Incorporating Communication Skills into Your Homeschool Curriculum
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Think for a moment about how important communication is to your daily life. These skills help us clearly articulate and express our thoughts, feelings, desires. They help us actively listen to others, interpret the meaning and message of what’s being said, and socially interact with our friends and colleagues.
From our very first attempts at language (babbling and cooing as an infant) to developing more complex language structures as we get older, a strong foundation of communication is an essential lifelong skill. Helping children improve their speech and language abilities from an early age has a big impact on their academic, social, and emotional success and helps excel professionally in the workplace.
Parents Play a Vital Role
It shouldn’t be assumed that all children will become effective communicators without parental guidance. In fact, parents have a vital role to play in helping their children grow and nurture these abilities. Parents should be actively engaged during their child’s early language development, constantly reinforcing these vital skills at home.
While this concept holds true for all parents, it particularly applies to those who decide to homeschool their children. You have additional influence over their educational curriculum and should use this opportunity to include speech and language skills into their learning and daily activities.
Practicing speech and language is especially important for children that have a harder time with communication. While all children develop on their own timeline, nearly 8% of children have some type of speech and language difficulty. This can include problems with stuttering, articulating certain sounds or letters, speech and language delays, voice disorders, social communication skills, and more.
Without the helping eye of a teacher to identify these issues, homeschooling parents must be extra proactive in identifying possible problems and weaving skill-building activities into their education plans.
Improving Communication Abilities at Home
As a speech-language pathologist, I want to provide some helpful tips and techniques that homeschooling parents can use to help their children become effective communicators.
- The Love of Reading: There’s a famous study out of Ohio State University called the “Million Word Gap.” This showed that parents who read their children five books a day prior to kindergarten exposed their children to 1.4 million words. While five books a day is a little ambitious, even one book will introduce them to nearly 300,000 words. Surrounding your child in a literacy-rich environment can make a huge difference in expanding their vocabulary, improving their reading development, and increasing their language comprehension.
However, while some kids are natural bookworms, others avoid them like the plague. Therefore, it’s important for parents to help their children develop a passion for reading. One way to do this is to follow their lead. Don’t force children to read books that are uninteresting to them. Instead, choose reading material that excites their imagination: maybe they love animals or space or fantasy books. Second, make reading fun! Imitate the voices of the characters, make silly facial expressions, and change your tone when you get to a happy, sad, or exciting part of a book. Next, make sure to ask lots of questions throughout the reading process. This will help with your child’s critical thinking abilities as well as their reading comprehension. For younger children, ask simple “yes” or “no” questions about what’s happening on the page. For older children, ask more open-ended questions to get them thinking. Check out some additional tips here.
- Modeling Language: Modeling appropriate language at home is one of the simplest – and most impactful – strategies parents can use to improve their child’s communication skills. Children are sponges, and they pick up their speech habits from listening to those around them. With this concept, you should “model” how language should be spoken, instead of focusing your energy on correcting your child’s mispronunciations. The key to modeling language is to speak slowly and clearly with your child and point to objects to make an association between the word and object. This gives your child a chance to hear how they should pronounce certain words or phrases and then let them try to imitate. As a homeschooling parent who spends ample time with their child, you have many opportunities to incorporate modeling throughout your daily activities. Here’s a helpful video with more tips on how to model language correctly.
- Social Skills: As many children grow up, they may have trouble with social skills. These are the subtle rules that we use every day when communicating with people, such as not interrupting, acknowledging social cues and facial expressions, actively listening, resolving conflicts, etc. The benefits to having strong social skills are boundless: they help children adapt to new situations, build friendships, and communicate well with others.
As a homeschooling parent, it’s especially important to focus on improving these skills as your child may not regularly be exposed to as many social situations. Fortunately, there are many fun and engaging at-home exercises that can help. For example, practice role-playing. Think of common situations your child may find themselves in, such as a birthday party or playground, and pretend you’re one of their peers. Ask questions like (“Can I play too?”), introduce yourself (“Hi, my name is…”), and ask to share (“When you’re done, can I play with that toy?”). Another helpful activity is to play board or card games that require an element of turn-taking. Good examples of this are Go Fish or Uno. This will teach your child the benefit of patiently waiting their turn.
- Speech Therapy: For children that have persistent speech and language issues, it is recommended that you see a speech-language pathologist. Speech therapists are communications experts and can help with evaluating, diagnosing, and treating communication disorders. Some states will allow you to enroll in a speech therapy funded through the public school system. You can also attend a privacy speech therapy clinic; however, they are often pretty expensive and the commute times can be inconvenient for busy parents.
For this reason, many homeschooling parents choose to receive online speech therapy, connecting with their speech therapist virtually (just like a Zoom or FaceTime). You chose to homeschool your child to be more personally involved in their education, and online speech therapy is perfect for this situation. You can sit alongside your child during the sessions and then actively incorporate lessons learned into their daily routines and at-home learning.
About Leanne Sherred, M.S. CCC-SLP:
Leanne calls Austin, Texas, home but studied Speech and Hearing Sciences at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and gained her Master’s in Speech-language pathology from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She has worked in pediatric outpatient clinics, schools, early intervention, and home health. Leanne is currently the President and Founder of Expressable online speech therapy, a company that envisions a modern and affordable way for anyone who needs speech therapy to access these vital services. You can check out her blog here.