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Practicing Speech Sounds, Syllables or Words Multiple Times with Preschoolers

By
Robin Strode, M.A., CCC-SLP

We believe in making speech practice fun and play-like whenever possible. One way to do this is to think about what types of activities your child enjoys and how to incorporate speech practice into those activities. This encourages your child to be emotionally invested in the practice and more “in control”. You’ll get better cooperation this way and find practicing a lot less stressful. Below are some examples of different activities for speech practice. Keep practice sessions short and fun when possible. As much as possible, do what fits into your lifestyle and daily schedule. Let siblings and friends participate in the activities with everyone practicing the speech targets. You don’t have to use the practice sheet the therapist gave you. Write the words on 3 x 5 cards and have your child draw a picture on each (they don’t have to be great), or you do this. Then use these in fun activities or games during the day.

Get on the Move: Use Movement Activities to Encourage Speech Practice.

  • For example, write or draw pictures of the speech sounds, syllables or words on 3 x 5 cards. Scatter these around a room or outside. Have your child run or hop or skip to a card (let your child pick what type of physical movement he/she wants to do to go get the cards). The child says the word on the card three times, then runs, hops or skips back to you. He/she says the word three more times, then can put the card into a basket or small paper bag. Do this for all the cards.
  • Do the same in a hide-and-seek activity. “Hide” the cards and let your child search for one at a time. When he finds one, he says the word three times, then brings it back to home base (you). He tells you the word three times, then goes to find another card. Play again, but this time let him hide the cards and you search for them. When you bring a card back to him you both must say the word three times.
  • Throw or bounce a ball back and forth, practicing a word each time before the ball is thrown. Do the same for throwing a basketball through the hoop.
  • Go to the playground or park. Push your child several times on a swing, catch the swing, have your child say a word three times, then resume pushing. Play on the slide. When your child is sitting at the top of the slide put your arm across the top of the slide in front of him to make a barrier and say “stop”. Have him say a practice word after you three times. Lift your arm and cheerfully say “go” and let him slide down.
  • Play “Red Light-Green Light”. This is a fun game to play with several children. The children line up across the lawn from you. The object is to be the first one to arrive at the base (you) without getting caught. You turn your back and say “green light,” at which time the children can take big steps toward you. When you say “red light” they must stop moving completely before you turn around. Anyone caught moving has to go back to the starting line. Each person must say a speech practice word before you can turn around to say “green light” to resume the game.
  • Make an obstacle course with a word card in front of each obstacle. For example: have a large cardboard box laying on its side that is open on both ends that the child can climb through, a pillow she can roll over, a chair she can crawl under, a wrapping paper roll she can jump over, etc. She has to say the word on the card before attempting each obstacle. This is great for motor planning also.
  • Write a movement activity on each card below the practice word. Put all the cards in a paper bag. The child reaches in and pulls one out, says the word several times, then performs the activity (e.g., “say your practice word 2 times, then turn in a circle 2 times). You take a turn too.

Use Pretend Play Activities to Encourage Speech Practice.

  • Do you have left over party bags or boxes? Hide a practice card in each one and play birthday party. Use a dialogue thats appropriate for a pretend party. Make a cake out of playdoh, letting your child practice a word in order to put a candle on the cake. Then let him/her open one present at a time. He says the practice word 3 times to put it in his present pile.
  • Set up a play scenarios such as, Lets pretend Barbie is going to the beach. Lets pack a suitcase for her. (This can be a small suitcase or a shoe box). Get out a bunch of Barbie clothes and equipment. The game goes this way. Each person gets a turn – on your turn you pick a speech word, say it 3 times, then you get to put something in the suitcase. Each player does this multiple times. You can use 2 suitcases and see what the other one packs. You can make this funny, I think Barbie would want to swim in this long ball gown, so Im going to pack that.

Use Board Games or Building with Blocks to Encourage Speech Practice.

  • Play Hi-Ho Cherry-O, Shoots and Ladders, Bingo, any child board game. Each player picks a speech card or points to a speech word on the practice sheet, says the word, then gets to roll the dice, pick a game card, do the spinner, etc.
  • Blocks, Legos and Duplos are great for this – you take turns saying words to get to add another piece onto the structure. You can also do this with puzzles.

Preacademics

  • Buy a book with simple coloring and preschool activities. These are available at Wal-Mart, K-Mart, or the grocery store. Let your child pick a picture in the book. When she says a word 3 times she can color one part of the picture. Then you take a turn to say a speech word and color a section of the picture. Take turns until the picture is completed. Hang proudly on the refrigerator. This is fun to do with dot-to-dot pages also.
  • Make an alphabet book. Write an alphabet letter at the top of each page of a spiral notebook. Add pictures (clip art, cut from magazines, hand drawn) with a written word under each for each speech practice word. This is cumulative – you keep adding new words to the book each week. This is a great way to review speech words and build literacy early skills.

Use the Computer

  • Help your child type a speech practice sound, syllable, or word on the computer using a fun, large font. Have her say the word 3 times, then copy and paste it on the computer. She can do this multiple times, saying the word each time its pasted. Print this out and mail it to Grandma. You can use different fonts, different colors, or print it on colored paper to add interest.
  • Use a clip art program to print multiple copies of a picture of a target word on a page. Each time he pastes a picture on the page he has to say the word 3 times.

Make a Photo Album

  • Use a small photo album that holds single pictures on each page. Take pictures that represent speech targets, using the child in as many of the pictures as possible. Write the target sound, syllable, word, or phrase on a file folder label and put it on the bottom of each picture. That way everyone who looks at the book with the child will know what word to practice. This also encourages early literacy skills. For syllables you could have pictures to represent mo for more, wa for want, ba for ball. For reduplicated syllables have a picture of 2 balls for ba-ba, people (mama, dada, nana), or animals (moo-moo, woof-woof, neigh-neigh). If child is practicing initial /b/ words for example, take a picture of a big ball with a friend whos a boythere you have words such as big, ball, boy, and bye. Our children love looking through their picture books and showing them to friends and family. This is a great way to build a core vocabulary and to practice repeatedly on words that are important to your child such as his name, his friends names, or his favorite activities, toys and foods.

Make it Predictable: some children like to know their practice schedule and how long they will spend practicing.

  • Set up a routine practice time each day. Draw boxes on a piece of paper, one for each word the child will practice. Tell him the rules”I’ll put a star in a box each time you practice one of your words. When you have 3 stars in a box, well color that box. When all the boxes are colored, we’re finished!”

Reward System: Set up a reward system. All of us enjoy a reward for a job well done.

  • Use the box system above, but now draw a happy face when your child has finished practicing his words for the day. When he has 5 to 7 happy faces he can pick a prize from a special toy box. Have a variety of small prizestoys from McDonalds, a matchbox car, a coupon for lunch out, a piece of Barbie clothes, a coupon for a trip to the park or library, sunglasses, toy jewelry, crafts activities, stickers, markers, etc., etc. One child I worked with loved tools so I bought a set of toy tools and tool belt for the toy box. Every time he earned a trip to the toy box he could pick any one of the tools he wanted. He became excited about practicing his “speech homework” because he was working toward something meaningful and fun for him.
  • This system works well when your time for practicing is limited or your child is reluctant to practice.

Practice in New Places: you can practice anywhere.

  • The car is a great place to practice. Put the speech words on 3 x 5 cards, punch a hole in one corner of each card and put them a special key ring for your child. Every time you stop at a red light see if you and your child can say one of the words 3 times before the light changes. Make it into a game called “Beat the Light.”
  • Mealtime is a great way to incorporate the whole family into practice. Have your child “hide” a card under napkins as you set the table. She has to say the word 3 times to hide the card. When everyone sits down to eat, each person lifts their napkin to find a card. Your child tells them what the word is and they must repeat it after her one to 3 times before they can eat dinner.
  • Put practice cards on doorways around the house. To go through the doorway each person must say the “magic” word 3 times.

Truly respect that speech is difficult for him, but that you have faith in his abilities. Let him know you will help him through any difficulties. For example, tell him you will write down any “hard” words to give to the therapist to come up with special tricks to make them easier. Always praise your child for attempting speech targets, even when he wasn’t fully correct. You can tell him “good try,” “I like the way you were watching me,” or “Wow, you got really close that time.” Then model (say) the word again using helpers such as touch cues and have him try again.

Just remember that if we make practicing fun, playful and rewarding both you and your child will enjoy it.


(Robin Strode, M.A., CCC-SLP, has been a practicing speech-language pathologist for 28 years, currently specializing in serving preschool children with a large variety of special needs. She and her partner, Catherine Chamberlain, have presented numerous workshops throughout the United States on the topics of Developmental Verbal Apraxia and Oral-Motor Facilitation of Speech Skills. They also serve as consultants to speech-language pathologists, teachers, schools, and families. She and Ms. Chamberlain have written seven joint publications for LinguiSystems, including three best sellers: Easy Does It for Apraxia and Motor Planning, Easy Does It for Apraxia: Preschool, and Easy Does It for Articulation: An Oral-Motor Approach. Additionally, Ms. Strode is a member of the Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association’s Professional Advisory Board.)

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