Tips to Stimulate Language Development

by Bobbi Wade, Speech-Language Therapist

Working with children with mild to severe developmental delays, I frequently use movement and humor to stimulate language development.

Here are some games I created that my patients enjoy, and anyone can do at home or school. The activities are generally in order from lowest to highest developmental level, but can be adapted for all. Whenever possible, use a large therapy ball.

Chipmunk Kisses

Goals: Body awareness, oral motor development, social interaction

Instead of “Hi,” and “Goodbye,’ I start and end each session with a chipmunk kiss. The child puffs out his/her cheeks; I do the same; then we tap our cheeks together to release the air. This activity has become a favorite ritual for many of my kids.

Tactile Sequencing

Goals: Spontaneous language and gestures, sensory integration

(Great first thing in the morning.)

One at a time, pat each leg gently with a cupped hand from foot to thigh, saying pat-pat-pat in rhythm. Use your other hand to stabilize the body. Repeat on the arms. Repeat with both hands, this time squeezing for deep pressure. Finally, slide your hands down the body from head to toes, using firm pressure and making entertaining slurping sounds.

As the activity becomes familiar, the child will offer the next leg or arm. Occasionally, act in a teasing way, with the hand in the air in anticipation. Even non-verbal children respond to this activity, asking for more with their gestures.

Suction Machine

Goals: Increase eye contact and trunk control, decrease tactile defensiveness

(Especially good for kids with low tone and who dislike face-washing.)

Move the child gently from side to side on a therapy ball so that he shifts his weight. Bring your hand slowly toward his face and grab it, making funny suction noises. Push child gently back on the ball. Help him use the palms of his hands to walk back up the ball, working on trunk rotation.

Mystery Card

Goal: increase behavioral flexibility and tolerance to change

On the daily schedule insert a question mark. Children learn that the “?” can mean anything from a new way to play a game to a change in the schedule. Building mystery into the routine helps kids to be more adaptable when real surprises and changes in plans occur in daily life.

More Than One Way to Use Shoes

Goals: Body awareness; sensory processing; reciprocity/pretend play

Shoe telephones: Talk or babble back and forth.

Shoe earrings: Put shoes on the ears and describe what they look like.

Smelly shoes: Make yucky faces at how bad they smell.

Washing shoes: Put a shoe under the front of the child’s shirt, pretend to pour in soap, and the shirt becomes a washing machine. Wiggle it back and forth at a comfortable level for the child.

”Wet” shoe: Hold it gingerly, pretending it is wet. Dry it under the back of the shirt, bouncing, wiggling and making drying sounds. How do they smell now? Like roses? Pumpkin pie?

Spaceship/Pirate Ship

Goals: Tolerating movement, pretend play

Go to Another Planet

Put on astronaut gear, including boots, helmet and suit. Strap into “rocket ship.” Bounce high to “blast off.” Count down from ten. Land. Remove seat belts. “Moon walk” as though weightless. Act like an alien. Get back in spaceship and return to earth.

Be a Pirate Ship

Place beanbag chair next to therapy ball. Move child side-to-side, simulating wave motions, with increasing speed and force. Eventually capsize, dropping child onto the beanbag. Pretend you are a shark and gently “bite” with hand motions. Have the child use arms to “swim” away and escape.

Fireman Game

Goals: Pretend play, sequencing, visual and fine motor skill development

With appropriate props and music, act out, discuss and draw the events of putting out a fire. Colored scarves around the room can be fire, or draw a house, and scribble on fire. Events include the fireman awaking to the bell, jumping up, sliding down the pole, donning boots, coat and hat.

Next, using carpet squares, ”drive” to the fire, siren blaring. Unwind the hose, putting hand over hand. Breathe relief that fire is out. Go back to station slowly, take clothes off, go back to sleep, and repeat. After 1-3 times, write a simple sentence and/or draw a picture about what happened. Show the picture to someone else and explain the activity.

For more activities using balls, read Kids on the Ball by Spalding.

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