I commonly ask the following question when I enter a home for a new evaluation: “What animal sounds does Johnny make?” Or I might ask, “Does he make any car noises or crashing sounds?” Although I know why I ask those types of questions I recently put myself in the parents’ shoes. The parent who most likely doesn’t have a background in speech and language development and might wonder why on earth it matters if Johnny can say “moo” or “vroom”. After all, our goal is real words here, so what purpose does moo or baa (or la la la) have to do with his ability to talk?
Environmental sounds, as they are called in the child development world, matter. They are the first sounds that most children produce, long before true words. They are easier to say and offer children the opportunity for practice in producing sounds and combining them into syllables. Environmental sounds (animal sounds, car noises, crashing noises, etc.) are also how little ones let us know early on that they understand associations between objects/animals and the sounds they make. Also, environmental sounds are repetitive which make them easier for little ones to say. “Moo moo”, “neigh neigh”, “baa baa” are all single syllable, repetitive sounds. Environmental sounds can be learned and practiced through PLAY; you model the sound for the child and they imitate it. Environmental sounds can also be learned and practiced through books.
Sometimes I work with kids who make no or very few environmental sounds. Because production of environmental sounds typically precludes word production I make the following suggestions to the family to encourage development of this skill:
- Work on the skill of imitation. Your child may not be quite ready for verbal imitation so work on imitating gestures instead. For example, if your child doesn’t imiate the “yuck” sound, stick out your tongue while you say it and they may stick their tongue out too. These gestures associated with sounds will bring about the verbal production sooner!
- Expose your child to a new experience related to environmental sounds. When a child can visit the cow on the farm or the lion at the zoo it allows them to make the connection between sound and animal more real and the boost in their receptive language results in more verbal expression. Or visit the construction site to hear the loud trucks and diggers, or take a walk outside and listen to the birds.
- Read books that have sounds in them that the child can imitate. When you read be silly, exaggerate the sounds, vary your pitch and volume to grab the child’s attention and make them feel more comfortable in attempting to imitate you.
- Reward your child’s attempts of saying any and all sounds. Praise, celebrate and recognize their attempts to make car, animal, and all environmental sounds. When they know they were heard and understood, kids feel more empowered to attempt more communication.
As I mentioned before, PLAY affords a child the best opportunity to learn what sounds animals, cars and other toys make. But books can also be an important tool in learning early communication skills. Here are some of my favorites for teaching imitative sounds:
So now you know why those silly sounds are SO important. Fun to say, even more fun to imitate, environmental sounds play a part in your child’s communication development! Now that you know, you must feel empowered, so go “moo, baa and la la la” with confidence! 🙂