April 8, 2020

With schools closed and treatment moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic, parent involvement is more important than ever to support children with their speech-language homework. Some parents and caregivers are ready to take this on, but others feel trepidations. Some might see it as too time-consuming, while others might feel concerned they won’t do it correctly. Making speech carryover practice easy to implement can increase the likelihood of parent/caregiver participation.

Here are some strategies I share with parents to help them effectively incorporate speech and language practice into their everyday routines. Even when our "normal" routines greatly change.

Errands are language-fueled activities. If you can’t go to the store, or are avoiding taking the kids with you, let them help you take inventory of items you have and make a list of what you need.  You can target things like categories, or ask them to name anything red they see on the webpage you’re on. Or, as you’re scrolling, pick two or three things (apples or bananas, for example) and ask them what group they belong in. Ask older kids to be your shopping buddy. Give them a small list of things to remind you to find as you go through the online store.

Something all kids love is to feel in charge. If you feel comfortable, let them help pay at the online checkout. When the items get delivered, they can continue working on language by unpacking and sorting items into groups (refrigerated or snacks, for example).

Car rides, walks, or even strolls around the house also offer opportunities to work on language. Try playing license plate tag to target speech sounds and multisyllable words, or "I Spy" to work on categories (I spy something that is a vehicle) or speech sounds (I spy something that starts with the /k/ sound). You can even make red lights fun by seeing who can name the most fruits before the light turns green. When you get home, make a list of what you found and have the child share it with classmates the next day to keep the language learning going.

Make TV time interactive and language-infused. Sit on opposite sides of the couch and find a favorite show or try a new one. Then have each person pick a character to be and mute the TV. Now fill in the dialogue yourself based on the images. You’ll be amazed by the stories kids make up.  Or play a guessing game—pausing the TV and try to guess how a character is feeling based on facial expressions and the background images.

Read. This may seem obvious, and if you only have time to do your nightly story, that’s great. But I like to tell parents  to push it a little further and start a conversation while they read. Ask follow-up questions or change one of the lines in a familiar story and ask them if they think it really happened.  Associate something happening in the story with something that happened in your day or on a trip you took. Pause and ask questions even if you don’t think they can answer—this strengthens language. Have older kids read a page or two of a short story and tell you what happened, or act out a favorite book and see if the other person can guess which book it is. Finally, don’t pull out the book for them; make them work for it. When you ask them what book they want to read and they name it, pretend you can’t remember which one it is and have them describe parts of it to help jog your memory. Or if you know they read a story in their online class or speech session, ask them to retell it to you.

Language opportunities are everywhere throughout our days, even when we're stuck at home.  Speech and language homework doesn’t need to be fancy or difficult—and with parents already overburdened, we don’t want to make their day harder. But we can show them how small changes to their routine can make all the difference.  By empowering parents, we are improving relationships and increasing collaboration that will only help our kids' skills grow.

Editor's note: ASHA's Office of Multicultural Affairs collected resources to share with parents, listed below:

Many SLPs use 12 monthly speech language activity calendars with suggested activities for each day of the month, like Blue Ridge Elementary ST Calendars, or on Teachers Pay Teachers and Super Duper Publications offers free calendars. These documents could be translated into home languages for multilingual speakers.

Kimberly Delude, MA, CCC-SLP, works in a public school outside of Boston.  Follow her @thespeechvine on instagram or on her website socationbooks.com. [email protected]

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