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The Best Ways To Complete Speech Therapy Homework With Your Child

Traditionally, homework from an academic setting (i.e., school) is given to a student as work from the classroom to complete at home, and a child’s familiarity and proficiency with the material can vary.  I am sure that we can all recall times when we were presented with the task of completing homework on a new subject matter, and the struggle that can be associated with trying to tackle a new assignment for the very first time.  While this methodology may be encouraged and effective for academic learning, it is not preferred in most speech therapy homework. 

Properly assigned speech therapy homework is characterized by practice of previously mastered skills; it serves to reinforce skills developed within speech therapy sessions.  The purpose of speech therapy homework is to strengthen skills, to develop greater automaticity, and to maintain proficiency.  Speech therapy homework is not meant to develop new skills, refine behaviors, or for experimentation in best techniques for developing placement of the articulators (lips, teeth, tongue, etc.).  When this type of unskilled teaching-- a “trial and error” approach-- is used, it commonly leads to one of two things: little to no change in speech production abilities or regression.

It’s counter-intuitive to our traditional view on homework, that “practice makes perfect,” though this is an important distinction to make when supporting speech sound acquisition in the home environment—what type of practice is best?   When a child is learning to ride a bike, for example, we encourage them to pick up the bike and hop on, to keep trying until they get it right.  Along those same lines, in sporting activities like soccer, children are encouraged to practice kicking the soccer ball around in the park in preparation for play with their team on the field.  In speech homework though, there is a prescribed level of basic proficiency that needs to be developed first.  It’s more like learning to swim.  A child will need guided support in learning to swim first before they are left to swim independently-- how to move in the water versus on land, how to breathe, etc.  Adult attention and support is critical and is a provision that is in place until a child has established ‘the basics,’ and then more independent opportunities are offered to him or her.   

Similarly, when it comes to speech therapy, we are frequently working on two fronts by both establishing a new motor plan and extinguishing an old motor plan.  The content and quality of the practice is key.  Thus, the initial guided support should come from your child’s speech therapist in therapy, to establish the accurate motor speech movements for target sound productions.  In many cases, this also then involves decreasing a child’s use of an old, inaccurate motor plan.   Once proficiency has been met through mastery of productions at a given level across several sessions, it may be appropriate to begin home practice.   

To ensure that your home practice is maximizing your child’s speech production abilities, consider the content and methods you are using at home.  Wait for your therapist’s OK  to begin home practice and consider what, where, when, and with whom your child is completing this work.      

Again, homework is “home practice” of previously mastered skills.  Participation in homework should not require skilled instruction to complete.  It’s simply an opportunity for your son or daughter to repeat a learned motor plan that he or she is already very familiar with.  Well developed homework will not require a parent to provide extensive cues or supports in order to elicit the correct postures or positioning for a target sound.  When a more elaborate support system is needed, home practice is likely premature. 

Homework can take many forms.  You can work on typed word lists, with pictures, or objects using several different medium, including board games, computers, an iPad, or an iPhone.  The target words should not be new.  They should be familiar to your child from prior speech therapy sessions.  Homework time will provide an opportunity for repetition and rehearsal of the target words. 

Speech homework should be completed in a quiet environment where work is typically done.  A tabletop with good lighting away from noise and distraction from others is best.  Avoid completing speech therapy homework in the car.  Why?  It’s nearly impossible to see your child face and more importantly, his or her lips, teeth, or tongue while driving.  You lose valuable information and the ability to provide feedback for correct versus incorrect productions.

Speech homework can be completed anytime really, but make it consistent. Develop a routine for completing homework regularly.  Homework should take between 5-30 minutes depending on what your child is working on.  If you have established regular routines throughout your day, add speech therapy home practice to one that your family already has. Good times for practice will depend on you and your family.  For some families, certain times are better than others, so use your discretion when selecting a time.  Be sure to consider your child’s state when selecting a time of day.  Avoid times when your child may be overly active, emotional, tired, restless, or easily distracted.  The time you select should be one that is devoted to speech therapy homework specifically and one that you can commit to on a regular basis.  Good times could be before dinner time, bath time, when brushing teeth, before bedtime stories, or right before breakfast.  Be creative!  It’s amazing what families can come up with.

Home practice should be completed with a parent or caregiver, and ideally not a sibling.  You should not be tasked with becoming a ‘therapist’ to help your child with the home practice activities.  Therefore, you should ask your child’s speech therapist for any recommended cues or prompts that are effective in eliciting the target sound.    Aside from this type of support, you should primarily serve to provide the opportunity for speech sound practice to occur and to encourage your child along the way. 

The treating therapist is tasked with developing the new speech production patterns, but a parent is needed to partner with the therapist to be sure that the as these skills are established, there is ample opportunity for practice.  The parent is tasked with creating an environment outside of therapy that will foster these skills.


Q &A on Homework

  1. Is homework useful?

    Yes.  Homework serves two main functions: it develops a more solid foundation of skills and it helps to support more accelerated progress for development of more automatic speech production in subsequent sessions.  As an added bonus, children who complete speech therapy homework often show generalization of skills (accurate sound use outside the walls of their speech therapist’s office) to other environments sooner, and faster progress overall.  
  2. Is Homework a must?

    No.  Many of you may be surprised to learn that homework may not be needed or ideal depending on you, your child, and your child’s skill set.  The benefits of regular home practice are clear, but the disadvantages of inaccurate, incomplete homework are also quite evident.  If your child’s schedule doesn’t allow for able opportunity for home practice, I’d recommend that you just skip it.  Remember that we are working on two fronts when completing homework, to establish a new motor plan and to extinguish an old one.  It will require regular and dedicated attention to be effective.  When homework is attempted prematurely or half-heartedly, your child may only be reinforcing old motor plans instead of establishing new ones.  In this way, homework can work against the intervention of the treating speech therapist.    
  3. What does ‘mastered’ mean? How do I know when my child’s speech production skills are ‘mastered?’

    ‘Mastered’ skills are those that are executed with high degrees of accuracy across multiple opportunities over time.  Often times, speech therapists will use a percentage benchmark as a method for measuring accuracy and then to set mastery level measures (number correct over number incorrect times 100).  I often use 90% or 95% accuracy for a given skill to define ‘mastery.’  For example, when working with a child on the correct production of “ch,”  mastery level productions at the word level (i.e., saying words such as “cheese,”  “chips,”  “chicken,”  “challenge” among a set of 25-50 other word targets) would be set to90% or 95% accuracy over multiple sessions of therapy.  

  4. If my child initiates experimentation, should I discourage it? 

    No. If your child initiates experimentation or practice of speech sounds, let them do it. This can provide an unstructured opportunity for your child to ‘play‘ in their mouth and try out what they have learned in weekly therapy.  When your child recalls his or her therapist’s cues or prompts and tries them out on his/her own it can be helpful in supporting speech sound development.  It also shows that your child is aware of the speech sound error and motivated to make a change outside the weekly appointment time.  This is an excellent development to observe.