Better Speech 3 min read

Using Snack-Time to Work on Communication Skills

By Amy Dearing, M.A., CCC-SLP at Better Speech

Did you know that toddlers learn communication skills best during their everyday activities? That’s why a big focus of speech therapy with this age group centers on teaching parents and family members language-learning strategies that they can embed in their daily routines. One routine familiar to many families of toddlers is snacktime. Here are a few tips you can use to facilitate your child’s language development during your toddler’s snacktime.

The first tip is using choice questions. A choice question is when you give your child two clearly named choices to select from. An example is: ”Would you like to eat some apple or a banana?” It’s best if you show the actual items to your child as you name them, as this reinforces the link between the word and the item. You also want to be sure you are offering two items that are acceptable options (in other words, don’t offer something that’s not okay for your child to have).

Mom spoon-feeds her baby

I teach parents to use choice questions for several reasons and, including communication skills and the following:

● Choice questions provide more language support than open ended questions, such as asking “What do you want?” Open-ended questions can be overwhelming for our little language learners. By naming two choices, you are modeling the words that your child needs to give a response.

● Choice questions promote greater vocabulary use than questions that require only a yes/no response, such as “Do you want an apple?” Rather than needing to say or indicate ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ choice questions promote use of a greater variety of words.

● Using choice questions reinforces the idea that we can use words to make requests — so we’re working on language in a practical, functional way. Learning language in real-life situations is ideal for toddlers.

Speech therapy for child and adult

When you ask a choice question, your child may not use one of the words to answer. He or she may reach, point, or even look at the one he wants. This is okay! Accept his or her response and model the word for him or her again. Encourage your child, in a gentle and positive way, to try to say the word, but do not demand it. Praise his/her effort. Remember, your child will learn language and communication skills best in the context of a warm, supportive partnership.

A second tip is use of repetition. Children learning language need to hear words many, many times before they use them. I like to teach parents to use key words 3-5 times during an interaction. So, if your child selects the apple for his or her snack, you could respond by saying: “Apple! You want some apple. This is a red apple. Apples are yummy!” This response includes use of the key word “apple” four times (and you’re also expanding vocabulary with additional words such as ‘red’ and ‘yummy’). Try to use your voice to ‘highlight’ or stress the key word. Keep your sentences short and simple. I like to use an animated voice with the toddlers I work with — it really captures their attention!

Another way to utilize repetition is to cut the apple into many small pieces, and name it each time you give your child a piece. Repetition may seem boring to us, but it is highly beneficial to children learning language. As adults, we easily tire of repetition, but children thrive on it as a means of learning about the world.

While this article discussed choice questions and repetition as they relate to snacktime, they certainly can be used across a variety of daily routines. Think about how you can use them in other routines such as getting dressed, play time, bath time, getting ready to go out, outside play, and so on.

Do you need some ideas for what to work on with your child? You can download a month of ideas. Download the calendar here:

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