Fun exercises to encourage speech development

Just yesterday, I got an Instagram DM from an old family friend who had seen some recent posts I made about speech therapy. His son had just turned 2 ½  and still was not talking. Without context, it’s hard to tell if this is something concerning,and I can’t make any diagnoses over IG (obviously). But I was struck by how many times I’ve gotten this same message.

I’m at the age where all my friends are having kids and, as an SLP, I’ve become their “speech checker”. In fact, five of my friends have reached out to me about their child’s speech delay during the pandemic. There are a variety of possible reasons for the recent uptick in speech and language disorders and delays. Some of these reasons may include:

  • A decrease in social communication with people outside of your immediate family
  • An increase in device use, and an accompanying decrease in attention
  • Use of face coverings, which decrease opportunities for imitation and may create communication breakdowns

If your child is dealing with a speech delay, you’re not alone. A staggering 15-20% of 2-year-olds have been diagnosed with a speech or language delay. It will be helpful to know that with a little practice, in most cases, you and your child will be quickly on your way to fluent communication. 

One thing I’ve learned from working as a speech therapist is that most parents haven’t been taught how speech and language develops. Many parents think that speech will just emerge like how babies grow hair, but speech is a skill, and skills need to be nurtured and developed. 

Luckily, parents have a natural sense of how to best nurture these skills without consciously being aware of how they’re doing it. My parents certainly didn’t understand how speech and language developed, but I learned. For example, parents will naturally speak slowly and in an exaggerated way to their kids so that the child will be more likely to attend to the speech and be able to imitate (motherese). But in these times, with kids waning attention spans and competing stimuli like baby shark and fortnite, we may need something extra.

Enter beatboxing. Beatboxing is the art of using the oral mechanism – the mouth – to make drum sounds. It originated as an art form among Hip Hop circles in the 1980’s, and it continues to push the limits of the human voice to this day. It also happens to be an awesome way to practice speech and language. 

So, how can beatboxing be helpful in developing your child’s speech? The building blocks of speech and language skills are the same as the building blocks of beatboxing skills — these building blocks are called phonemes

A phoneme is any perceptually distinct unit of sound, like the /t/ sound or the /b/ sound. If your child has difficulty pronouncing certain sounds, beatboxing can help your child practice making the sounds alone, or using them in words over and over without the frustration of flashcards or feeling stigmatized. Another big plus is that beatboxing is fun and super easy. Anyone can do it, regardless of musical background.

Check out this video to learn a basic beatboxing sound:

Once you learn the basics, here are a few fun exercises to encourage speech development and literacy skills at the same time:

  • Rhyme on the four. In this game, you simply make a beat together and come up with rhyming words at the end of each measure. This would let you target whichever letter sounds you want while practicing rhyming (an important phonological awareness skill).
  • Switching out initial/final consonants or vowels with beatboxing patterns — First, choose the sound that your child has difficulty pronouncing. In the ‘boots and cats’ example, you can have your child switch out either initial/final sounds to practice target sounds. For example, ‘boots and cats’ may become ‘boots and cuts,’ or ‘suits and cats,’ or ‘birds and cops.’
  • Teaching the whole family or friends how to beatbox — Have siblings or friends? You can have your child teach their friends how to beatbox. This is great for generalization and for working on social skills.

If you’re still looking for more, check out our free newsletter which contains a bunch more fun exercises to encourage speech development along with other helpful tips, research, and more. Here’s a quote from one of our subscribers:

“Speech therapy homework was like pulling teeth, and (my son) had zero zero interest. After learning beatboxing, he was really motivated, and I can tell you for sure that now he is practicing all the time.”

  • Tricia, parent and music therapist 
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