Well, we're in the thick of summer now. And, despite the ongoing pandemic and some associated travel restrictions, a lot of families are still finding ways to get out and enjoy the sunny weather. Whether it be hitting up a local pool or park, paddling around a local lake, or heading off on a multi-day camping trip, I'm sure you are all out and having a great time! Since I know many families take some time off of speech therapy services in the summer, I thought it might be nice to compile a list of ideas to support speech and language development while you're out and about enjoying your summer. Initially I was going to give activities for a variety of goal areas, but I had too much to write for one post. So I will split this over a few posts. For now, here are some great activities for my favorite areas of practice:
SOCIAL THINKING, EXECUTIVE FUNCTION, and NARRATIVE SKILLS
Kids help pack! Packing is a great way to practice executive functioning skills like planning ahead and visualizing next steps. (as Sarah Ward calls it, doing a mental mime) Before going on a camping trip, to the beach, or even to the park, ask your child to picture what they'll be doing at the destination. If it helps with the visualization, they can even draw a picture of them on the trip. If they're having trouble, talk them through some of the plans and highlight some of what they might be doing. You can also get in and help them draw the picture if they'll let you. Or even do a sort of "practice run" of acting or miming out the activities.
Have them describe (or even circle in the picture they drew) what objects they'll need to bring with them. For camping, this might be a flashlight, sleeping bag, book,...and don't forget the marshmallows! For the park, it might be something as simple as a water bottle, sun-hat, snack, and blanket to sit on. As a final step, encourage them to find the objects they need and really pack them. Provide whatever level of support helps them be successful. They may need help writing down their list, reminders to check their list, or just to look at the drawing they made.
Build a story, and maybe even act it out!: On my most recent camping trip with family, the kids (aged 8-13) in the site next to ours actually planned out and presented a whole play. They invited most of the people at the campground to join them in the large common area one evening to watch the production! (Their parents were quite astounded when half the campground showed up to watch!) Certainly nothing this ambitious is required, but camping or being outside offers some great opportunities for story building.
For younger kids, just telling a story to them in the tent at bedtime or while resting poolside is a great way to build narrative skill. For something slightly more advanced, you can tell stories together. Take turns adding a component or discuss together how the story should go - this also provides a great opportunity for one of our flexible thinking strategies of combining ideas! It's not always so easy to incorporate someone else's ideas with your own.
You can also do a story retell: have them tell you back a book you've just read or a story you've just told. For a twist, you can ask them to add a new element or change something. For example, instead of a Pout Pout Fish, what if it was a Pout Pout Bird? How would the story be different? It takes a lot of executive functioning skills and flexible thinking to be able to do a twisted re-tell, but they can be a lot of fun!!
Being in nature (and often away from screens!) can really help increase creativity and ideas for story generation. Using found natural objects can be a fun thing to incorporate too. Maybe the pine cones are the characters in a puppet show? Or if you're acting out a story, a stick could be a baseball bat or a broomstick or a wand. Using one object as something else builds creativity as well as flexible thinking skills.
When telling the stories or acting out your play, focus on feelings and inferences. Ask your child what might happen next or what the characters might be feeling. These are less concrete details that often don't find their way into our kids' stories without a bit of prompting. You can ask questions like:
You can also tell your own story. At the end of your trip or day at the park (or pool or beach), look through some of the photos you took. Re-tell some of the things that happened. The pictures can help jog your child's memory, and you can help add structure to their narrative by cueing them to add in all of the relevant components (characters, setting, problem, feelings, attempts to resolve the problem, and final solution.) If you're feeling really creative, you and your child can write the story down and print out some of the photos to go along with it, for a permanent memory of some summer fun.
Whatever activities you choose to do while you're out and about this summer, remember the one important summer golden rule: Keep it fun! Here's my little disclaimer/caveat: If your child has no interest in building a story with found objects or matching pinecones and leaves, don't push it. You can always try to make things fun and exciting (and as little like work as possible!) but just like fishing, sometimes you can hang the bait in but nothing bites. Studies have shown that just getting outside is so beneficial for the development of our children's brains, so sometimes just being in nature with family is enough. After all, summer is a time for you (parents!) to relax and recharge too. So don't be afraid to just let it go sometimes.
I hope you all enjoy your summers and have a great time making new memories! Feel free to leave a comment about what your family does to incorporate speech and language activities into your summer fun.
Carla Monteleone & Deborah Carter own and operate Grow Speech and Language Therapy in Vancouver, BC