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Four Fun Ways to Target your Child’s Communication Skills at the Cottage!

Summer vacation is here! And what better, more Canadian, way is there to spend it than sitting on the dock at the cottage. But even though YOU might be on vacation, your child’s learning NEVER takes time-off. Read on to find out four fun-filled ways to target communication skills at the cottage this summer (inspired by my childhood memories).

1) Scavenger hunt. I have some truly fond memories of my older cousins setting up a scavenger hunt for my sisters and I; we read the clues and ran all over the cottage property to the specified locations and eventually reached the bag of 5 cent candy that had been purchased at the local marina.

A scavenger hunt can be a wonderful way to work on language skills with your children; and better yet, it will likely keep them busy for most of the day. Depending on your child’s age, they can be involved in writing the clues and reading them to target literacy skills. For younger children, it might make more sense to focus on their oral language. Specifically, you can practice their ability to “describe” and generate clues for others that you can write down. For example, think of several locations around your cottage property to leave clues. Then, get your child to generate 3 descriptors about that location. If the location is the boat, they might say, “It is on the water and you go for rides in it, but it does not have wheels”. Conversely, you can create similar clues that your child has to solve. You could target the following in your clues: vocabulary (i.e.,introduce new words and help your child learn what they mean), spatial concepts (e.g., on top/under/beside the dock), categories (i.e., talk about plants, vehicles, animals), inferences (e.g., "You swim in the water, you row a ____"), temporal information (e.g., “Before you go to the boat, go to the swing set and the dock”) or rhyming skills (e.g., “Go to the place on the water that rhymes with sock”). Make the clues short and simple or long and complex, depending on your child’s language abilities.

2) Dock jumping contest. Everyone loves to take a nice dip at the cottage on a sunny summer day. Why not have a dock-jumping contest while you’re at it? We don’t often think of these physical types of activities as good opportunities to practice language, but they certainly can be. For example, work on following multi-step or complex directions in the contest and see if your child can follow along (e.g., “Cannonball into the lake with your hands on your head”, “Flap your hands like a bird while you sing the national anthem”, or “Jump into the lake on one foot, after you tell a joke”). You can make the directions as silly and challenging as you’d like. If you want to up the stakes, make the tasks longer or more complex each round and the last person to keep following correctly is the winner!

You could also target speech sounds in this activity, if your child is working on his/her articulation skills. For example, for the /s/ sound, or “snake sound”, you can pretend to slither across the dock while making this sound and then jump into the water. For the /f/ sound, or “funny bunny” sound, you can make the /f/ sound while hopping along the dock and then jump in like a bunny. Feel free to get creative, give the sounds a fun nickname and an associated animal or action.

Lastly, to target early literacy skills, specifically letter awareness, you and your children could take turns jumping into the water in the shape of various letters and guess which letter each person is “acting out” (think YMCA).

3) Frog/minnow catching and fishing. Have you ever made a net out of a hanger and stockings? Well, I have. I also have memories of catching, or attempting to catch, just about anything in my grandmothers old, cleaned-out margarine containers. For children of all ages, activities like these are such a terrific way for you to introduce them to new vocabulary (e.g., amphibian, camouflage, surface, cast, release, spawn, bait, etc. etc.). Target sequencing skills by teaching them about the frog life cycle (i.e., egg- tadpole- froglet- frog) and asking them to explain it later to another family member. If your child successfully catches something, use that as an opportunity to teach them about “habitats” and all the things the creature relies on to survive (before releasing said creature).

4) Campfires and S'mores. Campfires can be a wonderful opportunity to target your child’s oral narrative skills, which are hugely important for their ability to have successful back and fourth conversations and are linked to later reading skills (which are critical for academic success).

To target sequencing/procedural narrative skills, teach your child how to make a s'more, and then have them explain all of the steps to someone else. If they have difficulty remembering the steps, take a picture for each one so your child can use a sequence of visuals to help them in their re-tell.

Next, you can tell silly or scary stories around the campfire. You can either go around the circle and have each person add something to the story or you can designate a story-teller. You can explicitly teach your children about what SLPs call “story grammar”, which are the elements that most “good stories” contain, including a setting, characters, initiating event/problem, feelings/response of the character, a plan/attempt to solve the problem, a solution/consequence, a reaction, and the ending. If you aren’t confident in your ability to generate a story of your own, re-telling your child’s favourite story or movie works just as well!

The cottage can be a wonderful place to learn new skills and make memories that last a lifetime. But if you think that your child may benefit from more direct speech/language intervention to boost his/her skills before the next school year, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Have a safe and wonderful summer!

Stephanie and Jill

Registered Speech-Language Pathologists

Aurora Speech Clinic

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