Children who have speech errors (see our blog for more information about Speech Development in Children) can improve their clarity of speech through articulation therapy. Articulation therapy focuses on the pronunciation of speech sounds.
How do we get there?
After completing a Speech Assessment, the Speech Pathologist will identify the sounds that your child is struggling with and work with you to create therapy goals.
Articulation therapy follows a step-by-step approach. Your child will start by saying the sound on its own and work their way up to saying the sound in their everyday conversation. This is called the ‘articulation hierarchy’.
What steps are involved in the articulation hierarchy?
Let’s take a child who has difficulty with the ‘s’ sound. The child would first need to practice saying the ‘s’ sound by itself e.g. ‘s s s s s’.
But what if my child cannot say the sound?
The Speech Pathologist may use verbal, visual or tactile (touch) cues to help the child learn and produce the sound. During Speech Pathology via Video, the Speech Pathologist may ask for your assistance in this teaching process so that the child can also listen to and learn from the person sitting next to them.
Once your child can say the target sound clearly, therapy will build on this skill over time and teach your child to say the sound…
- in syllables;
- in words;
- in phrases;
- in sentences; and finally when they’re ready…
- in conversation!
Each of these individual skills needs to be achieved to a high level of accuracy and automaticity before progressing to the next step (hence, being called a hierarchy!). Your Speech Pathologist will be able to guide you through each stage of this process and let you know when it is time to move on.
Once your child is using their new sound correctly in therapy sessions, it is important that parents and caregivers monitor closely to see if the skill has also transferred successfully outside of the clinic environment. This is important information to share with your Speech Pathologist!
Principles of motor learning
Speech Pathologists employ ‘principles of motor learning’ to help improve a child’s speech sounds. The principles of motor learning are also important to keep in mind for home practice.
How much should my child be practising at home?
Imagine that you are trying to become better at basketball. You dribble the ball and throw hoops for 60 minutes once a week during your team’s training session. Compare this with another person who practices the same skills for 15 minutes every day. The second person is going to become a much better basketball player! This is because they are strengthening and reinforcing what they have learnt over and over again.
The same principle applies to speech. It is more effective to break up practice into multiple small sessions than to do one long sitting. Research shows that breaking up practice time also helps the child to generalise the skill into daily life. So, what does this look like for you and your child? In between your sessions with the Speech Pathologist, we recommend at least 10 minutes of home practice every day!
What if my child resists speech practice because it is hard?
In articulation therapy, children need high amounts of practice so that they can consolidate their new skill and avoid losing progress from week to week. To keep practice engaging for their child, many parents choose to incorporate speech sound repetitions into a fun routine or favourite game (for example, ‘say the word “sand” and then you can have your turn on snakes and ladders!’).
We have some more suggestions about making practice fun further down the page. Practice can also be incorporated into your child’s daily routine, such as practicing in the car on the way to school or during bath time.
Practice makes perfect!
Home practice increases the number of repetitions your child is making and therefore consolidates their new skill a lot more quickly. It is possible that your child will not improve (or even lose their new skill!) if they do not practice throughout the week – so it is essential that speech practice becomes a normal part of your child’s everyday routine. Mixing practice with play is a great way to keep your child motivated. Here are some ideas you can try at home:
- Memory – The Speech Pathologist can provide you with a set of articulation cards for the sounds being worked on. Make 2 sets of these cards and take turns with your child turning over 2 cards until you find a match. Each time your child turns over the cards, your child says the target word.
- Go fish – Deal 4 cards each from 2 sets of articulation cards to yourself and your child. Put the remaining cards aside. Your child may ask for a specific card (e.g. ‘Do you have a sun?’). If you have a sun, you give it to your child, and your child puts down a pair. If you do not have a sun, you say ‘Go Fish’. Your child then picks up a card from the remaining pile. Whoever has the most pairs is the winner.
- Scavenger hunt – Hide the articulation cards in different parts of the room such as under the chair, on the wall, on top of a drawer etc. Each time your child finds a card, they say the target word or say a phrase before the target word e.g. ‘I found a …’.
- Articulation bowling – Place a plastic bowling pin on top of each articulation card. After your child throws the plastic bowling ball and knocks the pins over, they can say the target word for each pin that was knocked over.
- Computer practice – Research has shown that computer-based activities can be fun and engaging for children and can help them to consistently complete home activities for longer periods of time. At Care Speech Pathology, our Speech Pathologists love to get creative with online therapy resources and can support families with finding the right computer-based activities for your child.
Maas. et al. (2008). Principles of Motor Learning in Treatment of Motor Speech Disorders. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 17, 277-298.
Nordness AS, Beukelman DR. Speech practice patterns of children with speech sound disorders: The impact of parental record keeping and computer-led practice. (Report). Journal of Medical Speech-Language Pathology. 2010;18(4):104–8.