We all know about the big debate - do we allow our children to use iPads and other devices for education and entertainment or are we giving them too much screen-time that fuels life-long dependencies, social skills problems and masses of parent-guilt. The reality is that technology is a part of the future and children will need to be tech-savvy in order to thrive in this environment. I see the trick being how the devices are being used, particularly with young children, and creating a healthy balance between screen-time and other forms of play.
So why use apps for speech therapy? Don't you need to talk for that?
Of course you need to talk for that - that's what adult helpers are for, but we'll get on to the tips a bit later. Firstly, let's talk about why they're useful.
1. They are portable and can be pulled out anywhere when needed.
As parents we spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting at the doctor's, sitting on a bus, train or plane, waiting for your friends to arrive for a playdate, waiting for Child 1 to have their swimming lesson, then Child 2 to have their piano lesson, the list goes on... Most of the time we're not going to think to pack the speech therapy folder, but the phone is always there. Instead of checking facebook while your child plays games on their iPad, you can practise some speech sounds together.
2. They are motivating and capture our children's attention.
I'm sure there will be no arguments here.
3. The apps can be relatively cheap to buy.
Prices vary a lot for speech apps, depending on how many sounds you need to work on and the quality of the games and entertainment value. If use of the apps reduces the number of visits to a speech pathologist, this money will be well worth it.
OK so I've decided to get an app or 2 and my speech pathologist has recommended some good ones. How do I get started?
1. Choose the right sounds
This sounds basic but is easy to get wrong. If your child has several error sounds, work on the same one/s that your speech pathologist is working on. Don't just pick any sounds and do them randomly and don't practise sounds that your child can already say. That will encourage your child to take the easy way out and not bother with the hard sounds.
2. Choose the right word position
Apps usually allow you to choose whether you want to target the sound at the beginning of words, at the end of words or in the middle of words. It is usually a good idea to begin by focussing on one position at a time.
3. Get Ready
Most apps start at word level, but your child might not be up to that stage yet. You might need to practise saying the sound by itself first, and then practise syllables. For example, if you've decided to work on the S sound at the beginning of words, first practise saying "s...s...s" and then practise "see....sar...soo" and other S syllables. Don't start practising words until the syllables are correct.
4. Choose the right level
If your app allows it, start at single words and then progress through different levels, in the following order:
You might need a few different apps to get through all of these levels. Children usually need to practise sentences before new sounds start to appear in conversational speech.
Remember to practise all word positions at all levels.
OK, now I know how to start, how can I get the most out of it?
1. Sit with your child when they're doing their speech.
Keep them on task - stop them from changing apps
Choose the correct sound, word position and level
Give feedback, as described below
Demonstrate the sounds and words for them if needed
Remember the app is just the tool that gives you the words to practise. The magic happens in the interaction you have together.
2. Give feedback.
Initially your child probably won't know when they make speech errors. They will think they're correct, so when your child says "dun" instead of "sun", saying to them "No, say 'sun" isn't going to help them. Be specific and say "you said 'dun', try it with 'sss', like this, 's..un".
Most of your feedback should be positive. Tell your child when they have said the words correctly and praise them for it.
3. Keep smiling
Whatever you do, don't frown. Kids pick your mood and won't want to do it if they think you're going to get upset with them. Don't get cranky when they say the words wrong, no matter how frustrating it is. Just keep giving positive feedback and be aware of what messages your face is giving. A smile goes a long way.