Vocal language and communication skills are a large focus for many parents and caregivers. As these expressive skills emerge, there are many other receptive language skills that develop alongside them. All of the activities in this post are able to be completed without any vocal production from the learner, but while you play and practice these skills it is recommended to practice “vocal play” to both encourage the production and repetition of sounds that can later be shaped into word-approximations.
Vocal Play is a program that many learners at BCOTB practice every session. The idea is to set a 10-minute timer and evoke as many sounds from the learner as possible. After hearing a sound, repeat it and see if the learner will repeat the sound back again. If you hear the same sound back, throw a party – provide lots of praise and a small piece of their favorite snack!! If the learner does not repeat the sounds, do not worry! Keep at it – any practice is good practice. Another way to reinforce the vocals that you hear throughout the day is to focus on any sound that sounds like it could be a part of a word. If you hear your learner saying, “ah ah ah,” you can repeat those sounds and provide that same type of praise and a piece of their favorite snack. The main goal of these activities is to establish a foundation for teaching learners that making and repeating sounds social consequence to making certain sounds such as “making these sounds = mom or dad giving me tickles and a snack!”). This is something that can be practiced with almost every learner throughout the day and while completing some of these other activities!
Some activities that do not require a vocal response might utilize matching and sorting skills. These are two skills that often develop the earliest in a learner’s repertoire. From shape sorters to jigsaw puzzles, matching and sorting skills provide the opportunity for a learner to make connections between features, functions, and classes of multiple items such as color, shape, texture, and more advanced groups and classes such as fruits, vegetables, items that are hot, items that are cold, etc… Shape sorters and puzzles with larger pieces are good places to start, and as they get more fluent with these concepts you can bump up the difficulty and begin introducing real items for tactile, visual, and perhaps olfactory or gustatory stimulation! As you practice these skills, make sure you are saying the name or describing feature many times – this will help teach and create relationships between the words you say and the target items.
Matching and sorting skills establish physical relationships between items, and, alongside those skills, receptive language skills establish an understanding of others’ language. Developing and building receptive language skills may also make it easier for your child to learn the basics of expressive language even if they are not yet speaking themselves by repeatedly experiencing a model for the correct way to form sentences being followed with actions. One example of this is responding to your name being called by turning towards the person who called it. This is a skill that we work on with many children and early learners. Many other foundational receptive skills revolve around “showing” you an item. While playing with a particular activity, you can practice these skills by asking “which one is the ____” or “show me the_____.” These skills demonstrate that your child is understanding your language through physical actions, which is one of the most important skills that everyone will use throughout their life. There are also plenty of games that use this skill such as:
- Simon Says – not only do players have to attend to whether or not you say “Simon Says,” but they have to attend to the instructions to complete another physical action well.
- Red-Light/Green-Light – A race with extra steps!
Asking for turns and materials during board games and sharing during parallel play activities such as playing with kinetic sand or Play-Doh can also practice receptive language and play skills they will need as they play with siblings or friends at school. The number of these activities is truly limitless, and there is an incredibly wide range in difficulty so learners at every level should be able to find some of these activities they can play and enjoy!
The final area that many people find difficult as their learner develops expressive language is how to identify preferences or offer choices of many activities at once. There are many activities that cannot be pointed to or grabbed from a shelf such as Simon Says and red-light/green-light listed above. One way to offer these activities is to create a “choice board.” A choice board allows you to visually offer many choices at one time that may or may not be physically available at that time. Some learners may already have experience with this concept if they are using PECS or another communication system utilizing icons. Offering fewer choices at first may make it easier for your learner to see all the activities and pick one, however you can add more to match your learner’s ability to look over multiple options and pick one. An easy way to make a choice board is to print and cut out pictures that represent the activities (the closer to how the activity looks in the box or while it is being played, the better), and attach them to another sheet of paper. Attaching them with Velcro rather than glue or tape gives you more flexibility with offering (and not offering) certain activities at a given time. When it is complete, you can present it to your learner and ask, “what would you like to do?” After they select an activity, go play!
**BCOTB has been Tampa’s leading provider of pediatric ABA therapy since 2003. With four clinic locations throughout the Tampa Bay area, we know that our clinic is the right spot for your early learner! BCOTB accepts most major insurances, including, but not limited to: Aetna, Anthem, Baycare, Beacon, BCBS, Cigna, CMS, Florida Blue, Humana, MHNet, Meritain Health, Magella Health, UnitedHealthcare, and TRICARE.**