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Enhancing your child’s language

Parents often ask what they can do to enhance their school age child’s language. Here are a few ideas if your child needs help in this area.

Descriptive language

Difficulties with descriptions can limit your child’s language to labelling and commenting.  Descriptions provide additional information and allow your child to express him or herself using more complex sentences. They also provide children with the opportunity to learn and use new words that describe such things as size, colour, shape, texture and feelings.

Activities at home that you can do to help your child’s descriptive language include the following.

  • Look at the colour, size and shape of things when you look at pictures together or are driving or playing with toys. Say things like ‘find me a green toy’ or ‘look at the cow, it’s a big cow’.
  • Expose your child to various describing words as much as possible, talking about the size of things, their smell, shape, taste, colour and texture.
  • Make a ‘feelie bag’ where you put different textured objects into a pillowcase and ask your child to put their hand in the bag. Then ask your child to describe what the object they are holding feels like. Make a list of different words they can use such as slimy, cold, smooth and rough.
  • Describe objects to your child that they can see or touch. Then ask your child to describe things that cannot be seen or touched, such as feelings or things in a different room.
  • Play guessing games and ask your child to describe an object or a person so you can guess what or who it is. This can be a family game where everyone has a turn.
  • Play I spy where you use the first sound and descriptive language to guess items.

Concepts

It is also important to develop your child’s understanding of concepts – things like beside, after, many, next week, next Monday and before.
Some activities that you can do to help your child’s understanding of concepts include the following:

  • Provide a model of concepts in conversation. For example, you can emphasise words that illustrate time in sentences such as, ‘We are going to Grandma’s house next week’.
  • Ask your child to act out concepts during games or playtime. Things such as ‘touch your nose after you stamp your feet’ (time), ‘put the block beside the teddy’ (place), and ‘put some of the pencils in the pencil case’ (quantity).

Sentence Structure

Children who are developing language use sentences that are simple and generally contain one idea such as, ‘I like ice cream’.
Children then make their sentences more complex by joining ideas and sentences. These more complex sentences allow them to further describe ideas, make comparisons and provide reasons.
Difficulties in this area may lead to children sounding immature or having difficulties explaining their reasons.

Some activities that you can do to help your child’s sentence structure include the following.

  • Listen to your child talking and then model more complex sentences using what they have said. For example, your child might say, ‘I like soccer. Soccer is fun’. You can say, ‘You like soccer because it is fun.’Ask your child to complete sentences such as:–
  • ‘My favourite food is___________ because __________’.
  • Give your child examples of complex sentences when talking and emphasise the joining words. For example, ‘We are going to the park today because we want to have fun playing on the swings’.
  • If your child uses incorrect grammar, repeat the sentence using the correct grammar. Occasionally have the child repeat the sentence with the correct grammar. It is important not to do this all the time or your child may resist talking.
  • Expand what your child says to you. For example, if your child says, ‘He was eating’; say ‘Yes, he was eating a vegemite sandwich’.
  • Make deliberate mistakes and have your child fix them.
  • Point out joining words and correct grammar in stories you are reading.
  • Make up two sentences and have your child join them with a joining word. For example, you say, ‘It was dark. I turned on the light’. Your child will (hopefully) say, ‘It was dark so I turned on the light’.
  • Think about making your questions more creative. Instead of asking ‘How was your day?’ and getting a one-word response, try asking more specific questions like, ‘What was the most boring thing about today?’.
  • Start a scrapbook to document events that happen to your child. You may include a drawing or a picture to remind the child what happened or write a story about an event. You and your child can regularly look through the book and talk about what happened.

Procedures

It is important for children to understand the concept of a procedure
– that there are steps involved in doing many things, especially day-to-day activities such as washing the dishes in the sink – putting water in the sink, putting in detergent, putting gloves on, etc.
Some activities that you can do to help your child’s understand the concept of procedures include the following.

  • Talk about activities with steps in them as you are doing them, for example, making dinner and getting dressed.
  • Talk to your child as you do each particular step.
  • Use language such as first, second, next and last whenever possible.
  • Encourage your child to make a list to show the steps required to do something at home. You can also draw pictures to show each step of the instruction.

General Conversation

Conversation involves a combination of different communication skills. To encourage general conversation skills, there are a number of things you can do at home. These include the following.

  • Promote conversation around home routines such as cooking, shopping and getting dressed
  • Challenge your child’s thinking and encourage them to consider other points of view.
  • Discuss different solutions to problems and then reason to find a conclusion.
  • Encourage your child to justify and provide reasons for their ideas.
  • Encourage your child to participate in various social situations such as talking on the phone, playing with friends and family, joining community and sporting groups.
  • Turn off the TV at dinnertime and talk as a family.

By Belinda Fisher, Speech Pathologist