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 has provided homework to complete between sessions.
Sure, the word "homework" can bring up some mixed feelings. But ongoing reinforcement of speech and language skills is incredibly important for your child's progress. It can help them reach their communication goals more quickly--and graduate from speech therapy sooner.
Read on to learn why practicing speech and language at home, between sessions, is so important--along with tips for finding the time and making it fun.
Speech practice helps to maintain progress
At the end of the day, learning speech and language is just like learning any other skill: a musical instrument, 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 eventually become a better basketball player. But if you practice a little bit every day, you'll be much more likely to make the varsity team--and sooner.
Repetition can help ensure your child's newfound speech or language skill "sticks."
The same principles apply to speech therapy! Home practice gives your child more opportunities to reinforce what they're learning in therapy. That helps them maintain the progress they make during speech sessions. In other words, repetition can help ensure their newfound skill "sticks."
If there is a week between sessions with no practice, there's a strong chance that regression will take place. This means your child could lose a previously acquired speech or language skill. Frequent practice at home helps prevent this from happening, and it helps you and your child stay motivated when you see the results of your hard work!
Speech practice builds your child's skills
Your speech therapist creates a treatment plan for your child that's tailored to their communication needs, strengths, and deficits. These treatment plans include certain types of goals.
There are short-term goals, which children should meet in about 3 to 6 months. Several of these short-term goals can ladder up to a long-term goal, which a child must achieve before they're ready to be discharged from speech therapy.
Because speech goals build upon each another, practicing at home helps children progress faster to the next goal that's needed in order for them to graduate.
Home speech practice helps skills carry over
It's not uncommon for children to perform differently in a structured therapy environment than they do at home, during everyday life.
It can be easier for children to master certain skills in speech therapy sessions. They're working alongside a trained speech therapist who prompts them through tasks and provides cues when help is needed. It's the speech therapist's job to reduce these cues over time as the child's independence increases. The goal is for your child to be able to use their new speech and language skills all the time, during daily situations.
The goal is for your child to be able to use their new speech and language skills all the time, during daily situations.
With that said, skills don't always "carry over" into the real world with the same level of accuracy. 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 keep their speech therapist updated, it can make the speech therapist's instruction even more valuable. They may tailor your child's treatment plan as a result, provide additional home exercises, or offer tips and tricks to help increase carryover skills to the home environment.
If your speech therapist occasionally checks in to see if homework was completed, know that they're not trying to blame, guilt trip, or bug you. They want the best for your child, and your feedback is extremely valuable to ensure your child's success.
All speech therapists measure a client’s progress during each session. However, a really good speech therapist will also measure progress based on your feedback about how carryover is progressing at home. The speech therapist and caregiver need to work as a team in order to achieve this goal.
How to make time for speech practice at home
With work, school, and other activities, our lives are often packed. So it's understandable that being asked to squeeze in one more thing can cause a twinge of heartburn. But it doesn't need to!
One of the best parts about speech and language practice is that it's not hard to do. It doesn't require long time commitments, elaborate materials, or fancy techniques. In many cases, you simply need to make small but purposeful changes to your daily interactions with your child. And you can do this during everyday routines, like getting dressed in the morning, playing, riding in the car, or brushing teeth.
Your speech therapist can recommend certain types of home practice that fit your schedule. As mentioned above, practice can be generalized to 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 learning style.
Use a few of these strategies to help prioritize weekly practice:
Note the days you plan to practice in your calendar or planner.
Set an alarm on your phone for a reminder.
Practice in small chunks of time. Even 5-10 minutes here and there is great!
Practice during a calm, non-busy time, when you and your child can focus.
For little ones, provide motivating rewards after they're done practicing.