Picture this: It’s a beautiful summer’s day. The sounds of nature are echoing the laughter of children. As they explore, run, play, they can feel the crunchy grass under their feet, and the warm sun on their skin…
Now, I am sure you are thinking that this doesn’t sound like a typical speech therapy session. Where are the worksheets and the flashcards? But while table-top work has its place in speech therapy, there is nothing quite like getting outdoors and using the elements of nature to expand a child’s communication skills and grow their understanding of the world.
The team at A Growing Understanding are taking a unique approach to our therapy sessions, and are exploring ways to take it outside. You can also do the same at home, so come and explore with us as we share in this article some outdoor activities that can help develop speech and language skills.
Outdoor Play and Nature’s Way
With the weather continuing to warm up, and the school year nearing an end, this is the perfect time to get your children outdoors more often. Children with speech and language difficulties can gain so much from simple outdoor activities. The different animals, sights, and sounds in nature, are a perfect way to get them excited about learning new words and verbalising their experiences. And, as we know that learning and development are often best accomplished in the context of engaging play and multi-sensory activities, what better way is there to build essential skills than getting outside to play.
You don’t have to go far in Lake Macquarie, Newcastle or Port Stephens to find an interesting natural area. There are so many bush reserves, walking tracks, beaches, the Lake and waterways, parks, and the list goes on. These places offer a plethora of opportunities for your child to discover and use new words. You can encourage your child to point to the things they see and name them. Or you could encourage them to describe where something is i.e. “The bird is at the top of the tallest tree.” These activities can expand your child’s vocabulary and build their expressive language skills.
Children are natural collectors, so why not encourage this behaviour with a scavenger hunt, and build their language skills at the same time. You and your child can simply navigate the backyard and search for items such as flowers, rocks, twigs, leaves, sand or whatever you can find. While you are searching, 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?”
In addition to this, you can work on their ability to follow instructions by offering them some direction i.e. “Find a leaf first, then a twig.”
Planting a Seed
There is something satisfying about planting a seed and watching it grow. Many children love the idea of playing around in dirt, and this activity is a great way to work on sequencing skills, WH questions and articulation goals. Before you start planting, talk about the steps you need to take including words like first, second, third and last. These instructions can be repeated throughout the process, while asking WH questions like: “What will the seed need to grow?” “Where should we plant the seed?” “How big do you think it will be?”
The planting process is also a great time to work on articulation goals and blended sounds i.e. fl-flower, gr-grow, pl-plant.
By getting a few random objects, such as boxes, chairs, or tents, out of the house and into the backyard, you can make up all sorts of different obstacle courses. This type of activity will not only build your child’s communication skills, but physical ability as well. By providing instructions on what the children need to do throughout the course using words like under, over, through and around, you are exposing them to different nouns, prepositions, and verbs. This activity also encourages them to take turns and build their sequencing skills.
Therapy Outside of the Box
The above activities are great for those moments between therapy sessions, but A Growing Understanding are proactive about finding new ways to help children build their communication skills and confidence in both therapy sessions and beyond.
During speech therapy, we like to take things away from the desk, and encourage children to experience and enjoy new environments. By simply taking activities outside, even if it is just flash cards, can energise a child and enable them to receive the information we are delivering.
In addition to new approaches to therapy, we have introduced a playgroup style catch up called Stories Under the Tree that is designed to do three things:
- Provide our local community with an opportunity to connect with like-minded parents / carers.
- Provide children with an opportunity to enjoy stories in an outdoor setting and build their social skills.
- Provide all those involved with an opportunity to engage with experienced speech pathologists in an informal setting and share their questions and concerns.
It is through events like this that we can take elements of the speech therapy process outdoors, and make it accessible for those who may not be able to attend ‘normal’ sessions. Stories Under the Tree also encourages families to get outside and enjoy books, and brings our community together via the simple act of sharing stories.
We need to remember that it is often the simple things that can have the biggest impact. Sharing stories in the splendour of nature is something we are looking forward to, and we hope families will enjoy stepping outside for new experiences and opportunities to grow.