When we talk about speech, we are talking about expressive language, receptive language and articulation. Children need to be able to use words to express their thoughts, to understand how language works and what others are saying, and to properly pronounce the sounds in words in order to be understood by others. With something as important as communicating, it's imperative that parents help their children at home, but it doesn't have to be complicated or time-consuming.
Infants and Toddlers
The key at this stage of life is to talk to your child. Describe what you are doing as you go about your day, even with your newborn. Respond, even when she is babbling. Show her how to have a conversation. When she says a word, expand on the word. For example, if your little one says, "Dada," you can say, "Here comes Dada now! I bet Dada is going to give you a hug!" You can also use gestures such as waving bye-bye or teaching the sign for drink to show your little one the meaning of words, A final way to help your child with speech at this age is to read to her regularly, even if that means just describing the pictures in a book or magazine.
Model simple, appropriate language for your preschooler. Continue expanding on what she says. If she says, "Go car," you can say, "I know you want to go in Mommy's car." You should also work on asking questions. You can ask your child simple yes or no questions as well as give them two choices to choose from. In addition to reading, this age group benefits from singing simple songs and nursery rhymes to help them understand the patterns of speech. Another strategy for improving speech at home is to expand vocabulary by naming objects, including body parts, objects you see at the park or in the grocery store, and pictures seen in books.
Early Elementary Years
Show that you are interested in your child's conversation. Pay attention when she speaks, pause after you speak to give her time to respond, praise attempts to speak and ensure that you have your child's attention before you start speaking. Continue to expand vocabulary by using new words in simple contexts, discussing opposites and discussing spatial relationships. Encourage your child to follow multistep directions such as, "Go to your room, choose a book and bring it to me in the kitchen." Also, have your child practice giving you directions by telling you how to do something such as building a block house or drawing a particular picture.
Extra Tips for Working on Articulation Difficulties
Sometimes a child might have wonderful language skills except that they have problems with articulation. This can be frustrating for you and your child. It's important to encourage and help your child without making her feel self-conscious. Build from what you did understand, such as responding with, "Wait, where did you and Grandma go today?" instead of just saying, "Can you repeat that?" Instead of constantly correcting your child's pronunciation, set aside a short practice time each day in which you work on articulating a particular sound correctly.