It’s a simple fact of life that speech is one of the first things noticed about a person and one of the first things used to judge them. For children, in particular, a speech impediment can be detrimental to social development. In fact, pediatric speech therapy should be made available as soon as possible in order to improve articulation. However, a child can spend only so much time receiving speech therapy at school or elsewhere, leaving many more hours of missed opportunities at home. For this reason, one of the speech therapy resources made possible for parents by creative therapists includes the use of speech therapy games.
First, a word of caution to parents about using speech therapy games: It is not your job to “fix” your child’s speech impairment with these exercises. Leave that goal to your child’s speech therapist, a professional who is specifically trained to address this issue. Also, even the most well-meaning of parents may tend to become frustrated with a lack of progress, so patience is needed. That said, understand that speech therapy games are just that—games. They are intended to be fun, while exercising the various muscles that produce speech at the same time.
The first place to look for speech therapy games is your child’s speech therapist. Most therapists actively encourage parents to practice speech exercises with their child at home for 15 to 30 minutes each day. Further, the therapist is more likely to know precisely what sounds your child is having difficulty with, and which exercises would best suit your child’s needs. Once equipped with this information, it’s possible to create original speech therapy games from items already in the home or easily obtained.
A simple—and fun—activity is to make up flashcards with questions on them in a What am I? format with answers that utilize the same particular sound. For example, let’s assume we’re working on the “ch” sound. The question, “I’m a barnyard animal that lays eggs. What am I?” would elicit the word “chicken.” As a visual aid, underlined spaces representing the number of letters in the correct answer could also be added to the card.
Sometimes, a child may be reluctant to say the correct answer, especially words he or she has real trouble pronouncing correctly. In this case, the parent can take a different approach to speech therapy games without requiring the child to say the response word at all. This is called focused stimulation, a technique used to help young children acquire speech. For example, upon turning over a card in the classic game of Memory, the parent might find a chicken and say, “I got a chicken.” This might then be followed with, “I wonder where another chicken is in the deck?” and “Let’s have chicken tonight for dinner.”
The most important rule while playing speech therapy games: Do not correct your child’s speech or criticize the lack thereof. Instead, recast their answers and comments by rephrasing them in your own for them to hear. For example, if your child tends to use only the minimum words necessary to convey something, you can build on the statement “cat, sleeping” with “Yes, the cat is sleeping.”