No one ever said that flashcards were the only way to improve your child’s speech and language skills. In fact, motivating play activites are often more effective contexts to incorporate practice of your child’s newly developed skills.
Play is how children naturally explore and develop new skills in infancy. Because it is so natural for children, play eliminates the pressure associated with performing well for their parents during drill practice, promoting increased confidence and success with communication. Another reason that play is a superior context for practicing new skills is that children enjoy play activities and find the interaction rewarding.
Play provides a format for parents to model appropriate use of the child’s developing communication skills, which may include anything from accurate production of a specific speech sound to the correct use of pronouns (e.g., ‘he’ and ‘she’). Parents may then comment on the child’s success with the new skill (e.g., Child: “He is fast.” Parent: “Yes, HE is fast.”) or repeat the intended message correctly (e.g., “SHE is fast.”). Parents may easily reinforce appropriate language and/or accurate sounds without directly pointing out the child’s errors. Use of new communication skills during unstructured play activities, especially those that require movement through space and distract the child’s attention from the newly acquired skill, may be indicative of more developed skills. When compared to structured table tasks (e.g., flashcards, drill practice), responses during play conversations are less predictable and facilitate greater language variability (i.e. different types of responses, variety of vocabulary and grammatical structures).
Although flashcards, drill practice, and computer programs are effective tools that parents may employ to enhance communication skills at the home, play should not be overlooked.