No matter what you celebrate, the holidays are a time for family togetherness, belt-loosening good food, and some much-deserved relaxation. And as we bid farewell to 2020, I think it’s fair to say this is desperately needed!

The holidays are also a wonderful time of year to incorporate fun speech therapy practice at home. I always stress to parents and caregivers that speech therapy doesn’t require special materials or tools or games. In fact, one of the best ways to improve your child’s communication skills is simply by incorporating meaningful play and practice into their daily lives.

For families fortunate enough to take time off during the holidays, this is a great opportunity to engage your child in speech and language practice - regardless of whether they’re currently seeing a speech therapist. Listed below are some of my favorite holiday-themed activities. The best part is that you’re probably already doing many of them! This post will simply help you be more purposeful in reinforcing important speech therapy skills.

Practice Holiday-Themed Vocabulary Words

Your child is more likely to hear certain words this time of year - so why not help them learn and start using them!?

Helping to expand your child’s vocabulary doesn’t require any fancy flashcards. Gone are the days of boringly and endlessly drilling flashcards - with wandering eyes and glazed looks soon to follow! Instead, simply modeling holiday vocabulary words into your everyday conversations, with plenty of repetition and clear pronunciation. If you’re working on the word “tree” for example, you could say “I’m decorating the tree. The tree is now pretty. See the pretty tree?” If you’re playing in the snow, try saying “See the snow? The snow is falling. It’s fun to play in the snow!”

Make sure to emphasize the words “tree” and “snow” and use them repeatedly throughout your day. Children learn best when they listen and imitate the words they hear in their everyday environment. Here’s some examples of fun holiday words to start practice today:

  • Light
  • Season
  • Snow
  • Ornament
  • Present
  • Tree
  • Star
  • Sparkly
  • Bright
  • Winter
  • Candle
  • Bell
  • Cookie
  • Candy

Following Directions

You’re probably thinking: the greatest gift my child can give me is to follow directions! I can relate. However, following directions isn’t just key to your own good spirits and holiday cheer, it’s actually a vital skill that will last children a lifetime. They don’t just need to follow directions at home - they also need to cooperatively listen to their family members, teachers, and other adults they know and trust.

Following directions can be challenging for some children. Not because they’re intentionally being disobedient, but because it can be a rather complex skill to learn. It requires understanding vocabulary, grasping the meaning of what someone is saying, having the working memory to remember what was asked, and adequate attention and focus to carry out the direction.

Incorporating directions can be done with all different holiday activities, but let’s focus on a popular one: decorating a tree. Here’s a few types of directions you can practice with your child.

One-Step Directions: If your child is younger, or struggling with direction taking, start with simple, one-step directions.  This can be as easy as saying:

  • Come here
  • Put up the light
  • Give me the star
  • Bring me the ornament
  • Throw the snowball
  • Clean up the cookies

If your child has already mastered one-step directions, below are some variations of two-step directions that increase the challenge.

Sequential Directions: These directions require multiple steps and follow the “first… then” pattern. They require your child to do two or more actions at the same time. Examples include:

  • First, hang up the blue lights. Then, hang up the green lights.
  • First, bring me a yellow ornament. Then, put the ornament on the tree.
  • First, grab the presents. Then, put them under the tree

Before and After Directions: These are similar to sequential directions, but require that your child does something before or after they perform another action. Try switching the order of these actions to mix things up. These can be harder for children to master, but also necessary - we use them in conversation all the time. Examples include:  

  • Before you grab the gifts, make sure they’re wrapped
  • Put the ornament on the tree after you take it out of the box

Spatial Directions: Try practicing directions that include spatial words, such as above, below, under, over, beside, near, far, etc

  • Put the star above the tree
  • Put the presents under the tree
  • Set the milk beside the cookies

Songs and Poems

Many children have trouble accurately producing different speech sounds. Some common examples: the sounds /s/ /z/ /r/ /sh/ and others. If your child is struggling to articulate certain sounds or words, try to recite passages from fun holiday songs. Make sure to pay particular attention to their pronunciation, and have your child really focus on those target sounds. Using /s/ as an example, here’s a few songs you could practice.

  • “I’m a little sssssssnowman, short and fat. Here is my sssssscarf and here is my hat…”

  • “... and all through the houssssse, not a creature was ssssstirring, not even a moussssse.”

  • “... and when it’ssssss dry and ready, a dreidel I shall play.”

Holiday Cooking

While having a live-in sous-chef may be a faraway fantasy, your child can surely help! Invite them into the process and incorporate new vocabulary, verbalizations, and direction practice as you cook up a 5-star meal. Plus, your child may be more willing to participate if you dangle a tasty treat for them as a reward.

Use cooking or baking as an opportunity to point out new vocabulary, such as different ingredients, cooking tools, or techniques. “This is a pot. And in the pot goes water!” You can also practice colors, sizes, and adjectives as well. “These sprinkles are so many colors! I see a green one, a yellow one, a blue one, and what color is that?” And finally, this is another great opportunity to practice their direction taking skills. “First put in the salt, and then stir it together” or “before you put in the chocolate chips, add the flour.”

Reading Holiday-Themed Books

The benefits of reading regularly to your child can’t be overstated: it improves their reading comprehension, literacy skills, vocabulary, and so many other critical skills for your child’s developing mind.

With school and work schedules, errands, and a busy household, finding quality time with your child can be difficult at times. However, the holidays are a perfect time to relax with a book and rekindle their love for reading.

While there is an endless selection of fantastic reading material out there, here’s a few of my favorite holiday-themed books.