SUMMER CHATTING: This summer, start talking and get children ready to succeed!

First words 2020

By Roxane Bélanger, M.O.A., SLP-C, Reg. CALSPO
Speech Language Pathologist, First Words Preschool Speech and Language Program of Ottawa and Renfrew County

We know this: language is the greatest predictor of a child’s success later at school and in life. Children with strong language skills do better with reading. At First Words, one of our key message for parents and educators this summer is to: “Talk to your child. All day. Every day” in order to help children’s language soar. With little set-up, these language activities can help you grow children’s speech and language skills – and get them ready for daycare, school or any post-pandemic routine!

Start a collection. Grow language skills when you are out and about: while on a walk or playing in the yard. Mother Nature wants you to start a collection (leaves, rocks, shells) with children. Make a hunt out of it. Talk about the similarities and the differences between the objects they have found. Talk about the different ways that you could group them. Let kids use their imagination when they make up the different groups and let them talk about the categories they made up.

Get cooking with children. Get them to help with easy recipes: making a sandwich or popcorn. Talk about the steps. Use words like: “first, after, then, at the end”. Those sequencing skills are important for language and reading skills.

Get lost together in a book. Reading aloud is one of the best language activities for children of all ages: it helps listening and conversation skills. Book reading sparks the imagination and can help expand the child’s knowledge of the world around them. Go ahead: pick up books about the rain forest, the life of Vikings or about Peppa Pig’s latest adventure. You’ll help them learn about the world, people, places and events outside of their daily life.

Help them to read stories to others. Shared reading gives children a positive experience with language and literacy. Have children re-tell their favourite books to pets (a cuddly dog is really a great listener!) or dolls (they really don’t interrupt!). Get them to practice with familiar, predictable books like “Brown Bear, Brown Bear”.

Act out stories. Pretend play is an integral part of a child’s development and is closely linked to language skills. Ask anyone – children love to play make-believe. So go ahead, choose their favourite book or nursery rhyme and let them act out the story as if it were a play. Pretend with them: become the kings and queens of the castles you’ve built together!

Time TV time. If used in moderation, television can be used to promote language development. However, experts agree that TV watching should be limited in amount and to high quality programming. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of 2 not watch any TV at all and that older children watch television for no more than one hour per day. For best results, turn off the television, phone and tablet and tune in to your child.

Talk” show. Once you turn off the TV: keep the fun going and get talking! Talk together about the story line, the situations that happened to the main character, the characters’ feelings (i.e.: “How do you think the princess felt when she saw the dragon?). Act out the story or sing the action songs that are often an integral part of popular educational children’s TV shows. Children love it when the “grown-ups” participate.

Mix art, rhyming and sound games: Mix art with pre-reading skills and you end up with double the fun. Get silly with sounds (“Sam saw the s”) or with rhyming games (“Silly Willy”) and draw everything out. Rhyming becomes more interesting when combined with shaving cream. So, pull out a cookie sheet, shaving cream and food coloring and let children have fun while creating art and rhyming.

Recognizing speech and language problems early on is the best approach!

Check out our First Words Communication Checkup tool to know if your child is meeting communication milestones. Refer online if necessary. For more information, visit or call Ottawa Public Health at (613) PARENTS.