When I’m working with clients, lots of people ask me ‘how much should we practise?’. The answer to this questions varies depending on the individual but there are some general principles that always apply.
When you are learning a new sport, craft or, like me, you are learning to play a musical instrument, you will make better progress if you are focused about your practise time. You need to practise slowly, often and repeatedly. You should also have a goal in mind for your practise session. The same is true for communication skills. Let’s look at each element of practise in turn:
- Set a goal – lots of us forget about this one or think it’s not important! Having a specific goal in mind when you practise is REALLY important. If you set a goal, you know what you are trying to achieve. Most importantly, working to a goal will give you (and your child) a sense of achievement which maintains motivation. If you are working with young children, the goal you give them may be different from your own and it doesn’t need to be complicated! For example, your goal may be for the child to produce ‘s’ at the start of 10 different words by the end of your session but you might tell the child that they have to tell you about 15 pictures before you finish. Goal setting is a big topic so I’ll be doing a post next week about how to set goals in more detail…
- Practise often – A little bit of practise every day is much more effective than saving it all up and doing it in a one-er once a week. This is why SLTs are always telling people that weekly sessions are not a magic cure! Your SLT session is the starting point, the most important stuff is what happens between SLT sessions. As a general rule, try to do 10 minutes at least once but preferably twice or 3 times every day. This will vary depending on what you are working on but your speech & language therapist will give you some guidance on how often and when to practise.
- Repetition is good – when working with children, it’s easy as an adult to get bored with the same activity. Repeating the same activity is actually helpful when practising your communication skills. It means that you don’t need to waste lots of energy learning a new game then learn the new communication skill on top of that. Also, make sure that you don’t move on to the next stage until your child can do what you were working on correctly 80-90% of the time.
- Start slowly – Working on speech is essentially learning a new motor skill just like any other. You wouldn’t pick up a guitar for the first time and immediately expect to be able to play like Eric Clapton! You have to start slowly, making sure that you get each movement of your fingers (or mouth!) exactly right. As you practise, you will find that the movements get easier and you can then get faster and faster. It’s much better to slow speech down and achieve the correct pronunciation than it is to speak quickly and have no-one understand you.
Finally, and above all, MAKE IT FUN!! If you get stuck, your speech & language therapist should be able to give you some ideas of fun activities to use to help you practise…