Developing Literacy Skills

How Speech Pathologists Help Children Develop Literacy Skills

Literacy skills are a vital component of your child’s development. Reading, writing, using and understanding words and sentences correctly are the foundation for school performance, socialising with others, developing independence and eventually managing finances and securing meaningful employment.

But before your child learns to read and write, they need to develop the building blocks for literacy skills including the ability to communicate, listen, watch, interpret and understand. The development of these skills may be easier for some children than it is for others. This is where a speech pathologist can help.

People are often surprised by the diversity of a speech pathologist’s role. It can be easy to assume that we only work in the space of oral communication and speaking. But it is our specialist knowledge in spoken language development that enables us to help children develop many skills associated with language and communication including their literacy skills. In this blog, I will explain how speech pathologists help with literacy skills and what you can do at home to help your child love literacy.

Speech, Language and Literacy – Unravelling the Reading Rope

The relationship between speech, language and literacy is a complex interwoven ‘rope’ of associated skills.  As depicted in the below copy of Dr Scarborough’s The Reading Rope (2001), there are several skills a child must master before they become ‘literate’ or can read and spell. These skills are presented as threads or strands of a rope that eventually intertwine as a child becomes ‘fluent’ and can recognise words and comprehend text. If, however, there is a broken strand (or skill not mastered), the rope may become weak.

Language skills form a significant part of The Reading Rope and are crucial to the foundation of literacy development. These skills include:

  • Speech – the ability to pronounce sounds correctly
  • Phonological awareness – the ability to break up and blend sounds and syllables in words (e.g. the sounds in dog = d – o – g, the syllables in elephant = el – e – phant), rhyming skills and segmenting sounds in words
  • Vocabulary – understanding and using a variety of words correctly, and understanding the semantic links (relationships) between words
  • Comprehension — the ability to understand, follow and process what is said / read
  • Narrative skills – the ability to understand and tell a story
  • Grammar (syntax) – the ability to understand and talk in grammatically correct sentences
  • Inferencing – reasoning, problem solving and predicting what might happen based on the information that is available

Some children will develop these skills without trouble, while others may need additional support. Speech pathologists can identify and work with children who have early literacy difficulties and can provide intervention and support for older children experiencing learning difficulties.

How Speech Pathologists Help Children Develop Literacy Skills

Many children with speech and/or language difficulties are quite likely to experience challenges with reading and writing. This is because speech, language and literacy are intricately linked.

For children experiencing challenges with speech, language and literacy, intervention from a speech pathologist may be recommended. Not only can we identify children who are likely to experience challenges with early literacy skills, we can help children develop many essential skills, namely oral and auditory skills, that will help them become literate.

The approach we take at A Growing Understanding to help children build their literacy skills and achieve academic success begins with a thorough assessment of your child’s abilities and challenges, and is followed with a specific ‘Growth Plan’ that focuses on building multiple skill areas that align with your child’s interests and goals. While both assessments and interventions are tailored to suit each family and their needs, our process for developing literacy skills will generally include the following:

Speech, Language and Literacy Assessment

Conducting a thorough assessment of your child’s abilities including how well they can read, write, spell and communicate is the first step in supporting the development of their literacy skills. Our assessments involve:

  • Discussions and interviews with parents and educators to assess areas of challenges and what might be happening at home or in an educational setting.
  • Age appropriate play-based activities that encourage your child to communicate, write (or draw) and interact with various texts. Through play, we can assess your child’s phonological awareness, reading comprehension skills, fluency etc.
  • Standardised language assessments to further explore your child’s understanding and use of language (receptive and expressive language skills).
  • Speech sound assessments that help us determine is there are any underlying speech and language difficulties.

On conclusion of the assessments, we will develop an individualised program known as ‘My Growth Plan’ that targets your child’s interests, highlights the areas of need, and provides specific goals that we can all work towards.

Speech, Language and Literacy Therapy

The provision of direct intervention, or speech therapy, may form part of your child’s ‘My Growth Plan’. During these therapy sessions, we will work with both you and your child on achieving various goals associated with the development of their literacy skills which may include:

  • Helping your child access books and texts that align with their interests
  • Exploring language, words and sounds through play-based activities to build your child’s vocabulary, comprehension, speech and language skills.
  • Utilising digital devices to build letter and sound recognition, develop spelling and reading skills (phonological awareness)
  • Utilising visuals to help your child build their understanding of sentence structures and narrative skills (sequencing)
  • Sharing stories, videos and images with your child and asking ‘wh’ questions to help them make predictions based on the information that is available to them i.e. “What do you think will happen next?”

Of course, the above list is not exhaustive of what can happen within therapy sessions but offers an idea of the various activities we present to help build essential skills.

Parent and Educator Support

All therapy is complimented with parent support (no matter what your child is working on). We believe that so much of what a child learns and develops happens at home, and by providing you, the parent, with information, resources and support; you can continue to support your child’s literacy skills at home.

Working with other important adults in your child’s life is also essential when it comes to building literacy skills, particularly those within education settings. Preschool and school are, of course, important when it comes to your child’s academic development, so we work closely with educators and teachers to help them develop specific programs that align with what your child is working on during therapy sessions, their goals and interests.

How You Can Help Your Child Develop Literacy Skills

As touched on above, so much of what a child learns happens at home. You are your child’s main teacher, and as that special person in their life, you can help them grow their love of literacy and build essential skills.

The best place to start is to incorporate shared reading time into your everyday routine. Reading with your child can happen from when they are an infant and is the perfect opportunity to build and develop literacy skills. The following are a few suggestions on how to turn shared reading time into a fun literacy skill-building activity:

  • Choose books that focus on topics your child is interested in. Ensuring your child is interested in the text is the first step at helping them realise the fun and joy they can receive from reading books.
  • Follow your child’s lead when reading. Instead of reading all the words on each page perfectly, let your child turn the page when they are ready, and talk about the pictures and sections of the book your child is interested in.
  • Help your child make predictions about the story you are reading together. Before you start reading, look at the title of the book and cover image, and ask your child what they think might happen. As you are reading you can also help your child develop their inferencing and skills in ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘why’ information by asking questions like: “What is the dog doing?” “Who do you think they will meet next?” “Where do you think the girl will go next?”
  • Relate the story to your child’s own experience. For example, if the story is about the beach, reflect on the last time your family went to the beach. You can also encourage your child to make comparisons when reading a book by asking them what is different to their experiences i.e. “How is the girls house different to our house?”
  • Name the objects on each page to help your child build their vocabulary. You can also ask your child about the actions a character might be doing i.e. running, playing, swimming, sleeping. Books can also be used to build your child’s awareness of emotions. For example, you could ask your child to look at the characters face and ask: “Do you think the girl is happy or sad?”

In addition to reading with your child regularly, literacy skills can be incorporated into everyday activities like mealtime, bath time and even when your child is playing. Simply talking about experiences, sharing stories at dinner time, involving your child in literacy experiences like writing a shopping list, and encouraging your child to lead during play will help them grow an understanding of language, build their vocabulary and help them understand the structure of words and narratives.

When it comes to helping your child develop literacy skills, there are people who can help like speech pathologists. But the number one thing to remember is that the experience, whether it is reading, joining a conversation or taking part in literacy skill building activities, should be enjoyable and playful.

Ideally, we want all children to love literacy, take an active approach when it comes to engaging in activities and find joy and a sense of achievement in their ability to read and write.

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