I've spent the last twenty-five years working as a music therapist with young kids who contend with language and communication disabilities. I want to share about increasing vocal and verbal behaviors in young kids. I do have to premise this by saying that these are very generalized, non-specific ideas to consider. I'm not a speech therapist, but these activities can be thought of as a starting point.
1. Surround the child with anything and everything that makes noise. Everything makes a sound these days. You may want to order instruments, make them, or buy them at a party store. Pots and pans are good here also, but you may want to invest in cotton balls. Wooden spoons make good sticks. The lesson here is that things make sounds, and so can you.
2. Blow into anything that creates a sound. Check out the party store again for ideas. West music is a great source of sound makers. The lesson here is that your mouth, lungs, and breath work together to make sounds. See how this is a prerequisite to language sounds?
3. Imitate any sneezing, coughing, laughing, hiccuping, burping. These really do get the attention of kids. Even imitate anger and crying sounds- but do so in a respectful manner that tells the child you hear, support and respect their vocal message.
4. Vocalize into anything that you can hold up to your mouth like a paper towel roll. Play with vocal pitch, volume, emotionality, length. Take turns. This is teaching that the child can make his own sounds and those sounds get results. Vocalize into a box- it sure gets loud in there. Party stores sell toy microphones that reverb/echo what you sound into them.
5. Make sound effects of everything you see, hear, play with, ride in. Playing with toy cars – make the sound. Playing farm? All the animals make sounds. Most things do. Lesson here is that sounds can be imitated. More importantly, the sounds people make can be imitated. A huge language precursor.
6. Talk about everything you can. Life is a big lesson after all. Folding laundry? It's a great time to build vocabulary on clothing items. Going to the grocery store? Food is everywhere. Driving anywhere? What do you see. Point here is to expose the child to spoken language.
7. You can insert any sound into a song that already exists. If you want to elicit the sound “bah,” then you can sing the whole melody to Mary Had a Little Lamb on the word “bah.” Ok, lambs say “bah” but that was just a coincidence.
8. Of course sing the old standard nursery rhymes and time-tested kids songs like “Itsy Bitsy Spider, “ and “Twinkle, twinkle little star.” These have been around for so long because they have a real effect on language. The predictable and patterned melodies heighten attention. Pairing a motion with a song strengthens the connections even more.
9. Leave the last word off a phrase (musical sentence) and wait for the child to fill it in. An example would be “E I E I_______.” Praise all attempts and if need be, model the correct response. This needs to stay fun and not become a lesson- - at least in the child's mind! You may know otherwise!
10. Sing. Sing. Sing. Singing activates more areas of the brain than speaking alone. It heightens, focuses, and motivates attention. And it's its own reward. It's good for them. Turn everything into a song. Giving a bath? “If your happy and you know it wash your toes!” Going to Grandmas? Sing “this is the way we sit in the car, sit in the car, sit in the car...”
Margie's “Sing!” CD is full of original songs specifically written to foster sounds, words, and simple phrases. Oral-motor skills, articulation drills, sound play, and short sentences are all addressed through her music. Good for early intervention, pre-school, and early elementary students.
Margie is a music therapist and special educator with over 24 years experience working with pre-school and school aged children. Check out her excellent albums:
Move! - Action songs about understanding directions and following through with them. (Receptive language)
Sing! - Action songs with sounds, words, and simple phrases. (Expressive language.)
Mixing it Up - More interactive songs about following directions, vocalizing, singing, moving and playing simple instruments.