Don’t Talk With Your Mouth Full! Building Communication Skills at the Dinner Table

 

Building Communication Skills at the Dinner Table

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Eating together as a family has been shown to improve academic scores for kids, build stronger family relationships, and contribute to healthier eating habits. You can use the dinner table, too, as a centerpiece for building communication skills with your kids.

Talk of the Table: Building Communication Skills

Homemade Articulation Target Placemats – Take the sounds your child is targeting and turn them into homemade placemats. Take a piece of cardstock or drawing paper and add stickers for the target (or print a page with related clipart). If the sound is /s/, add stickers of snakes, soda, salamanders, sandals, etc. Then have your child create a story about one of the pictures to build speaking skills and use the target sound. You can also create placemats with basic vocabulary words. Laminate them for extra durability and to last for more than one meal of spaghetti!

Building Communication Skills at the Dinner Table

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Toothpick Vocabulary – Type a list of vocabulary words, print them on address labels or plain paper, and then affix them like miniature flags to the tops of toothpicks or skewers. Have fun and let your child use these instead of silverware – practicing the words that are on each flag as she eats. You can get into the fun, too, but adding in challenging or new vocabulary words for yourself.

Building Communication Skills at the Dinner Table

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Menu Masterpiece – As a literacy builder, use a chalkboard or piece of cardboard as a menu stand and write the menu on it, encouraging your child to read the selections to the rest of the family. You can also use name place cards with your actual names or get creative and add names of famous people  who will be your “dinner guests” for the evening.

Eating Out? No Problem.

If your family dinner is in the middle of a restaurant, keep the kids busy and practice articulation and communication skills with these easy activities.

Let the kids order – OK, so it’s not really a game, but it is a great opportunity to help your young child build communication skills. To help him find success, when the waiter comes to the table, begin by saying something such as, “[Sam] is really working hard on his restaurant skills and is looking forward to ordering his own food tonight.” It boosts a child’s self-confidence and gives a heads up to the wait staff that this is a valuable part of the meal. Don’t forget to rehearse with your child before the wait staff arrives if needed.

Building Communication Skills at the Dinner Table

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I Spy – You can limit it to things on the menu, at the table, or give the whole restaurant a go. If you are working on specific sounds, limit the game to those targets. For example, start the game by saying it is time to play I Spy the Sound of /r/ and then explain that whatever item is selected needs to start with that particular sound.

What About Challenges with Oral Motor Skills?

Work with your child’s SLP or occupational therapist to treat feeding and sensory issues that might make dinner time more challenging. If you have a child with oral sensory issues that are part of his speech or communication disorders, some options you can discuss with your child’s SLP include:

  • Letting your child smell or touch the foods without feeling compelled to eat it
  • Serving 2 foods that satisfy sensory needs and 1 small portion of a new food
  • Serving more finger foods that can satisfy sensory needs before the food is put in the mouth
  • Using trays like the kind used in cafeterias instead of plates – they keep the foods separate and lesson anxiety over food issues
  • Offering electronic toothbrushes or other sensory stimulators just before eating

The next time you’re feeling like there just isn’t time in the day to fit everything in and be able to have a family dinner, try some of these 10 minute dinnertime activities to boost communication skills. There’s more to be learned around the dinner table than just: Don’t talk with your mouth full of food!

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