Speech and language development takes practice, persistence, and repetition. If your child has been to speech therapy, there's a good chance that your speech-language pathologist (SLP) has provided homework to complete between sessions.
Sure, the term "homework" can muster up some mixed feelings. But the reinforcement of speech and language skills is incredibly important for your child's progress and success. It can help them achieve their communication goals and ultimately graduate from speech therapy on a faster timeline.
At the end of the day, learning valuable speech and language skills is just like learning any other skill--mastering an instrument, or a new sport, or a school subject. If you only practice dribbling or free throw shots for 30 to 60 minutes a week, you'll undoubtedly become a better basketball player. But if you practice a little bit every day, and reinforce these skills at home throughout the week, you'll be much more likely to make the varsity team. The same principles apply to speech therapy! Home practice increases repetition and the amount of inputs your child receives, promoting the growth and rehabilitation of speech and language goals.
Best of all, it's not hard! Speech practice doesn't require long time commitments, or elaborate materials, or fancy techniques. It can simply entail making small but purposeful changes to daily interactions with your child during everyday routines you're already doing, like getting dressed in the morning, playing, or brushing your teeth.
In this article, we're going to dive deeper into why home speech practice is so important, and provide some tips on how to make time to prioritize practice.
Speech Practice Helps to Maintain Progress
One of the most important things to know about home speech practice is that it can help maintain progress made during speech sessions. When any person, a child or adult, meets a goal with their SLP, it's important to maintain the progress they've already achieved. In other words, repetition can help ensure this newfound skill "sticks."
If there is a week (or more) between sessions with no practice, there's a strong chance that regression will take place. This means that your child could lose a previously acquired speech or language skill. Frequent practice at home helps to prevent this from happening, and ensures that you and your child stay motivated by all of your hard work and progress!
Speech Practice Builds Skills
When working with an SLP, they create a treatment plan for each client that's tailored to their communication needs, strengths, and deficits. These treatment plans include goals that maintain a certain structure.
There are short-term goals, which clients should meet in a time period of approximately 3-6 months. Several of these short term goals can ladder back up to a long-term goal, which a client must achieve before they are ready to be discharged from speech therapy. Because speech goals all build upon one another, practicing at home will help individuals progress faster to the next goal the SLP has determined is required for graduation.
Practice Helps Skill Carry Over
It's not uncommon for children to perform differently in a structured therapy environment v.s. in their home setting.
It can be easier for children to master certain skills in speech therapy alongside a trained SLP, prompting them through tasks and providing necessary cues when extra help is needed. And it's the SLPs job to reduce these cues overtime as the child's independence increases to mimic less structured, everyday conversations.
With that said, skills don't always carryover into the real-world with the same level of accuracy. The fact of the matter is that speech therapy can never be exactly the same as a non-therapy, unstructured environment.
That's why it's essential to practice these skills outside of therapy. When parents or caregivers practice at home, monitor their child's progress, and communicate any feedback back to their SLP, it can make your SLPs instruction so much more valuable. They may tailor the treatment plan as a result, provide additional home exercises, or offer tips and tricks in order to increase carryover skills to the home environment.
If your SLP occasionally checks in to see if homework was completed, I promise they're not trying to blame, guilt trip, or bug you. They want the best for your child and this feedback is extremely valuable to ensure your child's success. All SLPs measure a client’s progress each session. However, a really good SLP will also measure progress based on feedback about how carryover is progressing in the home environment. The SLP and caregiver need to work as a team in order to achieve this goal.
Honest Feedback Can Help Determine Accurate Length of Treatment
Honest feedback about how a client is progressing can influence the length of treatment.
For example, if a parent or caregiver tells an SLP, “Oh yeah, everything is going great!” simply because they believe that's what the SLP wants to hear, it's not doing your child any favors. An SLP values honest feedback--no matter if it's good or bad.
If your child is generally doing well in therapy, but your SLP is unaware of challenges with carrying over skills into the home environment, there's a risk that your child could be discharged before they're ready. That makes them more vulnerable to regression once speech therapy has stopped. You've invested a lot in your child's success - time, money, and commitment - and you want to make sure they don't lose all the amazing progress they've achieved.
Tips to Prioritize Weekly Practice
With work, school, and home life, our lives are all so busy these days. So it's understandable that being asked to squeeze in one more thing can cause a tinge of heartburn. But it doesn't need to!
Depending on your ability to commit time to practice, your speech therapist can recommend certain home practice that's conducive to your schedule. Practice can be generalized to fit your everyday routines, or it can be more structured and activity-based. Either way, all practice is good practice and it's important to find what works with your family's schedule and your child's unique learning style.
Use a few of these strategies to help prioritize weekly practice:
Write down the days you set to practice in your calendar or planner
Set an alarm on your phone for a reminder
Practice in little chunks of time - even 5-10 minutes here and there is great!
Practice at a calm, non-busy time when you and your child can focus
For little ones, provide motivating rewards after completion of practice
If you're looking for ways to motivate your child to practice at home, here are some handy tips! This article and the video below provide some great ways to keep your child motivated and engaged during weekly practice.