When children begin speech therapy, parents commonly ask, “When can we start doing homework?” Every parent wants to help their child make the most progress possible, and one of the fundamental ways to do this is by working with him on his speech sounds at home. There are some caveats to that, though, and parents are often surprised to learn that home practice is not always ideal.
Here are some general guidelines and suggestions for helping your child outside of their normal speech therapy sessions:
- The purpose of home practice is different depending on which level your child is working, but generally is to increase your child’s ability to more consistently and automatically produce their target sounds outside of the clinical setting.
- Home practice should reinforce what children have already learned and are having success with in speech. Parents are not expected to teach their child how to produce the sounds worked on at speech.
- If you begin working with your child before he can consistently produce target sounds, you may actually reinforce the old patterns. This can frustrate your child, or even delay the length of his speech therapy.
Parents can always help their child with his speech. At different stages of speech therapy, there are a variety of things parents can do to help.
When your child first begins speech …
- Speech therapy often first entails working on how to produce the sound in isolation, or by itself.
- This phase typically lasts a short time (likely, only a few sessions – or less!)
- At this stage in speech therapy, feel free to ask your child’s speech therapist any questions about your child’s speech patterns and errors – the best thing you can do is understand his errors and his speech therapist’s approach.
- It can also be helpful to sit in on sessions to try to hear and see the difference between the “old way” and the “new way” of producing the sound.
- At this time, home practice is likely premature.
When your child is able to produce his sounds in words …
- Treatment typically addresses accurate production in all positions of words. For example, if your child is working on “s,” he will likely work on words such as “sun,” “dancer” and “bus.”
- Depending on your child’s ability to independently and consistently produce the sounds in words, treatment might start with a higher level of support from the clinician – for example, his speech therapist might first give him cues about tongue placement.
- Once your child is consistently producing sounds in words independently, home practice can usually begin. To help, you can:
- Ask your child’s speech therapist for a list, or pictures, and have your child practice them at home.
- Try to help your child practice for shorter periods of time more frequently, rather than
lengthier periods of time but less frequently (for example, 10 minutes/day for 5 days/week
is better than than half an hour for 2 days/week)
- Here are some activities you can try with your child:
- Play a board game (or any game!) and say a word 5 times before the turn.
- Spread pictures throughout the room and go on a scavenger hunt for them.
- Think of words around the room that begin with his sounds.
- It is important to listen to your child’s production and make sure he is producing it the right way. If he is not, your child might not be ready to practice at home yet. If you are unsure, check in with his speech therapist.
- From this point forward, home practice is critical to maximizing your child’s progress.
When your child is working at the sentence level …
- Following consistent, accurate production in single words, the next step of speech therapy is typically accurate use in sentences.
- You can now work with your child in sentences. Try the same activities you used when practicing in single words, but generate sentences together. You can make up any sentences!
- Here are some additional activities you can try with your child:
- Make up silly sentences about pictures.
- Try to make up sentences with more than one instance of target sounds. For example, you
might make up, “I saw a mouse eating soup in the desert.”
- Depending on your child’s age, error patterns, and level of self-awareness, this is the point at which accurate production of sounds may begin to emerge in more spontaneous opportunities.
- Keep in mind that it may take months before your child is ready to work on sounds in conversations, so frequently correcting him as he speaks may not be helpful. Instead, listen carefully to his speech when he talks – if you hear an accurate production, praise can be an excellent reinforcement.
When your child is working at the conversational level …
- The next step in speech therapy often builds accurate use of sounds in short, structured conversations to help build automaticity and consistency of use in more spontaneous opportunities.
- Here are some conversational activities you can try with your child:
- Make up stories together using a main character whose name has the target sound (such as “Sam”)
- Play games that include target sounds in specific phrases, but are more conversational in nature:
- I Spy: “I spy with my little eye something that is…”
- Guess Who: “Does your person have glasses?”
- “Going on a picnic” game: Feel free to change the words from the original version.
For “s,” you might try, “I’m going to Mississippi and I think I will see…”
- Make your own production during these conversations highly exaggerated
When your child is working to generalize his sounds to the level of spontaneous speech …
- This phase entails making sure your child is producing his new sounds just about 100% of the time, in all contexts, everywhere! The old pattern should be a distant memory by the time he is done with speech.
- Once your child begins to produce his sounds more consistently outside of the clinical setting, treatment begins to incorporate other aspects to make sure it is very automatic:
- Divided attention (doing more than 1 thing while using speech sounds
accurately – like a cooking or doing an art project)
- Having real conversational exchanges with interruptions (such as debates)
- Taking kids outside of the clinical setting
- Here are some activities you can try with your child when they are working on generalization:
-Continue structured conversations at this point
- If they are producing their sounds very well, you can also introduce some of these distractors
- Correcting your child every once in awhile is okay at this point –
but it is better to keep a high level of success by practicing in more structured
opportunities until he is more consistently able to produce his sounds.
Remember – always ask your child’s speech therapist what she recommends to work on at home. Every child has different needs, and may require more or less support than others.