We all have memories of fun learning experiences and some not-so-fun learning experiences. Usually, we learn best when we are interested in the topic. However, with the aid of a good teacher, it is possible to enjoy the learning experience even without a vested interest in the topic.
As a speech and language therapist, I teach many different children. None of these children have ever signed themselves up for speech and language therapy (except for siblings who see how fun it is and wish that they could join in)! No, therapy is usually recommended by a parent, teacher, physician, and/or therapist of a different occupation. Because these children aren’t always motivated by the topic, skill, or concept being taught, it is important to find ways to make learning fun for them. When learning is enjoyable and effective therapeutic strategies are employed, the children learn faster.
Each child learns in different ways, responds to different cues, and is motivated by different activities. Therefore, it is important to find what works best for each child. The following are examples of what has worked in my practice and in the practice of fellow speech pathologists. I hope this information will help parents to apply teaching strategies at home, which will likely result in even faster learning!
- Sing songs! Many songs exist that teach good vocabulary and concepts, particularly for young children. However, you can make up your own song using any tune that already exists, or even your own tune. Well-chosen songs are very helpful to a child’s (and adult’s) learning because the melody and words remain long after the teacher is gone.
- Create a challenge. Most of us enjoy a challenge, particularly when competing with another person. The challenge can be based on time or amount. For instance, while driving, the challenge can be to see who names the most items within a certain category by the time the light turns green (or by the time the destination is reached). Or, if the challenge is based on amount, a parent could say, “I bet you can say the word ‘get’ (or ‘chip’ or any other word that contains the sound the child needs to practice) for as many chips that are in that snack bag!” Sometimes, children keep practicing the sound or word after the goal has been reached, in part to obtain a reaction from the therapist. This generally works out well for both parties.
- Make it silly! Practice the skill while bending upside down, while looking at oneself in the magnifying mirror, or while wearing a funny hat/mask. Make up silly sentences or stories, and laugh with one another.
- Use gestures. Not only do visual cues help with learning, but they are also fun! For instance, some therapists slide their fingers up their arms when practicing the “s” sound, or some call the “p” sound the “popcorn” sound while making fun popcorn noises and gestures.
- Make it active! Practice while standing on one foot, while bouncing on an exercise ball, while throwing a weighted ball back and forth, or while running to and from destination points outside.
- Request ideas from the child. Some of the best therapy activities have been initiated by the children on my caseload. Because it is their idea, they are even more motivated to participate in learning.
Above all, make sure to use REPETITION, REPETITION, REPETITION! That is the key to the best success!! Enjoy teaching your fun-loving kiddo, and remember to have fun yourself!
By: Alissa Ketterling, MS, CCC-SLP