It’s the beginning of the school year, and for those of you with children receiving speech therapy in school, it means your child may be coming home with speech homework. If your child gets private speech therapy, hopefully, the therapist is giving you home activities to complete as well. Many parents are unsure how to do speech homework with their child(ren) effectively, and some are simply so busy that speech homework feels like a chore, especially when their kids are not thrilled about doing it. But speech homework doesn’t need to be overwhelming, nor should it be. Done properly, speech homework can actually be fun, and it doesn’t need to take long at all. Let me address both of those concerns.
As a speech-language pathologist who worked in the schools for eight years, I can tell you that children who complete their assigned speech homework on a regular basis tend to progress through therapy faster than those who don’t. For a child in school speech therapy, that means less missed classroom time. For a child receiving private speech therapy, that means less money out of pocket for the parents and more afternoons free.
Why does speech homework make a difference? Research shows that children learn best when practice is distributed, rather than massed.¹ That means that they will retain their new skills longer if they practice for five to ten minutes a day, rather than 30 minutes at once. Additionally, practice outside of the therapy room is crucial for carryover of skills to everyday life. Ideally, time spent in speech therapy would be used to teach the child how to produce a sound correctly, provide some practice, monitor progress, and assign speech homework that could easily be completed at home. Then at the next session, the therapist would be able to assess the child’s progress and either provide further strategies to teach the skill or move on to the next skill. Practice is not the only activity that occurs during therapy time, and therapy is not the only time that practice must take place.
How are parents supposed to do speech therapy with their children without a master’s degree in speech-language pathology? The truth is parents don’t have to do speech therapy. The speech-language pathologist (SLP) requires an advanced degree in order to diagnose and treat a variety of speech and language disorders. Sometimes, there’s one path to teaching a child how to produce a sound correctly. Other times, it requires trial and error and the knowledge of a variety of techniques. An SLP utilizes training and experience to find the technique that works for your child. Once we’ve figured out the right technique, it’s just a matter of practice – a whole lot of practice. That’s where speech homework and the parent come in.
When I was working in the schools, the hardest part about assigning speech homework (other than coming up with individual take home assignments for 60+ students) was finding a way to communicate to the parent exactly what to do. Usually, I would resort to an explanation in the margin of the homework page. It would be something like “Johnny is working on the F sound. Remind him to bite his lip at the beginning of each of these words.” In hindsight though, this was not the most effective method. For one thing, not all techniques can be described so succinctly. The F is an easy sound to describe because it is a relatively easy sound to fix. But what about the R? I’d be hard pressed to come up with an explanation that a parent could understand that could fit into the margin. Truly, the best way to teach a parent how to help with home speech practice is to show the parent. In private practice, this is easy. The parent can observe the session (or at least the last few minutes) and get a good explanation about what to do at home. In the schools, it’s much more challenging. For the most part, the only contact I had with parents was at the child’s initial entry into the program and at the annual IEP meeting. This would have been a great time to say, “Here’s exactly what you need to do when I send home speech homework.”
Though I rarely thought to say that in an IEP meeting, I’ll lay out the tips for all of you now.
- When you are practicing with your child, and s/he says one of the words incorrectly, do not sugarcoat your response with: “That was a good try.” It confuses children. They hear the word “good” and think the response was correct. You don’t have to be mean about it, but you do need to say something like “That wasn’t right. Let’s try it again.” Most children with speech sound disorders, at least in the beginning of therapy, cannot hear their own errors, so they need the adult to give them the feedback as to whether or not it was correct.
- If you are unsure about how to help your child with speech homework, ask the SLP. When I practiced in the schools, I would have been more than happy to explain therapy techniques over the phone…or in an email…or even to meet with a parent for 10 or 15 minutes to provide a demonstration. (That’s not to say that every school SLP has the time to meet with every parent to do a private lesson, but from experience, I can tell you, most SLPs aren’t getting many requests.)
What if your child’s school SLP doesn’t assign speech homework? Some SLPs choose not to do so. For one thing, it’s a lot of effort to find individualized homework for an entire caseload. And for another thing, there is often a low rate of return on the homework by students. (If I got 50% back, it was a great week.) Active, advocating, involved parents catch the SLP’s eye. I would recommend emailing the therapist once every 9-week term (or asking for a 15-minute meeting a couple of times a year), and ask the SLP to email some homework at his or her convenience.
Do you have questions about speech therapy? Gainesville-area parents can contact me for an in-home consultation, and everyone is welcome to comment here or email me for more information.
1. Willingham, D. (2002) Allocating Student Study Time: Massed versus “Distributed” Practice. American Educator. http://www.aft.org/newspubs/periodicals/ae/summer2002/willingham.cfm