It seems like yesterday that your child was entering kindergarten and mispronouncing that stubborn sound was no big deal. Now that she's in first grade, speech problems are no longer an issue you can treat only at home, says Simalee Smith-Stubblefield, Associate Professor of Speech-Language Pathology at University of the Pacific. “By first and second grade if children are still having problem with pronouncing sounds they should see a professional,” she says.
If you're worried about finding the right speech help for your child, don't sweat it. Most public schools provide speech therapy on-site. If not, some insurance companies cover the cost.
As well as professional help, your child will need your utmost support and encouragement. This may be a trying time, especially if her friends don't have any speech problems. You can help your child improve with additional practice outside the specialist's office, but remember to keep a light tone. You don't want to make her feel like she's always in the spotlight. Here are some games that make practice feel more like play:
- Leave the “Motor” On. When a child has a problem with a sound he often skips over it or mispronounces it. The phrase “motor on” can be used to remind your child that he has to articulate that sound. When you say “motor on” he has to repeat the word and try to pronounce it correctly. But fair's fair. If you get to pick on your child's bad habits, he gets to pick on yours. Let him say “motor on” when you do something wrong, such as forgetting to put the cap back on the toothpaste. This way he won't feel as picked on. Reward him with stickers and other small prizes as he learns to keep his motor on more and more. Try not to use this phrase too much in public, since your child may become embarrassed.
- Use Alliteration. Alliteration is when you repetitively use the same sound. And if your child has problems with a particular sound, using alliteration is great practice. Have her come up with tongue twisters that will stump you, using her specific problem sounds. She can take as long as she'd like to say the sentence, but you'll be challenged to say it as fast as possible. Your child will roar with laughter as you stumble over confusing sentences, but she's actually practicing speech.
- Try Rhyming. Play a rhyming game with your child that includes problem sounds. If you tell him that he can be the next Doctor Seuss, he will be more inventive and enthusiastic about coming up with rhymes. Write the words down as you go. Some can be made-up, as long as the sounds are correct. Want to take it a step further? Make your own rhyming book! Write a sentence on each page that rhymes with the sentence on the page before. Have your child illustrate. Voila! Now, you have a great bedtime story to read that also allows you to squeeze in more speech practice.
You can ask the speech specialist for more games, but make sure not to overwhelm your child with too much work. Have patience and don't get upset if your child gets frustrated. Practice makes perfect. One day your kid will be able to pronounce sounds so well that even tongue twisters won't stand a chance.