Asking questions: how to avoid overwhelming your child!

We’re talking about the Blank Language Levels today (formally the ‘Language for Learning’ model). This simple framework breaks questions down into different levels of complexity. It’s hugely valuable for language development because we can apply it to all sorts of activities with children. One we know which level a child is at, then all the adults around them can focus on using questions at a level that supports their development, rather than being too easy or too hard.

How to ask questions that encourage language development

Level 1: Naming
This covers very simple questions that require a child to understand the name of objects. E.g. ‘What’s that?’ ‘Where’s the…?’

Level 2: Describing
At this level, children start understanding descriptive language and so can talk about things in a little more detail. Questions include ‘What group does it belong to?’ ‘What does it do?’ ‘What are its parts?’

Level 3: Storytelling
This is a huge step in any child’s language development. Being able to talk about events and understood stories is a key part of how we all operate in the world. Here’s a specific activity to start working on this skill.

Level 4: Reasoning
‘Why’ and ‘how’ questions are some of the trickiest questions we can ask a child as they require so much verbal problem-solving. There’s lots more elements to this level of language, but being aware of when you use these two questions is a powerful start.

The Blank Language Levels is one of my most popular workshops. It’s super-practical, with a clear roadmap for helping your child. People always leave fired up to start using new strategies with their kids straight away. Find out more.

Using playdough for Speech and Language Therapy

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When I’m packing my therapy bag I’m always interested in toys and resources that can be used flexibly for a variety of speech, language and communication targets. And playdough absolutely fits that bill! Beyond the usual action words and colour vocabulary, there’s lots of other things that we can do with playdough to support communication, especially when we start adding other toys to it. In this video I share five ways that I use playdough in my speech and language therapy sessions.

Using PLAYDOUGH for Speech and Language Therapy

Lots of the children that I meet are just starting to put two words together, so practising action words (roll, squish, stretch, splat, chop) is a great way to start practising simple ‘noun+verb’ phrases.

We can also use playdough to practice following instructions. To help children be really successful with this early on, I might act out the instruction with my own playdough set, so that child can see what’s happening as well as listening to the language involved. As children become more confident in their language skills I might ask them to give me some instructions. Explaining how we do something is an essential step in language development and also a great excuse to practise sequencing language (e.g. first, then, last).

Another useful aspect of playdough is asking for help. This is a skill that many of my children need to practise (as they’re more inclined to simply struggle on themselves, rather than ask for help.) The lids on playdough pots are tricky to open, which gmakes them a great resource for this particular target.

Playdough is also a perfect resource for building on a child’s shared imagination. We can build the most spectacular and unusual creations together and the language that this involves provides lots of opportunities to learn together.

Check out this blog post on balloons for more play ideas.

5 First Words (plus Makaton) to teach your toddler

What would be the most useful words for your child to be able to say? What would they like tell you about? Having in mind a handful of these core words is really useful. It helps us model consistent vocab and notice when your child starts attempting these words on their own. We want to help your child to request things that they want and talk about things they find interesting.

In this video I share with you my ideas for five first words to teach your toddler: words that are motivating, useful and fun. I’ll also show you the Makaton signs for these words (and if you’re wondering whether to teach your child some signing, then do check out this blog post).

5 First Words (plus Makaton) to teach your toddler

Do you have a list in your head of words to model to your child? You might like to use some of the ones from this video (I know ‘wow’ is a favourite!) and I bet there are lots of other favourite toys or actions that your child would like to talk about. If you have any vocab suggestions and would like to know the Makaton signs for them, then do comment below and I’ll make a video with more ideas in the future.

How to play Ready, Steady, Go

There’s a reason why ‘ready, steady, go’ is such a popular routine amongst Speech and Language Therapists helping young kids learn to talk. It’s highly motivating, builds attention and anticipation and uses a familiar repeated phrase… all elements that lead to language learning.

In all of my therapy sessions I’m looking for the thing that’s really going to catch a child’s attention and give them something that’s worth talking about. As simple as it sounds, I’m often asked by parents how to make Ready, Steady, Go games really useful for language. So, in this video I share my top tips.

How to play Ready, Steady, Go

Remember: repeat your familiar phrase lots of times, pause to give space for your child to join in and respond quickly when they do join. Finally, think about how you can set up your play so you’re at eye level, to support their attention and language learning.

If you found this helpful, you’ll definitely want to check out my Toddler Talk programme, which has just opened for enrolment with a special group edition. Find out more here.

Build your child’s thinking skills

Being able to reflect on past events is an important part of how we all learn and grow. When I was training to become a Speech and Language Therapist, there was a huge emphasis on becoming a reflective practitioner. I didn’t appreciate its importance at the time. Being able to talk about what had gone well and what could be improved didn’t feel nearly as important as the nuts and bolts of What To Do with the child sitting across from me in the therapy room.

But, over the years, I’ve become increasingly appreciative of reflective practice. Regardless of whether a therapy session goes well, there’s always lessons to be learned for next time. I’ll never stop learning!

Reflecting on past experiences isn’t just a postgrad training skill. It’s a valuable habit that we can help children develop from an early age. In this video, I share with you my all-time favourite way to help children reflect on their own experiences and become more resilient when things don’t turn out as expected.

A quick trick to build your child's thinking skills

Two stars and a wish is a child-friendly framework that can apply to so many things. Where could you introduce this idea in your own daily life?

If you like this idea, check out this daily routine that builds positive communication and resilience in your child.

How to create a communication friendly space

Remember making blanket forts as a kid? I broke many a flimsy umbrella by draping blankets over the top. Creating a cosy corner isn’t only fun, but can also really encourage communication and conversation between you and your little one. In this video I share how I make a quick and simple cosy corner and the key elements that I try to include.

Creating a cosy conversation corner

Think about how you can make the space child-sized. What cosy fabrics or cushions can you bring in? Finally, lights and containers are both fun invitations to explore and chat together. What would you add to yours?

There’s so many fabulous ideas on Pinterest, that sometimes the beauty of them can be almost intimidating! The cosy corner that you create with your child doesn’t need to be ‘perfect’. Just have a go at chucking some blankets and cushions together, snuggle down and have fun. :)

If you’d like more ideas on communication friendly environments, you might also like to check out Elizabeth Jarman, who shares lots of work and research in this area.

PS. Check out my blog post on creating a communication-friendly classroom here.

Help your child listen and focus

Paying attention is no easy task! We all have times when we feel distracted. And right now, as we adjust to new routines amidst unsettling global challenges, we have to be a little kinder to ourselves. It’s likely that we’re not able to get as much done as we ordinarily would. This applies to us ‘grown-ups’ and to our kids.

When we understand more about how children develop their attention skills, it’s easier to support their development in a compassionate way. In this video I share a little about what’s involved in paying attention and some of the shifts that have helped me to support children with this important skill for learning and for life.

Help your child LISTEN and FOCUS

In this video I mention the Toddler Talk programme, which I’m currently running with a group of parents who signed up. It’s been wonderful to run this as a group project and I’ll share more on that later (so watch this space!)

For now, you might like to check out this post about my favourite props for developing attention for adult-led activities.

Routines to make you smile (+ build memory and vocab)

As we all face significant changes to our daily schedules and routines, now seems a good time to be mindful of how we can create new routines that nourish our conversations and our wellbeing.

In this video I share one that we’ve adopted in our house. And with my Speech and Language Therapy hat on, I’ve included some suggestions for using this routine to develop auditory memory and descriptive vocabulary.

Routines to make you SMILE, build MEMORY and VOCABULARY

Do you have any favourite routines at home? Or any new ones that you’ve added to your day? Wherever you are right now, I hope that home is a place of comfort and rest.

Sharing books to build sentences and vocabulary

Exploring books together is a fantastic way to support your child’s talking. When we look at books together in a playful way, all sorts of fun conversations can happen. I particularly like books with very few words, because this frees us to talk about the pictures, rather than getting stuck on decoding the words or telling the story ‘exactly so’.

In this video I share my top tips for sharing books together in a way that builds their sentence construction and their vocabulary.

Sharing books to build SENTENCES and VOCABULARY

First suggestion is to sit next to each other. It’s lovely to have that cosy lap time when you’re sharing books, but for speech and language development, it’s really useful to sit next to each other. It makes it easier for you to notice what your child is interested in and for them to watch your face when you’re modelling words and sounds.

Second suggestion: abandon your agenda! It’s easy for us to ask lots of questions and quiz a child when we’re looking at books. But, when we let the child be in charge of the book and how they want to share it, we create lots more opportunities to support language development.

Third suggestion: notice what they notice. Sometimes it’s surprising what children particularly enjoy in a book. When we slow down and follow what a child’s interested in, then it’s easier for us to give them a word or sound that they’re really motivated to learn.

Finally: reflect and expand. This is a really useful tip for supporting language in all sorts of situations. Whether your child is using single words or long sentences, we can build their learning by acknowledging what they’ve said and then adding in some useful details of our own.

Does your child love exploring books together? Then, you might like to try turning a favourite into a sensory story. Find out more here.