Commonly Asked Questions: Part II: Is Speech Homework Really that Important?

Welcome back to Part II of this multi-part blog series that answers frequently asked questions.  Up this week: 

 2. Is the speech homework my speech therapist provided really that important?

In one word, YES!!! However, I do know how hard this one actually is from personal experience.  As mentioned in previous posts, I have suffered from back issues for several years. And as a result, I have spent my fair share of time at the physical therapist’s office.  Where they assigned homework.  Where I was really good about doing it for the first 3 days and then literally forgot until I was walking into the next session a week later. Believe me, I get it!   Doing the assigned homework is going to take effort to get it done.  However, your child’s speech therapist can tell which families consistently do the homework and which ones don’t. Just like I am sure that my physical therapist could tell when I had consistently (key word being “consistently!”) been doing my exercises, just like your dentist knows if you only floss the day of your dental exam.  So why do I harp on homework?  To start, we typically see your child for an hour a week.  Now if you take out time spent sleeping (I’m being generous and saying your child sleeps for 12 hours a day), that leaves 84 hours of time spent awake each week.  We see your child for one of these 84 hours.  That means we see your child for less than 1.2% of their week.  If we want generalization to occur, we need to be practicing these skills for more than 1% of the time!


So, what is the best way of going about doing this? Great question!!


1.     Pair speech homework with another activity that you never skip (i.e., brushing teeth, bedtime stories, driving to school in the morning).   From asking families that have found a way to incorporate their speech homework into their daily lives, this seems to be one of the top ways to do so.  If your child is working on articulation (how they pronounce words), have a list of words written on a post-it note on the bathroom mirror and have your child say each word after they brush their teeth (please be present for this to make sure they are actually practicing them correctly!) Want to make you child really like this activity?  If they are old enough, have them write the word with lipstick, eye liner, lip liner, etc on the mirror (buy a cheap brand at the drugstore).  I don’t know a child who doesn’t love writing on things they are not technically suppose to! It will be one big, sloppy reminder to practice! Let’s say your child is working on using correct irregular past tense verbs.  On the drive to school, have them create past tense sentences about what they saw going down the road (ex., I just sawa dog.  The man rodehis bike. She wentinto the store.)  


2.    Make it fun! You have probably noticed by now that your child typically will play a game during their speech session.  While speech pathologists love a good game, for us, games are used as a reinforcement tool.  Research suggests that for generalization of articulation skills to form, 150 correct trials need to be produced in a 30-minute window.  And as you can probably guess, just saying words over and over and over, gets pretty old, pretty fast to little bodies.  Thus, games and other activities.  Practicing at home can be the same way!  Choose a game that you can play with your child. Games where you each take a turn and can stop between turns work best.  Have your child say their word, make a sentence, whatever you are targeting in speech before they take their turn of the game.  When the game is over, speech practice is over.  There are many children’s games that take about 15 minutes to complete.  


3.    Implement a reward system. We all get rewarded for working.  As adults, it comes in the form of a paycheck.  For kids, it might be something like: for every day you do your speech homework, you get a star.  Once you reach 10 stars, you get to choose dessert that night, an extra 30 minutes of screen time, etc.  Another reward system I like is placing words that are being targeted in speech (could be for articulation or expressive/receptive language) on slips of paper.  Fold them up and put them in a bowl.  On one slip of paper, put a star or smiley face.  When this paper is pulled out, the reward has been earned.  This will keep little hands reaching in trying to get that golden ticket!   


4.    Make it a family event!  There is no reason that your child’s speech homework can’t be done with other members of the family.  Everyone can play a game and say a word before their turn.  Your child benefits from hearing other models and siblings benefit by learning that what might have come easy for them, is not easy for everyone. 


5.    Set a reminder on your phone.  If all else fails, set a daily reminder to go off for when you know that you are with your child.  Even if you can only get a couple practices in, it can add up throughout the week!  


6.    Strive for just 5 minutes each day.  We don’t expect you to sit down with your child and practice for an hour each day. Would that be amazing? Absolutely! Is it necessary? Nope!  If you can commit to 5 minutes in the morning or 5 minutes at night.  You would have one content speech pathologist on your hands!