Does your child have trouble putting together longer sentences or telling a complete story? If your family celebrates it, Halloween can be a great time to work on developing your child’s language skills in these areas.
Fingerplays like 5 Little Pumpkins are a great way to introduce kids to new vocabulary and rhymes. For the littlest ones or those with the most limited language, they can participate by doing the actions with you. Repetition of the words and actions helps children participate. Once your child can sing along, you can draw attention to the rhymes by deliberately messing up some of the words in the song. If your child notices or can play along they know the song well! Visual supports, like a printable book, can promote independent learning. If your child likes this kind of things, the internet is full of more fall and Halloween fingerplays and songs. Older kids will notice that some of these use familiar rhymes and patterns with a tweak made for this season.
Another idea is to focus on story telling and sequencing. Learning to put steps in order and tell a short story about what happened can improve story telling skills. Consider sequencing things like how to make a jack-o-lantern. First talk about the pictures and put them in order together. Then have your child put them in order herself and describe what happened. This becomes more concrete if you can actually carve the pumpkin yourself so that she gets to know the topic more concretely.
Children may also develop their play skills by re-enacting real life events through play. The best materials for this are social stories. These stories describe what is going to happen in a situation that tends to happen the same way every time. For instance, birthday parties, going to the doctor, or getting ready for bed are all events that have a predictable rhythm. These stories support children who need to know more about what is happening next or need help participating in a new social activity. Social stories tell kids what is happening, in order, and provide them with the words to say.
A Halloween social story might focus on the script of trick-or-treating, which would include ringing the doorbell, saying “trick or treat”, getting candy, and saying “Thank You” or “Happy Halloween”. Reading stories about this, practicing with props and then going trick-or-treating can be lots of fun. Leave props and decorations out for a few weeks after Halloween and you’ll see kids play at carrying out the script on their own or with friends. Just like the finger plays, you can add places where things don’t quite go as expected and watch for a reaction. Give out a piece of broccoli instead of candy or say Happy Easter instead of Happy Halloween. If your child giggles and thinks it’s funny, then you know they’ve learned the script and are ready to experiment or elaborate on it and add in extra elements to the story!
This guest post was written by members of the Grammar Acquisition Lab. Our lab focuses on providing evidence in support of language intervention strategies. We see children across the state of Iowa with language learning impairments. Please contact us if you’d like to know more about our current studies. Check out our lab on facebook!