Interview with Jenie Rayek, mother and founder of Little Talkers
As caregivers, we want to see our children succeed and thrive in their development. One important skill that we can help our children build is effective communication. Whether that is through speaking, sign language, or body language, being able to communicate with those around us is crucial for our daily lives.
This week on Meems Monday, we had the pleasure of hearing from pediatric speech-language pathologist, Jenie Rayek, mother and founder of Little Talkers. We want to share her valuable tips on how to encourage pre-verbal children to start talking, the benefits of sign language, and how to incorporate language-building skills into your daily activities. By engaging your child in language activities that are both entertaining and educational you can create a positive environment for them to learn and grow. So, let’s find ways to help your children find their voices!
As caregivers, how can we best encourage our children to find their voices?
There are so many tips that we use in speech therapy to encourage pre-verbal children to begin to talk. My top 3 tips are:
- Communication Temptation - This is when we manipulate the environment in such a way that the child must communicate with a person to get a need or want met. An example would be to blow bubbles and then close the lid to the bubbles and wait for the child to ask for more.
- Wait Time - When you ask your child a question, count 15 to 20 seconds in your head before responding. It takes time for babies and toddlers to process a question and to formulate a response. This “wait time” is hard to do as an adult, but it is essential for your little one’s language development.
- Limit Questions - When we ask our children questions all day, it can make them feel stressed and as if they are always being tested. This can limit the amount they want to speak. For every question that you ask (e.g., “what does the cow say?”), I want you to make three statements (e.g., “The cow is in the barn!”). And instead of asking a question, make a statement and have your little one fill in the blank (e.g., “The pig says…”). Don’t forget your “Wait Time”!
Do you recommend parents simultaneously use sign language to communicate with their child? What are the benefits?
Absolutely! I always recommend teaching basic signs starting at 6-8 months. Babies can sign long before they can speak. Teaching your baby signs has many amazing benefits such as reducing frustration (for you and baby) and developing pathways for communication in the brain sooner than they would otherwise. I recommend teaching the signs for: milk, eat, hurt, all done, and more. I have a highlight on Instagram called “baby sign” showing my sign language journey with my own daughter.
Is it best to set aside time to work on speaking with my children, or is there a way to incorporate their language building skills in everyday activities?
There is a specific strategy called “verbal routines.” These are words that become predictable because you say them the same way, in the same activity, repeatedly. A common example of a verbal routine is the clean-up song. When you sing it every time it’s time to clean up, your child will eventually finish singing the song for you. It is best to incorporate verbal routines into our everyday activities like hand-washing, bath and bedtime, getting into the car, etc.
Do you recommend certain toys or games for toddlers working on pronunciation or challenges with their speech?
If it is difficult to understand what your child says, it is best to take them to a speech therapist for a comprehensive evaluation. If therapy is warranted, tell your speech therapist that you would like to support your child at home. The speech therapist should give you ways to practice at home based on your child’s specific diagnosis and treatment approach. I always tell parents that what they do at home makes the biggest difference in how quickly they progress.
Can you tell us more about your practice and who you often work with?
I recently made the switch from working at a school for autistic children to starting my own private practice, Little Talkers. I learned so much from working at the schools, but I knew I could help children develop quicker by collaborating directly with caregivers and other healthcare professionals on the child’s medical team. Additionally, at my private practice, I have less children on my caseload than I did at the schools which gives me more time to do research and take courses that benefit my clients. I specialize in pediatrics. I pride myself in taking a neurodiversity affirming approach with my autistic clients, which means that we accept that all brains and people are unique, and this diversity is what makes our community whole. I also serve children with speech sound disorders, rare syndromes, “late talkers,” and more. I truly love what I do!
Thank you Jenie for taking the time to give us insightful ways we can better support our children’s development. Check out more of her helpful tips at @littletalkers.