Fall into Fun Speech and Language Activities This SeasonAbby Barnes, M.S., CCC-SLP
The leaves are turning and the temperatures are dropping. Why not get into the spirit by helping your child practice speech and language during autumn activities? Whether it’s a corn maze, a fall hike, or simply some yard work, you can have fun together while helping your child improve their communication skills. Here are some suggestions we’re sure you’ll fall for (sorry, we couldn’t resist!).
Go to a pumpkin patch
One tradition my family and I love to do each year is visit a pumpkin patch. Your local pumpkin patch might be a simple farm or an autumn extravaganza complete with a petting zoo and rides. But no matter what, it’s always fun to be in the fresh air, enjoy some cider or donuts, and pick out a pumpkin to bring home.
Here are some ways you can focus on speech and language skills during an activity like this:
Talk about what you see. If you’re helping your child use more words or phrases, take some time to talk about what you see together. Look at different things like animals, pumpkins, and trees. Name the items for your child and see if they'll repeat the word or phrase after you. You can also ask your child to identify items by asking, “Where is the goat?” or “Where is the flower?”
Use lots of adjectives. Ask your child to describe the pumpkin they picked using adjectives. They can describe it as “big” or “little,” or maybe “bumpy” or “smooth.” If you carve the pumpkin at home, you can have your child describe what the inside of the pumpkin feels like, too. That’s sure to get a big reaction from them!
Practice speech sounds with a scavenger hunt. If your child is practicing specific speech sounds, make a list of items you may find at the pumpkin patch together that use their target sounds. For example, if they’re working on their /s/ sound, you might write sun, scarecrow, cider, snack, stone, soil, spider, smile, sunflower, and seed. While you’re there, have a scavenger hunt and let your child mark off all the items they can find. On the ride home, spend some time practicing the words together.
Make or bake a fall treat
I don’t know about you, but when the temperatures get cooler, it feels like the perfect excuse to make something sweet in the kitchen! Some autumn favorites include apple cider, hot chocolate, caramel apples, chocolate chip cookies, and pumpkin pie. Give your child some choices, ask what they’d like to make with you, and plan to cook or bake together.
You can use these speech and language exercises with your child while you whip up your treat:
Practice following directions during cooking activities. If your child has trouble with this, give them one direction at a time and see how easily they follow through. If they are working on multi-step directions, give them two- or three-step directions to follow–for example, “Get out the bowl, put it on the table, then get a spoon.”
If your child is working on more advanced speech and language skills, you can ask them to explain afterward how they made the recipe with you. This will help them learn to sequence and organize their thoughts into a story they can retell.
For kids working on earlier tasks, cooking and baking together is a great way to teach new vocabulary they may not use often. You can teach words like “mix,” “stir,” “fridge,” and “oven.” Don’t forget to practice saying words when tasting your delicious treats. You might hear an excited “Yummy!” from your kiddo without you even prompting it!
Make the most of outdoor activities
There are so many ways to enjoy the outdoors during the fall. Depending on where you live, you might be able to go apple picking, take a hike, explore a corn maze, go on a hayride, or simply rake the yard and jump in a big pile of colorful leaves.
Outside activities are especially good for speech and language practice because there’s so much to see and talk about.
Outside activities are especially good for speech and language practice because there’s so much to experience and discuss. You can have entirely different practice sessions during each activity simply because there are so many things to see and talk about together. Here are some ideas:
Apple picking: This is a great time to focus on teaching adjectives like colors. You can talk about the red, pink, or green apples, or even the brown spots you may find on some!
Corn maze: Wandering through a corn maze is always a crowd pleaser. Make sure to keep your little one close and go through the maze together. If you’re helping them learn to talk more, this is a great way to practice words or phrases over and over. Practicing the same words and phrases frequently helps children become more familiar with them, so they’re more likely to say them. For example, when you hit a dead end in the maze, you can say, “Not this way!” or even a simple “No” or “Uh-oh.” Phrases like “Try again” or “Let’s go this way” are great ones to use, too.
Practicing the same words and phrases helps children become more familiar with them, so they’re more likely to say them.
Raking the leaves: Raking and jumping in leaves is an easy way to practice verbs. You can talk about “raking” and “piling” the leaves together. If you’re practicing correct verb tenses, you can try fill-in-the-blank activities. Try sentences like “I am raking the leaves. Yesterday, I also…” to see if your child can use past tense and say, “raked the leaves.”
And don't forget you can practice speech sounds during almost any activity! If your child is working on /l/ sounds, you can practice words like “leaves, “leaf,” and “lost” (in the corn maze!). If targeting the /r/ sound, you can practice words like “red” and “rake.”
As you try different activities like these, let your main focus be on enjoying time with your child. Throw the expectation of perfection out the door! When you’re having fun together, the speech and language practice won’t seem like work. Encouraging your child, laughing together, and trying new things together will make their practice time as positive as it can be.