Learning to spell..with my mouth??

So it’s time to learn to sound out words for spelling.  At first, it can be quite a daunting task for a little one.

Here is one trick I have found that helps with little children, or older kids who are having trouble sounding words out… It sounds complicated but give it a go.  Just having something tangible for them to focus on can really help.

First things first, go back a step.  Talk about how different sounds make up words and give your child examples.  At book reading time, you might point at a word and say ‘that says ‘cat’ – it is made up of the sounds ‘c-a-t’, ‘ca…t”.  At another time, you might sit with your child and go through each sound of the alphabet.  Or maybe just a few common sounds at first.

‘Study’ each sound and feel it in your mouth.  You might say to your child ‘let’s see which parts of our mouth make this sound’.  Have you ever stopped to think yourself?

– /m/, /b/, /p/, /w/ are made with our lips

– /k/, /g/ are made with the back of our tongue

– /n/, /t/, /d/, /l/, /r/, /s/, /z/ are made with the front of our tongue

– /f/, /th/, /v/, /ch/, /j/ are made with our lips and tongue

(the vowel sounds have nothing really getting in the way, it’s just our jaw height and tongue tension)

So now when your child starts to attempt to work out the last sound in a word, you can say ‘say the word and catch that last sound in your mouth, which parts of your mouth were moving?’.  Put the emphasis on ‘catch’ and make it sound like a fun thing to do.  Your child will then hopefully be able to say ‘caaaaaa..t’.  And you’ll encourage them to ‘catch that last sound!’ and identify which it was.  They will hopefully say ‘I could feel my tongue with /t/!’.  Or it might be working out the first sound.  Again, encourage them to slowly say the word and catch the first sound.  They will hopefully say ‘c….a’ and you might need to say ‘catch the first sound’.  And hopefully they will say ‘c, c’ – no need to identify what made the sound if they already identified it!

Sometimes just having taken the time to ‘study’ the sounds, children feel a little bit more confident and aware of what they are doing.  Knowledge is power!!

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Getting the sounds out

Learning to talk has so many aspects, including a very tricky one…  Getting the brain to coordinate the ‘articulators’ (tongue, lips, teeth) along with voice and the jaw and even cheeks to make a sound.  Let alone stringing a few sounds together to make a word!

Babbling

It all begins with babbling, getting the jaw and lips/tongue moving.  It might be /bababa/ or /mamama/ or /dadada/ or /papapa/.  These might sound like what we say, but they are actually ‘immature’ versions of the sounds we produce later as adults.  For example, a baby moves their jaw and if their tongue happens to go with it, it might come out as a ‘dada’, but they cannot actually hold their jaw still and move their tongue to produce a ‘d’ by itself.  And even a ‘b’ or ‘m’ actually happens more by the fact that their lips happen to be closed before they open their jaw, rather than actually choosing to press their lips together, as we would.

Babbling is a great sign that your baby is practicing to talk!

First sounds

Children can make many different speech ‘errors’ as they learn to talk clearly.  Their brain has a lot of work in organising a string of sounds to make a word… and then sentences.  By two (anything goes before that!), the first sounds your child should be able to physically make are: p, b, m, d, n, t, h, w.  For all the other sounds, your little one may either use a different sound or leave it out altogether.

At two years of age, can other people understand half of what your child says?  A parent will always understand more, so get someone like a family member or a daycare leader to judge.

At three years of age, can others understand most of what your child is saying?  Then your child is probably going along okay!

Between 12 months and 3 years of age, your child will gain literally hundreds and thousands of words and have a lot of time to practice talking.  If your child is an early talker, their speech will tend to be clearer before the later talkers, just through more practice!

By three years of age, your child should also be able to use these sounds in words: k, g, f, ng.

By four years of age, your child should be using all sounds accurately except the following: s, v, r, th and consonant clusters (eg. green, pink).  Your child may still have a ‘lisp‘ when starting school (eg. ‘thilly’ for ‘silly’), which may need attention from a speech pathologist to correct.  They may also have difficulty with ‘r’, ‘v’ and ‘th’ up until 8 years of age.  This is the grey area where it is good to keep an eye on your child up until these ages (or think about speech pathologist waiting lists) but not necessarily be too concerned before this as it could certainly resolve itself.

If your child uses a dummy or sucks their thumb, keep in mind the longer they do it, the more possibility they could experience difficulty with a lisp and incorrect mouth position.   This is more likely for children who suck a dummy or thumb well past three years of age.

If your child is having difficulty making certain sounds, here are a few pointers:

  • don’t make fun of your child’s speech! For the young ones, it is likely they aren’t aware they are making errors
  • emphasise the correct way to pronounce the sound in the word (eg. ‘ohh the carrot’ for a child saying ‘tarrot’) but don’t make a big deal of it 
  • try not to exaggerate the sound too much or you risk your child learning to say the word with the sound exaggerated
  • be wary of children who may become upset with a lot of attention drawn to their speech errors (particularly the older children).  It is probably better to look into a speech pathologist if this becomes a problem before they really get put off focussing on changing speech errors
  • notice if your child changes the speech error over time – your child might start by saying ‘crown’ as ‘wown’, but then they might start calling it a ‘fwown’ which is getting closer as they are now putting a sound (‘f’) in place of the ‘c’ instead of no sound.  This is a sign your child is developing their speech skills and might resolve the speech errors on their own!

Remember!  The more you reinforce your child’s shortened versions of words, such as ‘nana/narny’ for ‘banana’, ‘bik bik’ for ‘biscuit’ or ‘puter’ for ‘computer’, the less of a model they get to eventually say the word correctly.  Model how to say words for your child!

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Related post – ‘We’re off to a speechie – finding a brilliant one’.