This post was written with contributions from Anna Mersov, SLP(C)
Getting those first words from your child is incredibly rewarding, and it can be frustrating to wait around for them. But first words aren’t just “words” (e.g., “car”), they can also be the sounds associated with those words (e.g., “beep!”), or the gestures (e.g., steering the wheel). Teaching a child the sounds and gestures associated with the “real words” can help push them along in their speech and language development. Playing with sounds is also a great way for a child to experiment with and gain confidence in speech movements within a meaningful context.
With this in mind, we've put together a list of tips for you to try at home:
Model both gestures and sounds during play
Bye-Bye / Hi – wave with your hand
Mmm-mmm/yum/um-um – biting/chewing/eating actions
Ha-ha-ha – mimic a dog panting (mouth open showing your tongue)
Ding-dong – pretend to press a doorbell
Knock-knock/bang bang bang – pretend to knock at a door
Beeeeeep – the car sound
Ah! – acting surprised or scared
Uh-oh/Oh no – can put hands to face acting concerned
Weee! – E.g., when ball goes down a ramp
Shhh – finger to lips for quiet
Yay! - clap your hands
Look for books/toys with animals or vehicles
Animals and transportation make for great first vocabulary words since they can be reinforced often and the names are easily paired with sounds and gestures (e.g., the cow says “moo”, and a train goes “choo choo”). Sit face to face with your child and open the book towards them with it just under your chin (see picture below). This way, your child can look at the pictures and see your mouth and gestures as you model the words (e.g., duck!) and their sounds (e.g., “quack!”).
Choosing puzzles or animal/transportation figurines/toys also provides lots of opportunities to model the sounds with the words.
Example of a play scenario: Cars!
Here are some different ways to incorporate sounds and gestures into simple daily play with cars:
Drive the cars up and down the ramp (weee, go!)
Drive the cars around the room (beep!, vroom!, wee-ooo-wee-ooo!)
Crash the cars into each other (boom!, uh oh!)
Pretend the car falls over-over or gets stuck (uh oh!, oh no!)
Race the cars (ready set… go!, yay!)
Practice funny faces
Using a mirror, try out different silly faces and match each one with a sound for you and your child to make. When smiling say "eeeeeee", when your mouths are open, say "ahhhh", and when your lips are pursed, say "mmmm". This is a fun way to get your kids practicing and experimenting with their speech sounds and movements while also making use of those important motor skills.
Encourage sound play
Try out different methods of incorporating sounds when you're playing with your child to get them experimenting. See what interests them the most:
Hold a toy microphone or box/cylinder that echoes up to your mouth and make a sound; hold the microphone to them and get them to make a sound of their own.
Use a paper towel roll or another tube to amplify your sounds and try saying "ahhh", "maaaa", or "eeeee" through it. You could also hold it up to each other's ear and say a sound, or try it in front of a mirror.
Rhyming books are great because they have a continuous rhythm and pattern that is predictable. This can help kids build the confidence to attempt a word or a sound. Next time you're reading to your child, pause at a rhyming word to give them the opportunity to fill it in.
Ex: "Brown bear brown bear what do you …… see! I see a monkey looking at ……… me!”
We hope these recommendations will help your child experiment with new sounds and movements to prepare them for speech. Take a look at this blog post for ways to encourage your child to say their first words!
Andalusia Speech Therapy has multiple clinics across Ontario and offers virtual therapy to clients anywhere in the world. Contact us more for information.