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May 2011

No Batteries Required

Family Time Teaches Language Skills

By Kathy Dow-Burger, M.A., CCC-SLP

In a generation of children who have grown up with Wii, Kinect, Facebook and texting, face-to-face communication and social interaction are becoming a lost art. This was increasingly apparent when more than 350,000 households in the D.C. metropolitan area lost power during the snowstorm that hit in late January 2011. This storm moved so fast that children had no time to charge their cell phones, laptops, DSi or other electronic devices. What were they going to do all night? When would the power come back on?

How about powering up the rechargeable lantern or safely lighting up some candles and having a game night? As strange as it sounds, how about wearing a headlight and reading books to the kids? But these activities don’t have to be reserved for nights when the power is out. Weekends and school breaks are the perfect time to get disconnected. These games not only serve to nurture family relationships, but also help increase a whole list of receptive, expressive and pragmatic language skills, such as building vocabulary, following oral directions, using critical listening skills, understanding inferences, formulating organized sentences—and the list goes on.

Read to Your Child

As a speech-language pathologist, I am often asked by parents what they could do at home to help improve their child’s language skills. When working with children who are toddlers to early school-age, I suggest they read picture books or chapter books with picture support or listen to books on tape/CD together. This special time shared between parent and child not only promotes closeness, a love for books and great memories, but it also provides opportunities for a child to learn in a natural setting and allows parents to read as often as they wish. In addition, this time helps improve social interaction, vocabulary, basic concepts (e.g., colors, numbers, shapes, etc.), semantic relationships (e.g., categories, opposites, synonyms, etc.) and other describing concepts. Furthermore, it exposes the child to prereading and literacy skills, which include multiple occasions to pair pictures with meaning and words with meaning and helps to integrate these abilities.

The opportunities are never-ending when it comes to the positive impact of reading books to your young child. Yes, it is true, reading books or listening with your child to books on tape/CD takes some time and effort, but this small investment of time yields large dividends and the payoff is endless. Reading together sparks imagination, generates new ideas and provides background knowledge and experience that she may not get otherwise. But why does this have to stop when a child gets older? How about reading a book side-by-side with your tween/teen or reading a book aloud as a family? The chances for language stimulation, including reading and written language, abound.

Play Board and Card Games

As a child transitions into the preteen and teenage years, I add another suggestion to parents when they ask how they can help improve their child’s language skills. I have enthusiastically recommended interactive board and card games, which offer special time together for parents, siblings, relatives and friends. In addition, a huge by-product from playing carefully selected games is that they help increase word retrieval skills, enhance language organization, stimulate expressive language formulation and promote social interaction. While books provide language learning by using more static material, interactive board and card games provide dynamic substance that requires and exposes a child to a variety of language concepts. Of course, a parent will need to be mindful to select language-rich games and be attentive to the need to modify the game demands based on the child’s skill level. For example, working in parent/child teams, providing pictures or cues and/or modifying the rules somewhat can help the child feel more confident and successful when playing new games.

Families do not need a snowstorm to bring them closer together. Unplug the TV, power down the computer, turn off the cell phone, lose the remote, misplace the charger and spend some time with the kids reading books or playing interactive board games. It is worthwhile. So, relax, pop some popcorn and have some fun with your kids! No batteries required.

Examples of Receptive/Expressive/Pragmatic Language Enriched Games

Associations

  • Apples to Apples (green and red versions)
  • In a Pickle
  • Password
  • Scattergories or Scattergories Junior
  • Taboo and Taboo for Kids
  • What’s Yours Like?
  • Would You Rather…

Categorizations

  • Blink card game
  • Guess Who? (Extra Version)
  • Guess Where?
  • Outburst and Outburst Jr.
  • Scattergories or Scattergories Junior
  • Uno Games (Regular, Uno Attack, Uno Spin)

Descriptions

  • Catch Phrase
  • Guess Who? (Extra Version)
  • Password
  • Taboo and Taboo for Kids
  • What’s Yours Like?

Inferences

  • Apples to Apples (green and red versions)
  • In a Pickle
  • Taboo and Taboo for Kids
  • What’s Yours Like?
  • Would You Rather…
  • You Gotta Be Kidding!
  • Password
  • Pictionary and Pictionary for Kids

Language Organization and Formulation

  • Catch Phrase
  • Guess Who? (Extra Version)
  • Guess Where?
  • In a Pickle
  • Mad Libs
  • Password
  • Taboo and Taboo for Kids
  • What’s Yours Like?

Oral Directions and Critical Listening

  • Bop It and Bop It Extreme
  • Candyland
  • Catch Phrase
  • Guess Who? (Extra Version)
  • Guess Where?
  • Taboo and Taboo for Kids
  • Twister
  • Outburst and Outburst Jr.
  • What’s Yours Like?
  • Would You Rather…
  • You Gotta Be Kidding!

Vocabulary-Building and Metalinguistics

  • Apples to Apples (green and red version for mid-older teens to adults)
  • Bananagrams
  • Mad Libs
  • Password
  • Scattergories and Scattergories Junior
  • Taboo and Taboo for Kids
  • Befudiom
  • Pictionary and Pictionary for Kids

Question Formulation

  • Clue and Clue Jr.
  • Guess Who? (Extra Version)
  • Guess Where?
  • I Spy Games (numerous versions from preschool to school-age)
  • What’s Yours Like?

Kathy Dow-Burger is a speech-language pathologist for the middle school program at TLC’s Katherine Thomas School (ttlc.org), a private special education school founded in Rockville in 1995 serving preschool through 12th grade students.