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5 Popular Games That Double as Valuable Speech Therapy Tools

Teach Your Child Speech Skills with Popular Games

By Philip J. Reed

Updated November 18, 2012

A Parent Works with a Child on Speech Skills

A Parent Works with a Child on Speech Skills

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It's a fact that children react with different degrees of enthusiasm to speech therapy. They're all individuals, after all, and it can sometimes feel like an uphill battle to keep them engaged and interested, especially after the session proper has ended. Yet this ongoing engagement in the process is crucial, and can mean the difference between continuous advancement and slow, faltering progress.

It can get even more difficult for children who feel frustrated by relatively slow progress, as they tend to associate that frustration with their speech therapy sessions, and once those are linked it can quickly become a spiral of self-defeating mentality.

Fortunately, parents are in a prime position to combat this development, and even more fortunately it's easier, more fun, and less expensive than they might think. The trick is, of course, to bring positive associations back to speech therapy for your child, and there's no better or more effective way to do that than to link it to activities your child already enjoys. In fact, you can introduce informal speech therapy sessions to family game night or individual game sessions without much effort at all; all it takes is a slight shift in perspective to turn any of your child's most enjoyed activities into an opportunity for growth and learning…and they'll be having fun to boot. Here are five games you can use to give speech therapy a good name:

  • Candyland - Depending upon your child's age and level of speech proficiency, the classic colorful board game Candyland could be a perfect tool for speech therapy. Its playing area is visually stimulating, with plenty of vivid colors and creative characters populating the board, and its rules are simple enough for even the youngest child to understand. There are no dice or spinners, just colored cards that indicate how far you should move your game piece. While playing, ask your child to name the colors as they are drawn from the deck, and have them use recent vocabulary words to describe the characters that they pass. Candyland is a feast for the imagination, and weaving stories with your child about the inhabitants of this magical world will both keep them engaged and serve as an excellent opportunities to teach them new words and concepts. Ask questions about where he or she thinks the story should go next in order to keep it from becoming a "passive" story time. For an added bonus, set small treats on the board for your child to collect as they pass, as a reward for using difficult words.
  • Go Fish - Go Fish is one of the best card games with which to practice speech skills. First of all, store-bought decks will often feature inventive, comical imagery rather than simple numbers and symbols, which will give your child a chance to ask for a specific type of animal or other object, helping them with both identification and articulation skills. It's also an easy game to make yourself at home, which can turn into an engaging crafts project in itself. When making your own cards, be sure to include words your child needs to practice. For instance, if he or she has trouble with r-blends, include pictures of objects whose names include those blends. For a useful variation on the rules, ask your child to include a descriptor of his or her own choosing when requesting a specific card, so instead of asking for a "shark" they could ask for a "mean shark." Instead of asking for a "dog," they could ask for a "cuddly dog." When you ask for a card, use words he or she may not know yet. It's a great time to expose them to new concepts, so be sure to explain what they mean!
  • Angry Birds - It might be a bit surprising to see Angry Birds on this list, but everyone's favorite time waster can actually have a great deal of speech therapy value. You can ask general questions about the specific birds and their abilities, and give your child a chance to explain them to you. You can also play through the levels together, and ask your child to explain his or her intentions, telling you how the level can be solved, and what they expect to happen when they launch a bird. After the bird is launched and the structures come tumbling down, that's another opportunity for them to explain to you what happened. Of course, with a framework this lose you can bring a similar approach to the touch-screen game of your choice, so use something that you know your child already responds to. By piggybacking on some pre-existing enthusiasm, you can see great benefits right off the bat.
  • Monopoly - One of the most frustrating things about Monopoly is also one of the best when it comes to using it as a form of speech therapy: the flexibility of its rules might lead to new arguments every time you play it with a different group of people, but it also leaves you with plenty of room to adapt it to your child's learning style and level of speech proficiency. From the most obvious applications, such as helping your child sound out the names of the properties on the board, to more creative twists, such as asking your child to tell you about the house or hotel being built. Who will live there? What does it look like? Why did they choose to move in? The possibilities are limitless, and as a great bonus Monopoly comes with stacks of colorful bills that can be used as rewards for mastering difficult sounds or vocabulary words, redeemable later for treats or privileges. It's a surprisingly versatile game that can be adapted in just about any way you can imagine; just remember to keep your child talked, engaging, and responding. If you're doing that, you know your sneaky lesson plan is working!
  • Guess Who - As a speech therapy tool, Guess Who is a lot less versatile than Monopoly, but it can still be just as useful. As played, each player is given a board full of interesting and humorous faces. Each face on the board is distinct in its own way, and both players ask specific questions about what the faces look like. The answers are typically just yes and no, but as the game progresses possibilities are eliminated until there is only one answer. In terms of speech therapy, this is a great chance to have your child identifying features and objects correctly. Common words used would be "hat," "eyes," "smile" and so on, but, as with Go Fish, they can and should be paired with useful descriptors so that they become "winter hat," "green eyes" and "big smile." You can also have your child describe the emotions he or she thinks the characters are experiencing, based on their facial expressions. This is a perfect opportunity to learn about non-verbal cues, and to practice putting them into words. Ask your child what jobs these characters have, or what he or she thinks their last names should be. It's a more rigid game than Monopoly to be sure, but there's still a great opportunity for practicing both simple and more complex concepts, and if your child already enjoys the game then that's an opportunity that should not be missed.
Byline: This article was written by Philip J. Reed on behalf of the St. Mary's Regional Medical Center Speech and Language Pathology Department.

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