“You’re not going to give me homework, are you?” asks a busy parent of five children at the end of her child’s first speech therapy session.
As a working mother of two young children, I empathize.
People are busier than ever and our children are perpetually over-booked. This situation keeps us in a constant go-go-go state as we run from one activity to another. One can barely catch their breath. There is hardly time to enjoy each other’s company for a family meal, let alone time to do homework.
But, guess what? I still give speech therapy homework.
Various debates surround the benefits and drawbacks of homework. I’m a believer in giving appropriate homework assignments, certainly not busywork and definitely not something dull and boring. Who wants to do that?
Giving appropriate homework assignments can greatly enhance learning and help children acquire the habit of consistently making time to sit down and practice something. As a speech language pathologist, this approach is particularly important because most of the time we are instructing our students, clients, or children to learn a new skill, such as: a new way of saying a sound (articulation), of breathing (voice), of talking (fluency enhancing or stuttering modification), of thinking (e.g. perspective taking or avoidance reduction) or using words to express thoughts and ideas (e.g. language). To achieve mastery of a skill, one has to repeatedly practice and practice well.
So what do I mean by appropriate homework?
By appropriate, I mean the homework should be understandable, engaging, not too long, and–most importantly–it should be something that reinforces a skill that has been successfully demonstrated during the session. Homework should help to reinforce, maintain, and make the skill more automatic at home. According to Susan Goldman, professor of psychology and education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, homework “has to be taken in the context of who are the kids, who are the teachers, what kind of instructional time do they have in school and what kind of support do kids have for getting work done.” She goes on to explain, “Homework isn’t effective if the student doesn’t understand the lesson.”
The appropriate amount and type of homework can make a difference in helping a child efficiently and effectively achieve his or her speech therapy goals and assist in generalizing skills beyond the speech room.
At the end of each speech therapy session, I routinely review with the client or client’s parent or caregiver, what we did during the session; briefly explain how he or she performed; and discuss what the client can do to support and practice a technique or skill between sessions. As mentioned, I assign activities that are motivating for that individual, easy to implement, and relatively short and simple.
These activities can be used to target any goal you may have with the child. The most important things are to make sure the child and parent or caregiver (1) know the purpose of the activity in relation to the child’s speech therapy goals, (2) have clear directions, and (3) know what is expected.
Writing a simple statement like one of the following may help to clearly state the purpose and aid a caregiver’s (and child’s) understanding of what to do:
I will practice _________________________(what is the child specifically practicing at home) while _________________________ (when, where, or how). _____________________ will assist if I need support or a companion (name of someone who can participate or give assistance, if needed).
Here’s an example:
I will practice saying my “r” sound in the beginning position of words* (e.g. run, read, write, rat, etc.) while playing charades. My mom will play with me and listen to me say my “r” words.
*Depending on the child’s age and abilities, you can also include the complexity level here. For instance, I will practice saying my “r” sound in the beginning position of words at the word level, in phrases, in sentences, during structured play, or during conversation.
Without further ado, following are some activities I recommend my clients do between speech therapy sessions. Adapt them to best meet the needs of your clients, students, or children:
- I often ask parents of toddlers to regularly play with their toddlers because play and language development go hand-in-hand. But, play does even more—it strengthens bonds and makes you feel good! For parents who are pressed for time, I recommend doing something called an 8-minute play routine. Pick your toddler’s favorite toy or activity or random object and lovingly play with him or her for an 8-minute period. Eight minutes is a manageable length of time and you will be amazed by how many opportunities there are to model and elicit words. Remember to give the parent a specific technique or two to practice while playing.
- I love finger plays! They can be incorporated into a child’s daily routine, can happen anywhere, and require nothing except your hands and your voice! I’ve been doing finger plays like, “Where is Thumpkin?” and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” with my twenty-month-old since he was a baby. It’s amazing how finger plays encourage listening, understanding, gesture imitation, first words, and even early literacy skills.
- Charades is an amusing way to target a variety of speech and language goals. They can be used to practice saying speech sounds, using a fluency enhancing strategy or stuttering modification technique or learning new vocabulary words while acting out carefully chosen words. A child who may struggle with presupposition can also practice presenting the appropriate amount of information to convey his message so that others understand.
- “I spy a food that is sweet and round, and has sprinkles.” I spy encourages children to describe a mystery object by systematically detailing semantic features such as attributes, function, categories, etc. This game can also be adapted so children are only asked to describe items that start with their target sound.
- Board games can be used to target any speech therapy goal! They are especially helpful in teaching a child to appropriately take turns, ask and respond to questions, and follow directions. Some of my favorite board games include: Jumpin’ Monkeys, Fryin’ Flying Donuts, Sneaky Snacky Squirrel, Zingo (love the Zingo Sight Word version too!), Guess Who, Guesstures . . . I can go on and on.
- Books can be used to target any speech and language goal, too. Last week, I asked one client to read, The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss to practice the “f” sound; another client to read The Napping House to practice telling sequential stories with cohesive devises; and another one to read Janan Cain’s The Way I Feel to learn vocabulary to describe various emotions.
- As cited before, families are busy running around. Therefore, it’s wise to encourage clients to practice their target sounds and to embed strategies during their daily routines. This can be done while in the car, standing in line at the grocery store, and waiting in a waiting room. Give suggestions on how to cleverly infuse techniques or targets into your daily routine, but better yet, ask your clients how they can do it. They will feel empowered and may be more likely to practice if they chose how and when to do it.
- Yes, folks, sometimes I even give worksheets! Can you believe it? And, my clients love them! I have a private practice and in my setting, I have highly motivated parents who want to do something or anything to help their children. I find that they like leaving therapy with something tangible that enables them to easily practice while seated at a table. The trick is to select enjoyable, interactive worksheets. You can find an endless variety on teacherspayteachers.com (Teachers Pay Teachers).
I hope this has been helpful!
What activities do you give your clients or students between sessions?
“Kimberly Scanlon is a New Jersey licensed speech-language pathologist and is nationally certified by the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA). An innovative thinker and passionate therapist, Kimberly created a unique practice driven by compassion, integrity, and best practice. Providing speech therapy services for almost a decade and earning four ACE awards from ASHA for continuing education, Kimberly is one of the most experienced and well-educated speech-language pathologists in the area. Take a look at her blog: https://www.scanlonspeech.com.”