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Teachers & Early Years Professionals

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Ideas for Supporting Speech and Language Development

Young children learn to make speech sounds through observation, imitation, and practice. You can help:

DO: Be face-to-face as much as possible;

DO: Repeat correctly, so that the child hears a clear, correct version of what he/she just said. For example, if the child says, “Mo teese!” you could say, “More cheese. I want more cheese please.”

DON’T: Ask the child to try again or tell him that he said it wrong. If the child is receiving speech therapy, you can ask the Speech-Language Pathologist if there are other ways you can help.

Circle Time

Children with speech and language delays and disorders often have difficulty participating in circle time. They may be very quiet and say and do very little, or they may act out and seem distracted. Often this is because the circle has not been planned with them in mind; the pace is too fast, the focus is all on listening (and not on seeing and doing), and there are not enough opportunities for learning through experience (i.e. through repetition).

Click on the headings below for some simple ideas that can make a big difference.

Read, sing, and talk more slowly. All children need more time to process and think of what to do or say than adults do, and children with language delays need even longer. It can be hard to slow down; instead, try pausing a lot and waiting for the children to think and take their turns. Count to 10 in your head before you move on – it seems like forever but many children need that much time!

  • Row, row, row your… (pause for children to sing “boat”)
    Gently… (pause for children to sing “down the stream”)
  • Teacher reading Goodnight Gorilla: “I wonder if the zookeeper knows that the animals are following him…” (pause to see what the children think)

The larger the group, the less the children with speech and language delays will participate. They need you to be aware of them and in a large group you can’t adapt to the needs of each individual child. Take advantage of students and volunteers and have small, short circle times with 3 or 4 children.

Children learn from repetition. They learn even more when you add something new each time you repeat. A story, song, or game should be part of your circle time at least 5 times in a row. Each time, you should think in advance of what new thing you want the children learn. For example:

  • First time: Just getting familiar with the song/story/game
  • Second time: Focusing on one or two new vocabulary words. Talk about and SHOW what they mean.
  • Third time: Pausing a lot to ask thinking questions to promote the development of good narrative skills: “What do you think is going to happen next?” “I wonder why X did that?” “This is a silly song! Have you ever swallowed a fly?”
  • Fourth time: Pause to let the children fill in words in a story or song. They may be able to do most of it by themselves with a little prompting. If your activity is a game, ask the children to tell you how to play, or to explain the game to a new player.
  • Fifth time: Get really creative! Act out the song or story. Do an art activity linked to the song or story, or make take-home versions of the game so the children can play it at home.

Games, gross motor activities, and construction activities work really well too, and they allow for non-verbal turns, cooperation, and creative problem-solving. Try:

  • Building a tower, taking turns adding blocks;
  • Doing a puzzle, taking turns adding pieces;
  • Playing “what am I?”, taking turns pretending to be an animal which the other children guess;
  • Making a group craft, taking turns choosing and gluing things on;
  • Doing a “motor circuit,” like a well-organized obstacle course. The children line up and take turns going through a tunnel, walking on a board, tossing a bean bag into a bucket, etc. This can be a great way to settle the children down and get them regulated before starting the sit-down part of your circle, but it’s really important to have rules: wait your turn, one at a time, etc. Using STOP/WAIT/GO pictures is a great idea with activities like this. Here are some STOP/WAIT/GO pictures you can print.

Make sure you’re not performing while the children just sit and watch. Young children learn from interaction. They should be doing and saying at least as much as you. Build in opportunities for turn-taking, and for children to be the leader.

Visuals (pictures, objects, etc.) should be part of every circle time. They help children to understand what is expected, they give non-verbal or not-very-verbal children a way to participate, and they help to define whose turn it is to say or do something. Try these simple ideas, or make up your own:

  • Fill a bag with objects that go with a story. For example, find plastic animals corresponding to the farm animals in Who Said Moo? Before you start reading, let each child choose and hold an animal. As you look at each page together, ask the child with the animal on that page to bring it to you.
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear activity using a tunnel, 2 photocopies of each page of the book, printed words or pictures of the animals in the book (bear, frog, horse…): Children line up on wait mats and take turns going through the tunnel. At the end of the tunnel pictures of each animal in the story are up on the wall. As each child comes through the tunnel, the teacher points to an animal in the book. The child says the vocabulary word, finds the picture on the wall, and sticks the word or picture on top. The child then tells the next person in line: “your turn” and goes back to their wait mat.
  • Make and laminate copies of pictures in a board book, and stick them to the original pages with Velcro. The children can remove or replace the pictures as you look at the book together. Here’s a link to a more detailed description of this activity.
  • Use song choice pictures or book choice pictures to let the children choose what they want to sing or read. Here is a link to song pictures and lyrics you can print.
  • Use a visual schedule for the activities in the circle time. E.g. song – song – story – game.
  • Use a “speaker’s object” that gets passed around each time someone takes a turn. The person with the object gets to talk or take a turn in some other way, and everyone else has to wait.

Pictures of some Easy-to-Make Visuals for Circle Time

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