Worried about your child's speech?
By Keith Kendrick, the reluctant housedad
Keith Kendrick, aka top blogger The Reluctant Housedad, was concerned his 4 year old was falling behind when it came to talking. Here he gets advice on how books and reading to his son can help.
Two year olds with poor speech are doomed to a lifetime of failure, with a greater chance of being unemployed and going to prison, says a Government adviser. When I saw this in a newspaper recently, I was left, well, speechless! Two! Well that’s that, then. Write off my four year-old right now. Hoist him off to the scrap heap and do not pass go.
Jean Gross, a former teacher, who was appointed Communications Champion, argued in her Bercow Report, that checks on the language of toddlers needs to become as routine as health assessments of weight and growth.
“Language development falls between the cracks of the NHS and education,” she said. “Recent research showed children’s language at two predicted how ready they would be for school. By that age, children are on the path to success or failure at school.”
Mrs Gross said testing children in school is too late as those who are inarticulate at five have little chance of catching up with their peers. They are twice as likely to be unemployed in their thirties, and at greater risk of ending up in prison.
Phew! That’s a lot for a parent to take on board as you’re trying to get your four year-old son to say “CHEER-EE-Os” not “CHEE-Os” as he chooses his breakfast cereal. But for all my parental protectiveness, I’m worried that Mrs Gross may have a point.
In another report, scientists said toddlers should know 25 words and phrases, including “Mummy” and “Daddy” and “Bye bye”. My four year-old only recently stopped calling me “Guyee.” As the youngest of three children, my son has always always struggled with his speech. When he was two, his mother and I weren’t remotely bothered about this because he got everything he wanted and needed by grunting and pointing. Besides, he could hardly get a word in edgeways because his older brother and sister would always race to finish the murmured beginnings of his sentences.
But when he started nursery at three, I started to compare him with other children. I see them chattering away to each other, raising their hands in class, totally engrossed and engaged, whereas my little boy seemed a little lost and bewildered at the back of the carpet.
“It’s not an issue,” friends reassured us. “He’s an August baby. He’s a younger sibling. A late developer.”
And so I relaxed again. Then last August, he started Reception class – and he STILL wasn’t speaking. He’d make a stab at it, stumbling over words that came out of his mouth as one stream of babble. Increasingly, he’d become frustrated at not being able to make himself understood, and he’d get annoyed when his brother and sister tried to help him out. At the same time, I noticed his classmates were soaring away in their articulacy.
It was time for action. I went online and found the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, the umbrella body for the profession. They put me in touch with Sophie Jankel. “What can I do to help my boy?” I asked her. Her first advice was straightforward: talk to the school, make my worries clear and ask for him to be assessed by a speech and language therapist.
“Children develop at different ages, but we do have norms,” Sophie said. “If you are concerned about your child’s speech development, talk to your school’s head teacher to get a referral to a speech and language therapist for an assessment.”
She said there were many – and complex – reasons for delayed speech, including:
- A hearing problem, possibly caused by glue ear
- The fact a child hasn’t mapped the sounds of words correctly in their brains, which means they can’t correctly attribute sounds to objects.
- And problems with motor coordination, for example, dyspraxia.
But there are things that I – and other parents in my situation – can do. “The most valuable thing you can give your child is time,” said Sophie. “Even if you can only find five minutes a day for one on one time, with no distractions, or TV, or siblings.” And one of the best ways to get the most out of those five minutes or more is through reading – both to and with your child.
There is no such thing as the “best” book for this, but there are some guidelines you can follow, said Sophie. “It doesn’t matter what kind of book it is, as long as you are asking questions and talking about it. And as long as the book and the subject interest the child, then it will help your child’s speech development.”
She explained that when children find speech sounds difficult they need as much practice and repetition as possible to help them get towards placing a sound in the correct place in their mouth. “We know that children who have difficulty talking benefit from hearing the word correctly lots of times,” said Sophie. “This means rather than correcting a child when they make a mistake, it works better to say the word correctly back to them.
“For example if a child says ‘dar’ you can model it correctly by saying, “Yes, it’s a ‘car’.” If activities are as relaxed as possible, children will not feel pressured to “talk properly” and are likely to find that getting speech sounds correct becomes much easier.
I’ve got two older children, so I looked on our shelves for the books they used to read that might fit this criteria. I also asked other parents for their recommendations. Here’s the list, with Sophie’s assessment of how each book might help my child – and yours – improve their speech. In the meantime, I’m going to follow Sophie’s advice and talk to my son’s teacher about having him professionally assessed.
GOOD BOOKS FOR NEW WORDS
Look for: Books with lots of repetition, rhyming and simple sentence structures.
You might try:
- Anything by Julia Donaldson, such as The Gruffalo, Zog, The Stick Man and Room on the Broom.
- Hairy Maclary series by Lynley Dodd
GOOD BOOKS FOR GUESSING
Look for: Life-the-flap books, where children can guess what’s behind the flap; books that encourage the child to point and say; pop-up books that motivate children and create exciting discussion.
You might try:
- Where’s Spot? (and other Spot books) by Eric Hill
- You Choose by Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt
- Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell - anticipation really nice for prediction skills and keeping the child motivated
- Pop Up Rumble In The Jungle by Giles Andreae and David Wojtowycz
- Maisy Mouse by Lucy Cousins
- Whose Stripes/Bottom/Feet? by Fiona Phillipson, Fiona Munro and Jo Garden and John Haslam
GOOD BOOKS TO TALK ABOUT
Look for: Books containing characters or themes that chime with your child’s personality. My son is interested in dinosaurs and toilet humour (aren’t they all!). If the subject matter interests you child they are more likely to want to talk about it.
You might try:
- Not Now Bernard by Bernard McKee
- Smelly Peter: The Great Pea Eater by Steve Smallman and Joelle Dreidemy
- Morris the Mankiest Monster by Giles Andreae and Sarah McIntyre
- Mr Magnolia by Quentin Blake
- Dinosaur Roar by Paul & Henrietta Stickland"