One of the most impactful ways a child can make progress toward their speech and language goals is through home practice. I compare it to working out at the gym; one day a week counts for something, but you’re unlikely to see noticeable results. Instead, three or four days a week is the best way to build muscle and endurance and notice tangible changes. Speech and language development functions in a very similar way. To help children maintain and make further gains between speech sessions, we assign home practice activities. To kids, this often translates to “more homework!” So how can we encourage children to practice throughout the week? Try choosing fun and engaging activities that mask the speech and language goals
Here are some board games recommended for school age and adolescent students:
7 favorite games that encourage language skills:
Outburst Junior. This fast-paced game encourages the use of categories and vocabulary. Players are given a word or category, and asked to name as many category members as possible before the time runs out.
Scattergories Junior. This fun game also encourages the use of categories. Players are given a specific letter (e.g., “F” or “G”) as well as a list of categories. Each player must think of various category members that begin with that letter.
Guess Who. This silly game encourages players to ask questions and group pictures together based on similarities and differences. Players have a board filled with faces (or in the new version, animals, appliances and even monsters) and have to guess which face belongs to their opponent.
Headbanz. This engaging game encourages children to verbally describe objects, ask questions, and remember clues. Players are each given a secret word to wear on their headband. Players can look at other players’ headbands, but cannot see their own. Each player must ask questions about their word, and give others clues for theirs (e.g., “Is my word an animal?’).
Catch Phrase Junior. This high-energy game encourages the use of vocabulary, verbal descriptions, categorization, synonyms, and word definitions. Players are given a word and must try to get team members to guess what it is without actually stating the word.
Cranium Junior. This entertaining game also encourages the use of vocabulary and word meanings while tapping into the various senses. Players are given a question card and must act, hum, draw, or sculpt the answer to help their teammates guess what it is.
Apples To Apples Junior. This interactive game encourages the use of vocabulary, word meanings, synonyms, and categorization. Players are given a stack of cards, each with a different word (a person, place or thing). A descriptive word is then placed in the center of the game and players must choose a card from their stack that best fits the description.
5 modifications for kids with language difficulties:
Each of these games relies heavily on language skills. Therefore, a child with language difficulties might find these games challenging. To help, here are a few ways to modify each game so that your child feels more successful. I advise using the modifications for all players, instead of singling one child out.
- Extend the time allowed for each turn. Instead of using a sand-timer, use your own timer on a smartphone or stopwatch to allow each player more time to complete tasks.
- Eliminate timing altogether. If you notice your child crumbling under the time pressure, just eliminate timers altogether. After your child has had practice with the game and feels more confident, you can slowly reintroduce the timer.
- Adjust the vocabulary words. If your child seems unfamiliar or overwhelmed by the vocabulary in the game (e.g., Apples to Apples), create your own playing cards with more suitable vocabulary for your child.
- Encourage note-taking. Games such as Guess Who and Headbanz rely on memory. If your child seems to have difficulty remembering clues, encourage him/her to write things down during the game (e.g., my headband is an animal, it lives in the zoo, it has stripes, etc).
- Provide lots of encouragement. Discourage any negative comments from players, while encouraging positive comments instead (e.g., “good try” or “nice job!”). Give your child positive and descriptive praise for anything they are doing well (e.g., “Wow, you are showing great sportsmanship” or “That was an excellent question to ask.”)
Above all, have fun! Games provide an excellent avenue for learning, but more importantly, they provide a fun and engaging way to spend time together. By incorporating your child’s speech and language goals into games, your child will learn and practice without ever hearing those dreaded words, “more homework.” Ask your child’s speech-language pathologist for more fun activities to address their speech and language goals at home.