Building communication skills while social distancing may sound difficult. After all, much of communication is based on a two-way social connection where we respond to personal interactions, dialogue, and gestures. But you can help your child continue to build their communication skills as well as other life-long skills while keeping your distance. And, it can be fun. Read on to discover a few tips and games that I have come up with during this strange time to help children work on their communication skills.
Physical Distancing, Not Social Distancing
The first thing for all of us to remember during this challenging time is that even though we are expected to keep our distance from others physically, we can still maintain our social connections.
Social connections are incredibly important for all of us, particularly our children. They help us connect with a world outside of our home, understand that we are not alone in our challenges, and maintain relationships with those we love and care for. Of course, now these connections are most likely conducted via a screen.
While many of us baulk at the amount of screen time our kids are having now, just remember that this is one of the ways they are staying connected. And, it can help them continue to build their communication and social skills. Which brings me to my next point…
We are lucky to have the means to stay connected via the internet and apps like Zoom, Facetime and Google Hangouts. Imagine navigating this situation 20 years ago? It would have looked quite different. We would have struggled to maintain any sort of social connection, let alone have an opportunity to build communication skills.
By embracing the technology that is available to us we can continue to connect and communicate with those outside of our home. In fact, technology has enabled A Growing Understanding to build on our flexible speech pathology services and ensure we can work directly with families in their own homes. Via online appointments, we deliver family focused therapies where we work directly with children or offer parents the support and advice they need to help their child build communication skills. Some of the activities we can implement during an online therapy session to help build communication skills include (but are not limited to):
- One-one-one discussions between speech pathologist and child where we discuss their day and encourage them to describe what has happened with as much details as possible. By asking questions like “What was the best part of your day?” we can help with recall and sequencing.
- Role play conversations where we show a video or image and ask the child what they think is happening, what the characters might be saying, and what might happen next. This helps children ‘read’ a situation, develop inference skills, and understand appropriate behaviours.
- Point out body language and help children understand non-verbal cues via videos and images.
- Read stories together and ask the child to predict what might happen next.
- Talk with parents, provide advice, and demonstrate activities for parents to do with their children at home. This might include an app demonstration or online game we have access to. We also help parents to utilise their daily routine to encourage their children to talk and build communication skills. Activities like bath time or dinner time can be used as great conversation starters and we can share resources with you that will help you take advantage of these situations.
You can also implement your own online opportunities for your child to connect and build their communication skills with their peers. Utilising an app like Zoom, you could establish a virtual playdate where your child joins with one or more of their friends online in a specific activity like trading Pokemon cards that can then be sent in the mail, or participating in the same craft activity where they talk about their creation. During these online playdates, you can sit beside your child and encouraging them to discuss certain topics, ask questions and offer appropriate comments.
While there are plenty of online activities and apps, and more becoming available as the COVID-19 situation develops, we need to remember that children, particularly those with language and communication difficulties, may find it hard to stay focused during online sessions. They may become disinterested in video conversations and crave a more ‘natural’ and hands on approach to learning and engaging. This is when we need to get creative with our offline approach.
Get Creative and Go Outside
There is no doubt that we are all looking for ways to break the monotony of working from home, entertaining the kids and too much screen time. We can do this by embracing the outdoors and being a little creative with our approach to skill building. Your backyard, front yard and neighbourhood provide abundant opportunities to not only exercise, but to build communication skills.
Children with speech and language difficulties can gain so much from simple outdoor activities. Even just the different animals, insects, sights, and sounds in nature, are perfect opportunities to encourage them to verbalise their experiences. By using your own natural settings, incorporating fun and multi-sensory experiences and games, developing communication skills will seem like child’s play.
The following are a few activities that we have come up with. Your speech pathologist can also compliment these activities with specific targets and goals to help get the most out of your at-home practice.
This one might be an obvious choice and I am sure your children have already collected their fair share of bits and pieces from the back yard. But scavenger hunts are a great way to build language and communication skills. While you and your child search, you can use WH questions to encourage your child’s use of expressive language i.e. “What colour are the flowers we can see?” “Where should we search for rocks?” This not only builds your child’s vocabulary, but also encourages them to think about prepositions and practice following instructions i.e. “First look under the rock to the left, then in the bush on top of the hill.”
Communication often relies on an ability to continue a conversation seamlessly, with back and forth questions and comments. Catch is a great way to get kids used to the rhythm of a conversation and eventually help them to feel confident starting and continuing conversations (and is also a great physical activity to practice). The game works like this:
Player 1: Throws a ball while asking a question i.e. “How was lunch today?”
Player 2: Catches and answers the question. But before throwing the ball back, they must ask another related question i.e. “Yummy! Did you like your sandwich?”
Walk, Talk and Chalk
This activity is a great way to take advantage of your ability to exercise with your family and explore your neighbourhood. When you head out for a walk, take a piece of chalk with you. While on the walk encourage your children to talk about what they see, stop along the way and use the chalk to draw pictures of their experiences on the pavement or road.
This activity can be tied in with a specific target. For example, if your child is working on prepositions (your speech pathologist will be able to help with identifying goals), you might encourage them to look in different directions and describe what they see and where.
You can also encourage them to give you directions i.e. “Walk to the corner, turn left and then draw a picture of a flower.” You can have a bit of fun if their directions are lacking in specifics (you might turn the wrong way or walk around in circles). This will demonstrate the importance of being clear when communicating.
Get Your Children Talking
When it comes down to it, so much of what our children learn is from demonstration. Take the time to talk with your kids, ask them questions and provide details about your own experiences. This will help them develop an understanding of how conversations work and can help them build their vocabulary and confidence.
Even during this unusual time of social distancing, there are plenty of opportunities to help your children build communication skills. The activities mentioned above or simple things like bringing out the old board games or reading with your children can help them connect and grow. The more you engage and talk with your children, the more confident they will become in their own communication skills.