How to help your child extend their narrative - A speech and language guide for parents
Speech and language skills are the foundation upon which your child builds their ability to communicate, connect, and learn. According to the recent Speech and Language UK report, "Listening to Unheard Children" (Sept 2023), these skills are the foundation of literacy development, and the challenges can cause your child to struggle in many ways. Every child has a unique learning path, needing their own individual support. For parents and educators, we encourage you to read the report to absorb the urgency so you can help your child today because if not now, then when? This blog will help you enhance your child's speech and language journey, but we encourage you to explore all the resources referenced and to seek professional help for your child where you think they may be challenged.
Engage in Conversation
Talk with your child. This is a big one and at the top of our list. Engage in conversations with your child from the very beginning. Even before they can respond, they absorb the rhythms and patterns of speech. Narrate your day, ask questions, and listen attentively to their babbling responses.
To know the stages of speech and language development that help you recognise your child's learning stage, check out the very useful link Speech and Language has here: https://speechandlanguage.org.uk/talking-point/parents/ages-and-stages/.
If you're stuck on how to increase communication with your young child, we encourage you to explore brilliant initiatives like the app Oliiki (https://www.oliikiapp.com) that focuses on helping you nurture your baby's brain before birth and gives you actionable steps to try without any prep up to the age of 3 years. We are not affiliates of Oliiki, but we absolutely love what they do!
Reading to your child is one of the most powerful ways to stimulate language development and is much supported by the National Literacy Trust's Hungry Little Minds (https://literacytrust.org.uk/communities/north-east/-chat-play-read/). Choose age-appropriate books and make reading a daily ritual. Point to pictures, discuss the story and encourage your child to ask questions. We have a new blog on helping your child develop a passion for reading at Predictable Parenting. Check it out by signing up for the first 2 weeks free (https://mettetheilmann.com).
Use rich language. Introduce your child to a wide range of words, and a children's picture dictionary can work wonders if you need more words! Describe objects, actions, and emotions with descriptive words. For instance, instead of saying "dog," say "fluffy dog" or "happy dog."
We can't say enough about play as its importance is so crucial, yet even today, it is still thought in many cultures that play does not include learning. Play is a natural arena for speech and language development and is highly encouraged by the National Literacy Trust. Engage in imaginative play, role-playing, and storytelling together. Ask open-ended questions to spark their creativity. See our list below for more open-ended questions, including scripts to try now.
When your child speaks, stop, observe and listen attentively. Reflect back on what they've said, expanding on their thoughts. Life is busy, but pause for a few seconds when they have spoken to you because this will help them relax in their communication, validating what they have to say, strengthening their confidence and modelling correct speech.
Limit Screen Time
While technology has its place, a balance should be struck. Limit screen time and ensure it doesn't replace real-world interactions. Our online classes encourage active screen use for young children where the benefits are reaped, and we encourage the child to move on to off-screen learning. One of our programs, "It's time to learn online", teaches healthy digital habits that we encourage young children to adopt through stories, scenarios, queue cards and hands-on learning. Our classes are hosted on our platform, so your child isn't distracted by other content. Nevertheless, interpersonal communication is vital for language development, and this can only be achieved through off-screen interactions.
Encourage Social Interaction
Playdates and joining parent-child groups are golden and should be planned at least once or twice a week, if not more. These interactions allow your child to practice social language skills, like turn-taking and sharing. Furthermore, children learn so much from other children in a relaxed, fun way, which increases speech and language development.
Young children need processing time and develop at their own pace. Being patient and resisting the urge to finish their sentences is essential. Giving them the time they need to express themselves will help you to identify their thought process and where they may need help.
Praise your child for their efforts in communicating. Celebrate milestones, whether forming their first sentence or mastering a tricky word. We're all for positive reinforcement but in a manner that doesn't confuse them. Our recommended methods are "Look at that you said a new word" or "You did that by yourself!" because these phrases give a true sense of achievement. We avoid "good girl" or "good boy" as it can be confusing as to what is "good". Celebrating should not be associated with food, presents or stickers because this will become an unhealthy expectation.
Seek Professional Guidance
If you have concerns about your child's speech and language development, don't hesitate to seek advice from a speech therapist or paediatrician. Early intervention can make a significant difference; only you know your child best. If you feel your child is facing a challenge, don't hold back because there are ways to help your child.
Open-ended questions to try with your child aged 3 and above.
Open-ended questions are part of Sustained Shared Thinking and involve engaging with your child during their play or exploration to encourage deeper thinking, problem-solving, and learning.
Here are some open-ended enquiries with example scripts for various scenarios you can try today.
Scenario: Your child is playing with building blocks.
Script: "I see you're building something tall. Can you tell me about it? What's your plan for the top part?"
Reflecting on Experience
Scenario: Your child returns from a visit to the zoo.
Script: "I heard you went to the zoo today. What was the most exciting animal you saw? What did you learn about it?"
Scenario: Your child is struggling to put together a puzzle.
Script: "I see you're having a challenge with that puzzle. What could we try to make it fit? Can we find the edge pieces first?"
Imaginative Play Exploration
Scenario: Your child is playing with toy animals.
Script: "I noticed you have the lion and the elephant. What do you think would happen if they met? Can you tell me their story?"
Scenario: Your child is looking at a picture book.
Script: "What's happening in the picture? Can you make up a story about it? Let's create our own ending."
Scenario: Your child is examining a butterfly in the garden.
Script: "What do you see on the butterfly's wings? Why do you think it has those colours? Let's look it up!"
Scenario: Your child is painting a picture.
Script: "I see you used blue and yellow. What made you choose those colours? What do you want to express with your art?"
Building on Interests:
Scenario: Your child shows interest in space.
Script: "You love space, don't you? What planet would you like to visit? What do you want to learn about it?"
Scenario: Your child is watching birds in the park.
Script: "Look at the birds in the tree. How many can you count? What are they doing? Why do you think they do that?"
Sorting and Categorizing
Scenario: Your child is organising their toys.
Script: "I see you're sorting your toys. How are you deciding where each toy goes? Can you explain your categories to me?"
Scenario: Your child is mixing colours with paint.
Script: "What happens when you mix blue and yellow? Can you predict what colour you'll get next?"
Problem-Solving with Technology
Scenario: Your child is using a tablet app.
Script: "How did you figure out that puzzle on the tablet? What strategies did you use? Can you show me?"
Nature Walk Observations
Scenario: Your child is collecting leaves in the park.
Script: "I see you found different leaves. What makes each one unique? Can we create a leaf chart together?"
These enquiries, ideas and scripts aim to foster meaningful interactions with your child during play and exploration, enhancing their thinking skills and encouraging curiosity. Some words will be brand new to them and sound complicated, but that's the idea - to use more unique and rich language to help their speech grow. You can undoubtedly manipulate all these ideas to fit your scene and simplify some words as you wish. Engaging in these conversations creates opportunities for deeper learning and strengthens your parent-child bond.
Remember, speech and language development is a journey, not a destination.
Your child's progress may not always be linear, and that's perfectly normal. The key is creating a language-rich environment where communication is celebrated and encouraged. Through your nurturing guidance, you'll be laying a solid foundation for your child's ability to express themselves, connect with others, and thrive in the world of communication.
To explore The National Literacy Trust, click here: https://literacytrust.org.uk
To read the report by Speech and Language UK, click here: https://speechandlanguage.org.uk/listening-to-unheard-children/
To go directly to the PDF report, click here: https://speechandlanguage.org.uk/media/4703/listening-to-unheard-children-report-final.pdf