It doesn’t always work and that’s OK!

It happens to the best of us, we all have bad days. Sometimes despite meticulous planning, fantastic ideas and the best resources you can find, it can all still go wrong!!  Children have an incredible way of ‘changing’ the best laid plans.  I think the important word here is ‘change’.  The plans haven’t been ruined and don’t become useless.  You might just have to have a rethink.  It might be a bit scary, I have had therapy sessions where I feel like I’m ‘winging it’ completely, but sometimes amazing things can happen.

Only two weeks ago, I had planned a language group session for one of the schools I work in. You know the beginning of term is harder for the children; the new ones are still settling in and getting used to school and even though the older ones should know better, they have just had six weeks off.  So I made sure I took some exciting games and planned to target some body vocabulary.  Within five minutes of starting the session it became very apparent that today’s plan just wasn’t going to work.  I put down the cards I had carefully prepared, gave up on the activities I had planned and instead we had great fun blowing bubbles onto either our fingers or toes.  Some of us took our shoes and socks off and the children told me where to blow the bubbles – either onto their hands/ fingers or feet/ toes.  Some of them were cheeky and asked me to blow bubbles on their knees or head.  One young man, being very clever, asked me to blow them on his elbow!  Fantastic.  We all had a good giggle and a little shrieking and I still managed to target some body vocabulary, the children listened and followed instructions and joined in.  What could have felt like a disaster ended up being lots of fun and still supported their language development.

So, the moral of my story: There is no harm in changing your plans, trying something else or if all else fails giving up and trying again another day! I remember that after my son started school, I really missed spending some extra time with him during the week and used to try and make up for it by planning fun things to do at the weekend.  In fact, by the time we got to the weekend he was tired and just wanted a ‘lazy day’.  I was upset that he didn’t want to do things with me, but really he did – just not things that involved getting dressed first!  So we made forts, read books and watched telly (shock horror!).  We still had a great time, even if it wasn’t what I had planned.

doesnt work
Base image credit: Ali Haider
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‘But they won’t do it’

It’s something I hear and come up against quite frequently. You are worried about your child’s development, you finally get to the appointment and see the professional you have been waiting for (hopefully) and you get some activities or pictures to work on at home. Now they may be badly photocopied, black and white pictures. They may even be rather odd and not really what you were hoping for and you aren’t quite sure what to do with them, but you’re going to try! So day one, you sit down to work on the activity and your child completely refuses.  They won’t look at the pictures, listen to the game or join in at all. What do you do now??

This can be the scenario for younger children, who really need engaging with things they like first, but equally older children who need their confidence building or need to know why you want to work on something with them. I was recently working with one young man who had just turned three, who needed some help with his speech sounds. The first few sessions went well; he enjoyed the games and would practise at home with mum during the week.  Then, at about week three, he refused.  He wouldn’t look at the pictures, despite praising him, asking him and even a little bribery! He had done them before. He was bored of them.  He wasn’t going to do them AGAIN. This obviously concerned his mum and myself.  But we worked round it.  We played; he was three and that was what he wanted to do.  He loved to show me pictures of his family in the photo album, so without him realising, we were practising the names of important people in his life - a valuable and functional set of words.  I suddenly had a very poor memory and he had to keep telling me who everyone was!  He loved books, so I made sure I always had a selection of simple stories with nice short words in, so we could practise using the sounds at the ends of words.  He would happily copy the words and sounds from me looking at a book, but not looking at my cards.

I advised mum to ‘play’ in this way as well and each week gave her a sound or set of words to target in their play. However, I think it can feel woolly and not targeted just being told to play when you know that strangers can’t understand what your child says and you are desperate to make things better.  But in fact playing can be the best thing you can do.

Tips and ideas

  • Pick things that you know will engage your child. Some children love flash cards, others don’t. Some love Thomas the tank engine or Minecraft.  Try and work in things your child likes.
  • Read books with your child.  Even this normal everyday activity can support so many skills.  You can target sounds, concepts, predict what’s going to happen next, talk about how the characters feel. The list is endless.  It also supports your child’s literacy skills.
  • Go for a walk and talk about what you can see.  The seasons provide us with constant change and things to describe.  Then when you get home you can talk about the order of what you saw and recount what you talked about.  Just keep talking!!
  • Explain ‘why’ to older children.  If your child will understand, explain why you want to work on that sound/ concept etc.  Be careful not to imply that they are doing something wrong or scare them.  For example you can say something like, “I would really like to help with that ‘th’ sound. I think it will help your reading and writing”.  But we don’t want to say things like “I want to work on your /th/ sound because nobody understands you when you talk”!
  • Give your child some choice in what you practise.  Do you want to say the ‘s’ sound or ‘t’ sound today?  Shall we read a book or go for a walk?  Either outcome means you have done some work, but your child will feel more in control and hopefully more likely to join in.
  • Don’t be afraid to change what you had planned.  If it’s not working, stop and try something else.
  • Don’t be afraid to give up.  As I said in the beginning, we all have bad days.  Don’t be afraid to stop and give up on an activity for that day.  Just remember to come back to it or try again another day!

Elizabeth Gunner SpeechBlogUK

Speech & Language Therapist at Speech Blog UK
Elizabeth is a speech therapist working in the South-East of England and a regular columnist for Special Needs Jungle as well as one half of the SpeechBlogUK ladies.
Elizabeth Gunner SpeechBlogUK

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