5 Tips & Techniques for Keeping Little Ones Engaged in Speech

little ones engaged

I know that the little ones can be difficult at times.  They are often scared and sometimes cling to their parent.  After all, if they happen to be a walk-in preschool-age kiddo (3-4 years), your speech room may be their first experience of separation from their parent and/or going to school.  When I meet with parents and kiddos the first time, I engage in the following rituals.  I typically bring a toy with me such as a light up spikey ball, a squishy ball, or a wind-up toy.  Some little toy that might catch the kiddo’s eye and help them to relax.  After introducing myself to the parent, I squat down to the kiddo’s eye level.  I never bend down!  I choose not to bend down because I would still be towering over them and that could be scary to the little one.  By squatting down, I can get to their level, make eye contact, offer a warm smile, and show them my toy and ask what they like to play with.  After, while still on their level, I tell them about the fun activities and toys that I have planned for us to engage in.  If the little one is willing to separate easily from their parent, then I take them back to the speech room.  If they are hesitant or if the parent is hesitant (I’m a parent too.  I get it!  It is scary to leave your child with a stranger), then I lead everyone back to my speech room and offer parent training while building rapport.  Personally, I prefer to see the students by themselves the first several times because I find that often little ones are less likely to talk or engage when the parent is there.  They tend to look to their parent often to speak for them.  Here are 5 tips and techniques that I use to keep the little ones engaged!

STRUCTURE- To be specific, I use visual schedules.  They are not JUST for our students on the spectrum.  Think about it.  You are 3 or 4 years old.   Your mommy just brought you to a school that you have never been to.  A strange lady or man meets with you and Mommy in a lobby.  They smile and seem nice and fun.  However, mommy has told you over and over not to talk to strangers and this person is a stranger! Mommy leaves and says she will be back soon.  What is expected of you?  How long until mommy gets back?!  SCARY!!  I find that visual schedules help ease that transition.  Instead of just telling the kiddo that we will finish A, B, C and D and then Mommy will be back, they have a visual schedule to manipulate and SEE when they should expect Mommy to be back.   After that initial session, I keep the visual schedule so that they always know the structure and what will be completed during their session.

MUSIC- Little ones usually love music.  Plus, it taps into a part of their brain connected with language.  I find that auditory bombardment for them can be so boring.  So I often use Silly Songs for Phonology & Sound Awareness by Beverly Banker when working on specific sounds or s-blends.  If it is a language kiddo, I give them an option from three fun preschool age songs and have manipulates ready so that they can pair their verbalization with a picture that they can exchange when making the request (if needed).

MOVEMENT- Who likes to sit in a chair for 30 minutes straight?  NOT this lady!  I find that during those 30 minutes we are engaged in movement and on the floor.  I may have a fishing area set up, a bowling area set up, playdough on the table, or one of my dramatic play and thematic units set up for the month. For the little ones it is hard to stay in one place and attend for 3o minutes.  This way, they get the wiggles out, have fun, and tap into another part of their brain that connects to language learning.

FLEXIBILITY- The biggest lesson of all is to be flexible.  Take advantage of those teachable moments and let the little one sort of guide the lesson.  If you set up a fishing station and they are tired of fishing but see something else in your room that gains their interest.  Go with it.  Just grab cards that still meet their needs and incorporate them into the other activity.  I always have 3-5 different activities available at the tip of my fingers just in case they do not want to do the main activity or two that I have planned.  Also, be prepared to pull out the same activity as last week if they prefer it.  I had one little one that came and no matter what variety of activities I brought out, he ONLY wanted to play Cariboo.  EVERY TIME!  I love Cariboo but even I was sick of it.  Finally, he was willing to engage in my little obstacle course and give Cariboo a break for a while.

SILLY SPEECHIE- I am a BIG kid and make a fool of myself daily.  To me, the best sound in the world is the sound of children’s laughter!  If they are super distracted or beginning to shut down, I have been known to thrown myself “accidentally” out of a chair and make a big stink about it.  I also find for my little ones that are apprehensive to talk or repeat their word a million times, I will purposely play with my voice (whisper, yell, robot, low pitch, etc…) and encourage them to also.  They typically laugh and find it to be a game. In the meantime, they are engaged and I am getting my data.  Don’t be afraid to be a Silly Speechie.

How do you keep your little ones engaged?


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  1. I bet your kids love you! Great tips. (I am going to have to try the fall out of my chair one, fun!)

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