Put the Cell Phone Down and Play!
By Shari Harpaz, CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist
Whether parents like it or not, early language development is chiefly influenced by interaction with their children. Infants develop early language skills through engaging in vocal play. They learn the satisfaction of communicating by going back-and-forth with a parent making sounds. Interacting with baby toys in a mutual way also contributes to language development. As toddlers they develop vocabulary and learn grammar through language stimulation from their environment and interaction with their family and peers.
The problem is that in today's busy society our reliance on technology and the need for instant gratification has constrained these important interactions with our children.
We check email on our phones and PDA’s during "family dinner". We text message our friends "quickly" when in a car. Children play portable video games or watch DVD more frequently. All of these changes have changed the way families and friends communicate and this has negatively impacted early language development for many young children. As a result, there has been a significant increase in children who are "late-talkers".
The good news is that in many cases all these children need to catch up is more one-to-one language stimulation with their family.
Don’t let technology interfere with family time
When you were a child and took a family trip, you probably played games and sang songs in the car to help pass the time. These days, technology is the tool of choice for filling our spare time. Cars are equipped with DVD players. Children, as young as pre-schoolers, have portable video games. Even elementary school aged children have cell phones. While these are great inventions, their presence means there is less time for parents to take part in language stimulation with their young children. This doesn’t have to be the case. Here are some suggestions to get back to the basics on your next family road trip.
- Play "I Spy" – I like to play with the rule that you can't repeat the same object that someone has previously said so that your child really has to pay close attention. Increase the difficulty of the game by describing the object rather than saying the label (i.e. I spy something you ride with 2 wheels and handlebars)
- Make up a story together – Decide as a family what the title of the story will be first. Then each person takes a turn telling the next sentence. Your child will have to really listen and be creative to help create a cohesive story.
- Share your favorite moments – at the end of an active day, everyone can tell what their favorite and least favorite things they did were. By sharing the good and bad moments it teaches children to vocalize their emotions. You, as parents, share your feelings too which provides your children with a great model.
Bottom line: take advantage of car rides when distractions can be kept out and you can gain your child's undivided attention. Be creative and create an open environment for your children to communicate with you and for them to learn. Most importantly, have fun family time!