Language Stimulation Ideas
The following Hints, Tips, and Ideas all come from my working with my son.
I think one of the hardest things for my son to learn when he was younger was names. What seemed to work the best for him was to take pictures of each person whose name I wanted him to learn, and across the bottom of the picture I wrote their name. At least once a day he would sit on my lap and we would go through the pictures, one by one and I would tell him the person's name. I always started working on a new person's name with saying their name and having my son repeat it. After a couple days of that, I would show him the new picture and say "Who's that?" and give him a chance to respond. If he didn't know, I would say the name. Right after I had gone through the pictures one time, I would hand him the stack and give him the chance to ask me "Who's that?". Often it was kind of funny because if I said I didn't know, he would ask me in a quiet whisper who it was, I'd tell him, then he'd change his voice and tell me with authority that person's name. When he seemed to know the name with ease, and used it when with that person, the picture went into his personal photo album. I was also careful to introduce only 2 or 3 new names each day and never worked on more than about 8 at a time (especially once he started school). I seem to recall that our son would learn the name faster if he was in the picture, and even faster if he got to take the picture. The camera I used was an instant camera so that there wasn't a large delay between him seeing the person and our working on the name. When he started school I talked to his teachers and arranged for him to be allowed to bring the camera (not the instant camera this time) to school and take pictures of each of the kids, teachers, or other school personnel he would see on a regular basis.
On the few rare occasions where my son doesn't want to do a therapy task, I tell him we'll make Slime afterwards. This does the trick. You can use either the white school glue or gel school glue. Mix 1/4 to 1/2 tsp boric acid powder (find it in the laundry section of your grocery store - usually under the name Boraxo) to a solution of a quarter cup of water with a dash of rubbing alcohol added (the alcohol is optional, but it works better if you use it). In a disposable bowl, mix equal parts glue and water. Add a little bit of the boric acid solution and mix thoroughly. Keep adding small amounts of the boric acid solution till your slime is the consistency you want. I let my son do the mixing with his hand. He loves doing this and there's lots of wonderful vocabulary you can explore while doing this.
We got a lot of mileage out of some plastic toy food that velcroed together and made a sort of cutting sound when pulled apart. Someone asked where they would find something like that. You'll find it on this page.
To keep my son's interest high when we're doing more "formal" work, I purchase toys, materials, incentives and stuff for use only during this time (or for those times when I have a specific goal in mind). I bought one of those microwave carts with doors on it (and wheels) to keep it all in. Makes it easy to take to wherever you need it and keeps everything I need handy. My son knows that he's not allowed to play with the things in the cart except during when we're doing his "Happy Work" (it's what he calls our "sit down" work). When I don't need it, the cart sits against the wall between the kitchen and family room.
Many times, my son has difficulty learning someone's name. I have him take the camera and take pictures of people whose names he doesn't know. Then after they're developed we use these pictures to learn names. It makes it more meaningful for him when I let him take the pictures and he tends to learn the names faster.
Articulation practice: What child looks forward to this? Mine does! I print pictures on cards (you can use stickers) that have the target sound in them. Then we play Pogs (my son loves this game). You only get a turn to throw the slammer if you can say the sound correctly.
When we're working on the correct pronunciation of a word we roll a ball back and forth (or throw a Nerf ball, or a Koosh ball). The person who is "it" gets to say the target word and rolls the ball. Then the other person catches it, repeats the word then rolls it back. You could also use this when working on a specific sentence structure.
When we're working on something my son really doesn't want to do (or if he shows signs of getting bored), I blow up a bunch of balloons and tie them shut. Then, every once in a while when he shows he's really working hard on mastering the task, I'll tell him to go pop a balloon. But, I make him do it by sitting on it. This gives him a little break with something fun to do. He willingly goes back to work because he can see that he has balloons left to pop, and the time could come at any moment. You could also put slips of paper in the balloons with a task on them. The child could pop a balloon, and whatever task is in the balloon is the task to be completed next.
This tip can be used for working on a number of concepts. We used it to work on plurals and opposites. Get a composition notebook, the kind with the paper sewn in. Then, divide each page into a upper half and a lower half (do this in your mind). Now write the singular word on the top of the page, and the plural word on the bottom (or use opposites, or whatever concept your working on). Here comes the fun part. Find a sticker for that word and place one near the singular word you wrote. Place 2 or more near the plural word you wrote. You could also use stampers, drawings, or pictures out of magazines. Children really enjoy "their" book. They treat is as something special and like to sit and read through it. Five years after we made ours, my son still won't part with his. One parent who tried this said her child carried it around all day and read it to everyone, including the family pet!
You know those little toys you get in kid's meals? I don't think we have ever gotten one of these toys that I haven't been able to find a way to use for language stimulation. You can often find lots of these toys at yard sales.
Your camera can be a great tool for therapy. Here are a few ideas from Kodak. While these ideas from Kodak do not include the auditory component, it shouldn't be hard for you to figure out how to add it. One mother shows how she did this to create experience books for her child with Ling's Little Listening Sounds and Where's Brendan?
Here's a fun thing we did when I was teaching my child colors. We made cardboard glasses and used colored cellophane for the lenses. Then when we worked on colors we would use these glasses to reinforce what he was doing. When he said the name of the color correctly, he got the pair of glasses for that color. When he would look through the glasses, they changed everything he saw to that color. In no time at all he not only knew his colors, but he could say them. He really had a blast with them! (You can get colored cellophane from your local crafts store.)
This is how we worked on the skill of elaboration. "The dog ran." was about as complex a sentence as my son would make. I've tried many different ways to get him to expand his sentences, but nothing worked till we started the "Elaboration Game". Using index cards cut in fourths, I write the base sentence, one word on each card. Then we each take turns adding one word at a time to this base sentence. He really enjoys this and will now ask if he can add 4 or 5 words at at time (I always let him). When it's my turn to add a word I always try to add a leading word (then, next, and, under, because, etc.) Our sentence "The dog ran." quickly transformed into "The big black shaggy dog ran quickly under the Powell's back porch and whimpered because three huge people were chasing him with sticks." Quite a change in less than a week.
Crafts are a fun way to stimulate language. When you work on crafts together you are working on language skills, following directions, vocabulary, and fine motor skills. Many craft stores will give out free project sheets. You can even find some on the internet. Here's a few places that have great ideas for crafty things to do with kids:
When my child was 3-5 years old I found that two of my most valuable language stimulation tools to be Playdoh and miniatures (like the things you can buy at a craft store to put in a doll house). You would not believe how versatile these 2 things can be. With Playdoh you can teach lots of stuff. I could do a whole page on Playdoh alone. Same with miniatures. These can be used in so many ways other than just learning the word for what it is. For example: When I wanted to teach my child the phrase "I don't know" (something I thought would be very useful to him) I took about a dozen plastic Easter eggs and put a miniature in each one. I then picked up an egg and asked him what was in it. When he shook his head no I prompted him for "I don't know." Then we opened the egg to see what it was and said "A ____. Wow!" He soon caught on and asked to do it many times. Then he wanted to be the one to ask me. He enjoyed it so much that in one day he learned both "I don't know" and "What's in it?" not to mention the words for the items in the egg. It would have taken about a week or so to teach him each phrase with any other method I had tried.
Put the child on the computer. There is lots of software out there to stimulate language in a child. Some people use it as a reward but I found that my child would talk to the computer while he was on it. His speech and language skills really improved. We were careful to pick out software that helped him reach his goals. This software doesn't need to be expensive, a lot of what we used was shareware.
Shopping for toys? I never bought a toy without thinking first, "What can my child learn with this toy? How can we use it to stimulate language? Does it have something to do with what he's doing with his therapist? How will it help his language skills? Is there a version of this toy that makes sounds? Can he learn from it while playing by himself?" Get the all the mileage you can from your toy purchases.
If yours is a reluctant talker (like mine was) be sure you're giving his words power. If mine asked for something instead of gesturing, he would get it unless there was a strong reason not to give it to him (it would hurt him). If he asked to do something or go somewhere, same thing. You've got to teach them that their voice is the most powerful tool they have.
How do you know when to require your child to use more complex skills? My rule of thumb has always been: The first time my son spontaneously verbalized (or vocalized) something new it may have been an accident, the second time - hmmmm, the third time it's probably an acquired skill and time to insist he use it regularly. This also holds true for listening skills.
This tip is one that very few people know about but is so fun and useful I just don't know why everyone doesn't know about this. Often when you receive a package in the mail they use Styrofoam logs as a packing material. Don't throw them away! If you lick the end of one of these logs (or wipe it on a wet sponge) it will stick to another of these logs (ever heard of Zog-Logs? Ever seen the price?) Kids love doing this, my son even takes them to school to show the other kids. It doesn't cost anything and they make a great reward during therapy! This only works with the log shape, not the peanut shape or the S shape. The ones in the log shape are made out of cornstarch instead of Styrofoam and are made to be "biodegradable". It's also really cool if you take a bowl of these and pour water on them. If you want to learn more about these, you can visit the National Starch Website. Occasionally you can find some in colors for kids in the toy section or in craft stores.
Make it FUN!!!!! As you can see from the examples above, if it's fun, they'll learn it faster, want to practice it more, and have a better attitude. You can also use the fun stuff as a reward for doing something that's difficult for the child or that the child doesn't like.
The therapist at the public school program I was visiting had a mirror up in her room. Instead of using a White Board she was using the dry erase markers on the mirror. The kids loved it! It was mounted low enough the kids could use it too (these were Kindergartners). They were using the florescent colored markers which really stood out. Dry erase markers will also work on anything that is laminated and is easier to clean off than wipe off markers or crayons. Crayola has just come out with these markers also, so they're now available in a wider variety of colors. For writing on the mirrors though, the florescent ones really do show up best. You could use this idea to develop games for therapy, for writing target words on bathroom mirrors as reminders for the family, little messages on a little one's mirrors, lots of fun uses. I would exercise some caution though before writing on glass that has been coated (like car windows).
As my son approached school age (Kindergarten), I realized that the best thing I could do to help prepare him was to help him be able to articulate some common phrases. Together we sat down and found pictures in magazines, coloring books, or Xeroxed pictures out of some of his story books that dealt with some common situations. We glued these onto large index cards, and underneath the picture I wrote a common phrase that was likely to go with the situation pictured. How did I pick out which phrases I wanted to work on? I watched my son while he was interacting with others and made mental note of times when what he was trying to say could be made easier with a common phrase. Because of this, he was able to recognize these situations were relevant to his life and he learned these phrases much more quickly than when I just picked phrases at random. Some of the phrases we worked on were: