If you read our post about why straw cups are better than sippy cups, you’ll know that we have a lot to say about oral motor development in young children (because it impacts their speech development, among other things!). When we tell parents to work on strengthening their child’s oral musculature (i.e., lips, cheeks, tongue, jaw), we usually get a panicked look but we’re here to give you some great activities that you can easily incorporate at home. And trust us, they’re easy and fun!
2. More activities with straws (I know, seriously?!): Straws can also be used to do fun art projects or games, which can also help work on your child's oral structures/musculature and also their breath-support (children with weak oral musculature will often have weak breath-support as well). Breath-support is crucial for appropriate volume (being loud enough) and also for specific sounds in speech development. For an art activity you can simply drop some paint on paper and have your child blow it around with their straw to make a beautiful and fun picture. You can also set up a "soccer game" by using paper (or if your child has great breath-support, a cardboard box) as the field and blowing cotton balls into the goal. These are just two fun activities to help promote strengthening oral structures and breath-support.
Both little kids and big kids enjoy playing this type of game. A fun way to work on breath-support and oral motor skills
4. Food Spreading: This may sound weird, but hang with us for a second. Lots of kids have weakness in their tongues (think, when kids say “wight” instead of “light”). This is usually due to weakness in the tongue. “Food spreading” (totally made up name) is when you put a sticky, spreadable food along various parts of your child’s mouth. Peanut butter, Nutella, frosting, Cheez Wiz- anything that will stick is good. Use a spoon and spread a bit of the food along the top lip or bottom lip or sides of the mouth and have your child try to use their tongue to reach out and lick the food off. Easy as cake (or frosting)!
5. Whistles: These can easily be the most noisy (and sometimes annoying) of the all oral motor activities, but we can help you out to make these more tolerable. We recommend making the whistles YOURS, but telling your child that you’ll be happy to share them. When you introduce them, make sure to instruct your child to use their lips (rather than biting the whistle with their teeth to hold it). Feel free to use them outside only or just for small pockets of time (to keep your sanity), but these are a great way to work on strengthening your child’s lips, cheeks, and jaw stability, which are needed for various sounds in speech. You can try using different types of whistles to switch it up and make it easier or harder. Whistles that are flatter (like this one or this one) are easier to use vs. smaller or more rounded whistles. .
6. Mirror, Mirror: Kids love looking at themselves in mirrors! Use that to your advantage when you're in the bathroom, helping wash their hands or brushing their teeth and play a game in the mirror. Make silly faces, move your tongue from side to side, or alternate making kissing and then smiling faces and have your child try to imitate you. This is another good activity to strengthen oral musculature, but will also help you look at your child's motor planning. In speech, motor planning is imperative to help put sounds together to form words. If your child seems to have a hard time smoothly alternating between different faces or cannot imitate your faces at all, this could be a redflag with their motor planning abilities.
By introducing these fun activities at home, you can encourage and work on your child's oral motor development, which in turn will help their speech development!
If you are having concerns or questions about your child’s oral motor, speech, language and/or communication development reach out to us at The Speech Space! We offer free screenings, which take approximately 30 minutes, and can help identify potential problems.
Did you know that using sippy cups may hurt your child's speech development? Over at The Speech Space, we are huge proponents of straw cups, straw drinking and open cups instead of sippy cups for younger children. The type of cup your child regularly uses can impact their speech development! Here are a few reasons why at The Speech Space we like straw cups instead of sippy cups:
1. Oral Musculature (or the muscles your child uses to talk!)
When children have strong oral musculature (i.e., lips, tongue, cheeks, jaw stability), they are more likely able to clearly imitate a variety of movements needed for speech sounds. This is the core for developing clear speech. Children with weak oral motor skills have a higher risk of having a speech impairment. Straw cups and open cups are one way of helping your child develop these critical muscles that they will need to produce sounds. While using a sippy cup does not necessarily mean your child will need speech therapy, it's best to encourage oral motor development by using straw cups at home.
Another area of your child's development is swallowing, which requires strength from all those oral structures we mentioned earlier! When your child drinks from a bottle or a sippy cup, the spouts prevent your child’s tongue tip from elevating, often requiring them to stick their tongue out in order to drink. Liquid rushes out from sippy cups, so your child doesn't use their oral structures while drinking. This can contribute to weaknesses in your child’s lips, cheeks and tongue.
By drinking from a straw cup or an open cup your child must use more movement and control from their jaw, tongue, lips, and cheeks. This additional movement (in part to prevent spillage) works on strengthening their oral motor skills and can contribute to their speech development!
If you’re interested in trying out straw cups with your child, there are some great ones on the market! Some of our favorites are available here and here, but there may be cups you like more. As a parent, we know you are solving for a variety of factors (when traveling, something that doesn’t leak, your child may have a favorite color or character, or a handle so your child can hold the cup by themselves). The most important thing to look for in a straw cup is that the straw is not too soft (so your child cannot bite it too easily--that’s cheating!) and not too thick.
If you have any further questions or concerns feel free to reach out to us at The Speech Space! Until then, bottoms up...or straws up, we should say!