYI**** Cool thing about visual cues is you can cue your child to use their target sound correctly without having to actually interrupt them while they are speaking.

    Sound                                 Production                      Verbal Cue                      Visual Cue

P Hold your child’s hand in front of your mouth so they can feel the air and/or use your fingers to open and close your child’s lips Pop your lips
Make the popping sound
Pretend to pop bubbles or move your fingers up and down like popcorn
M Use your fingers to hold your child’s lips together and/or place your child’s hand on your throat while you make the sound so they can feel the vibration Make the yummy sound Lick your lips or rub your belly
B Use your fingers to open and close your child’s lips and/or place your child’s hand on your throat while you make the sound so they can feel the vibration Make the fish sound (a fish makes the “b” sound when they blow bubbles) Make a fish face
W Use your fingers to open and close your child’s lips Make the windy sound Move your hands back and forth like the wind is blowing
CH Have your child place their tongue approx. ¼  – ½ inch behind their front teeth (can use peanut butter where their tongue should touch behind their front teeth as a placement cue) and make their lips into a rounded box shape and open their mouth slightly each time they make the sound Make the train sound Pull your arm like you are making a train whistle blow 
SH Have your child place their tongue approx. ¼ – ½ inch behind their front teeth (can use peanut butter where their tongue should touch behind their front teeth as a placement cue) and make their lips into a rounded box shape Make the quiet sound Put your finger to your lips like you are shushing someone
J Have your child place their tongue approx. ¼ – ½ inch behind their front teeth (can use peanut butter where their tongue should touch behind their front teeth as a placement cue) and make their lips into a rounded box shape and/or have your child place their hand on your throat so they can feel the vibration each time you say the sound Make the jumping sound Jump your fingers up and down
T Have your child place their tongue tip directly behind their front teeth and, if needed, you can place your finger under their tongue and move their tongue up and down repeatedly so their tongue tip taps repeatedly behind their front teeth Tap your tongue Lightly tap your hand on your arm or table
D Have your child place their tongue tip directly behind their front teeth and, if needed, you can place your finger under their tongue and move their tongue up and down repeatedly so their tongue tip taps repeatedly behind their front teeth and/or have your child touch your throat to feel the vibrations while you make the sound Hard tap your tongue Firmly tap your hand on your arm or table
N Have your child place their tongue tip directly behind their front teeth and hold it there (can use peanut butter as a placement cue) and if needed, hold their tongue tip there  with your finger while they use their voice and/or have them place their fingers lightly on your nose so they can feel the vibration in your nose while you say the sound Make the nose sound Point to your nose
L Have your child place their tongue tip directly behind their front teeth and hold it there (can use peanut butter as a placement cue) and if needed, hold their tongue tip there  with your finger while they use their voice Lift your tongue or use your tongue lifter Lift your hand up in the air
S Have your child place their tongue behind their bottom teeth and then pull their lips back in a smile and tell them to “hide their tongue behind their teeth” Hide your tongue or smiley s Point to your mouth while you give a “toothy grin”
Z Have your child place their tongue behind their bottom teeth and then pull their lips back in a smile and tell them to “hide their tongue behind their teeth” and/or have them place their hand on your throat to feel the vibrations while you make the sound Make the sleeping sound or make the bee sound Pretend to sleep or place your thumb and pointer finger together while you pretend they are buzzing around
F Have your child place their top teeth on their bottom lip to make it look like they are biting their lip and blow air out Make windy lips Point to your mouth while you bite your lip
V Have your child place their top teeth on their bottom lip to make it look like they are biting their lip and/or have them place their hand on your throat to feel the vibrations while you make the sound Make the car sound Pretend you are steering a car
Voiceless TH (think, bath, thought) Have your child place their tongue between their teeth and blow out Make a windy tongue Stick your tongue between your teeth
Voiced TH (Then, that, father) Have your child place their tongue between their teeth and/or have them place their hand on your throat to feel the vibrations while you make the sound Make a tickly tongue Stick your tongue between your teeth and touch your throat
K Have your child place their tongue below their bottom teeth (use peanut butter if necessary for proper placement) and touch the back of their tongue to the back of their mouth. If they keep wanting to flip their tongue up, have them open their mouth very wide while they do this or you can press your finger on their tongue tip to hold proper placement Push your button down or make a coughing sound Make a coughing sound
G Have your child place their tongue below their bottom teeth (use peanut butter if necessary for proper placement) and touch the back of their tongue to the back of their mouth. If they keep wanting to flip their tongue up, have them open their mouth very wide while they do this or you can press your finger on their tongue tip to hold proper placement and/or have them place their hand on your throat to feel the vibrations while you make the sound Make a fish sound Make a fish face
Y Have your child bite gently on the sides of their tongue. If they try to flip their tongue tip up causing a sound distortion, have them place their tongue tip below their bottom teeth. Show them how their mouth should open each time they make the “y” sound Make the yes sound or Make the yo-yo sound Nod your head or pretend you are playing with a yo-yo
H Have your child put their tongue tip against their bottom teeth and blow out with an open mouth and/or have your child hold their hand in front of your mouth so they can feel your breath as you blow out Make the huffing sound Huff like you are tired
Q Have your child place their tongue below their bottom teeth (use peanut butter if necessary for proper placement) and touch the back of their tongue to the back of their mouth. If they keep wanting to flip their tongue up, have them open their mouth very wide while they do this or you can press your finger on their tongue tip to hold proper placement and then have them round their lips (k+w sound combined) Make the “q” sound Prentend to place a crown on your head
R Placement directions are on an individual basis. Some people say their “r” sound correctly by curling their tongue tip up on the roof of their mouth (tongue tip curler), while others pull their tongue back with the tongue tip touching or almost touching the roof of their mouth approximately halfway back from the front of their mouth (mountain tongue). You are predestined to say your “r” a certain way at birth. A tongue tip curler “r” is cut and dry. Directions for “mountain tongue” kids are pull your tongue back until your can feel your back teeth scraping on the sides of your tongue and the tip of your r Do your tongue tip curler or mountain tongue Palm up, curl your fingers or palm down and make a moutnain shape with your hand
A, E, I, O, U Easiest way to teach these sounds is to simple have your child watch your mouth as you say them. If needed, use your fingers to help shape your child’s mouth opening (i.e. “a” is a box shape and “o” is a more rounded shape) Make the __ sound

9. Have them slow down. I have evaluated several children who can say each sound perfectly in words and repeat sentences with wonderful pronunciation. Once they start talking about what they had for lunch or what toy they want to play with though, those good speech sounds go out the window. Their talking speeds up and their sounds become distorted. You can teach your child to slow down by having them tap objects or their leg each time they say a word. For example, if they were trying to say, “I want a snack,” but it was not spoken clearly, line up 4 blocks and have them tap a block each time they say a word (I(tap) want(tap) a(tap) snack(tap). Even if they do have sounds they say incorrectly, it’s always a good idea to slow down anyway.

10. Be patient. If you haven’t looked at the sequence in #4, take a look at it, please! It’s important to see how many levels a person generally progresses through in order to start using a sound correctly in regular, everyday conversation. Knowing this, will help you avoid asking things of your child they are not developmentally ready for, which will in turn make everyone happier.

frustrated frustration GIF by Yevbel

That’s it folks! Thank you for staying with me and remember, pick and choose suggestions from this post – don’t try them all at one time!

tired bed GIF

 

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