by Doreen B. Greenstein, Ph.D.
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Receptive language is a child’s understanding of the information the child receives — through spoken, signed (if the child is deaf) or written communication. An example of receptive language is when, after being asked “Where’s the kitty?” a young child looks around and points to the family’s cat.
Expressive language is a child’s ability, through words, sign language, gestures, or by written word, to communicate with other people.
Speech is the most common way of expression — a child’s questions, information, feelings are communicated through speech. Delays in this area may be due to physical or cognitive (mental) disabilities.
A speech-language therapist is a trained person who works with a child to improve speech and language skills. Sometimes speech therapists work to improve other oral (mouth) problems such as eating or drinking difficulties.
A speech disorder is any condition that affects a child’s ability to speak. Articulation (mispronunciation) problems and stuttering are examples of speech disorders.
Here are some ideas of what to do As a family child care provider, you have many opportunities to converse directly with a child. So when Shawna, who uses many two and three word sentences, says something to you, you can LISTEN to what she says with your whole attention.
- You can EXPAND on what she says: When she tells you “Falled down.” You can reply, “Yes, I saw that Janie fell down, but she’s okay.” (Your correction was made in a conversational voice.)
- You can use SELF-TALK. This is a fancy way of saying you can talk as you do something, just like one of those TV chefs who say every step of what they’re doing. “It’s time for lunch. Now I’ll put the forks on the table. Now I’ll put the spoons next to the forks.” (During this one-sided conversation, pause after each statement so that Shawna can respond.)
- You can use PARALLEL TALK so when Shawna puts the books on the shelf you can talk about what she’s doing. “Shawna, you put the books away so carefully. I see you put the big red book on the bottom shelf.”
- You can use CORRECTIVE ECHOING. When Shawna says “Her frew dat ball.” You can say, “You saw Janie. She threw the ball.” (slightly exaggerating the “th” sound.) (These hints are taken from Adapting Early Childhood Curricula for Children with Special Needs.)
It is very important to be positive rather than negative in the ways you encourage language. Telling a child “No, that’s wrong.” does not encourage a child to try again. Don’t criticize, don’t reprimand, don’t drill, or lecture. Instead, make a child want to communicate because the interaction is rewarding. Some everyday activities present real opportunities for communication:
- Games, dramatic play, block play, songs and stories — can all be focal points — with the adult being the catalyst for productive communication.
- Conversation can be highest during washing up, brushing teeth, and toileting. This can be a perfect opportunity to enrich language through conversation.
- Meal and snack time is another opportunity that is an enrichment “natural”. So much conversation can happen around an eating activity.
- Reading books, acting out stories that are familiar, making rhymes, singing songs, having children make up stories and “write” books.Whatever the reasons behind the speech or language problems, a child with deficits in one or more of these communication areas may feel frustrated, confused, even angry at not understanding or not being understood by other people. As a child care provider, there are many things that you can do to help.ADDITIONAL REFERENCESCook, Ruth E.; Annette Tessier, Virginia Armbruster. Adapting Early Childhood Curricula for Children with Special Needs. 2nd edition. Merrill Publishing Company, 1987.Schwartz, Sue; Joan Heller Miller. The New Language of Toys: Teaching Communication Skills to Children with Special Needs. Woodbine House, 1996.Allen, K. Eileen. The Exceptional Child: Mainstreaming in Early Childhood Education. 2nd edition. Delmar Publishers, 1992.
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- Speech Disorder Links