What are techniques I can use to improve speech and language skills in small groups of young children? Are there tips I can give my parents to use at home?

Modeling language just above the child’s current level is helpful.  For example, if the children in the group are using single words, model two-word phrases. For example: During snack time, instead of asking the child to say “milk” to request milk, you could model “want milk”.  This tip also works at home. 

An activity that works well in small groups is songs and finger-plays.  This gives most children a way to participate.  They can use motions, singing, words, or any combination that meets their developmental levels.   

Reading is a great small group activity and adding props and using big books can make reading even more fun!  For example, when reading about farm animals, give each child a toy farm animal.  When their animal is on a page, or mentioned in the story, have them hold it up and make the sound.  

Expand beyond the written words.  Comment and ask about the pictures.  Many times, adults focus on naming pictures, but there is so much more!  Pair actions with the photos.  If there is a photo of a child on a swing add “wee” or a photo of a car, add “beep beep”. 

Be mindful to avoid “drilling questions” only.  Instead of asking, “What is this animal?  What does it say? What color is it? How many do you see?,” you could say “Oh wow, look what I see.  It is a _____ (and let the child say the rest).  The pig lives on the farm and loves to roll in the mud. Dirty pig!  Let’s say hi to the pig and all join in to say “hi pig.”  Oh, there are more pigs over here.  Let’s see how many there are.”    

Practicing wait time paired with simple words or phrases is a great way to encourage language.  Here are some examples: Each time a block is added to a tower say “up.”  After doing this a few times, pause and see if the children will say it first.  Another way to do this is by rolling cars down a simple ramp and saying “1-2-3-go” before you release the car.  As you continue to model this, only say “1-2-3” and see if the children will add the word “go.” Sometimes a little wait time is all that’s needed.  In these examples, it is helpful that the child is “rewarded” with an action when he/she uses words.  Keep in mind that sometimes the goal may be an attempt of a word, so if a child says “o” for go, that is a start!