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"Yes, and..." Improvising for Speech & Language Development

Hello, everyone! I hope this posting finds you well.

Have you ever heard of the concept of "Yes, and..."? "Yes, and..." is one of the basic concepts behind improv comedy. It encourages people to build upon what others say no matter if it is silly, serious, or somewhere in between. "Yes, and..." requires that you be in the moment and attentive to your communication partner. It also necessitates that you react quickly and readily to keep the interaction going and keep it engaging. These strategies are paramount in play as well. Incorporating strategies related to "Yes, and..." can help you to be a better play partner with children and help to foster more effective speech and language development overall. Try some of the strategies described below to sharpen your "Yes, and..." skills in everyday play activities.

Effective Improvisation for Speech & Language Development

Expand His/Her Language

It is all well and good to imitate language produced by children. However, if what a child is saying is grammatically incorrect and/or is lacking in some information that would enrich a given statement, you should restate his/her utterance. Add the grammar that is missing. Add the color of the car or describe how big or small the toy is. For example, if a child says, "Car go.", you can add on to what he/she said by saying, "You're right. The red car goes down the road." Additionally, you can point or gesture to what you're are describing and/or provide an actual model of the behavior (i.e., physically push the car down the road). Children are smart and they generally understand 'adult language'. Although children appreciate higher intonation and speaking with greater emphasis, you don't have to speak to them like they're babies. Often, it is best to speak to children in the way that you want them to speak in the future. With that being said, this doesn't mean you should use jargon or needlessly complicated language. If you introduce a new word, it is probably a good idea to explain its meaning or better help the child understand what it means in the context of a given activity.

Be Responsive & Pay Attention

Let's be real for a second. Not every activity a child enjoys is going to be your favorite. Some activities you may even actively dislike. However, you need to be responsive to a child's play as it encourages further play and further communication. When you decide to play a game or play with toys, truly invest your attention into the activity and respond actively to your child's language and behavior. When you're truly attentive, you'll be more likely to notice little changes in your child's behavior that lets you know if he/she is frustrated or is ready to move onto another activity. Being adaptive helps to encourage effective play and know when it is time to move on to another activity. We mostly communicate via body language and children are no exception to this rule. Children also notice nonverbal behavior, so try to pay attention to how you're positioned and engaging in play. Does your nonverbal behavior say "Yay, I'm enjoying playing with you." or does it say "Get me out of here right now; I'm ready for a nap."? We're only human after all and sometimes it is going to be evident that you're not engaged in a given activity with a child. So don't be too hard on yourself, but at the same time, strive to put your best foot forward and be in the moment with your kid. Also, as mentioned above, build on your child's communication by adding your own communication and strive to talk about what your child seems interested in at that moment.

Avoid Saying "No"

It would be an epic fail to talk about the benefits of "Yes, and..." without talking about the counterpart of 'yes', 'no'. 'No' tends to shut down behavior and language. There are times when 'no' is beneficial, especially when it comes to managing behavior, but with that being said, it can be poison to the flow of conversation during play. Now, I think I heard somewhere that kids say the darndest things and this is true. I've heard some very funny and odd things come from the mouths of babes, but unless it is completely inappropriate, I typically don't deter it as a behavior. Building on language and communication is the cornerstone of "Yes, and..." and coincidentally, it is a cornerstone of language development, itself. As I've already said, there is some gray area here where you're going to need to use your best judgment. But most often, the best move is to get out of a kid's way and let him/her communicate. Be responsive to them and encourage conversational turn-taking across activities.

Reinforce Desired Language

Now, I think it is important to discuss the alternative to using 'no'. The concepts of negative and positive reinforcement are nothing new. However, most people are leaning more and more towards positive reinforcement as a tool for encouraging new behaviors and new communication skills. In most cases, this equals praise. Ideally, verbal praise involves specific wording and vocal emphasis. For example, it is better to say, "Great work! I loved the way you used a full sentence and I understood every word!" with vocal emphasis and a high five versus saying, "Good job." with flat affect and minimal nonverbal communication. Most children love praise and effective praise tends to encourage more of whatever behavior is being encouraged. Verbal praise alone is not always an effective tool though. Some boys and girls respond more to physical reinforcements such as candy or tokens. There is nothing wrong with using physical reinforcements overall. However, I am weary, as sometimes, children can come to expect these reinforcements and won't initiate the desired behavior again unless they've received the physical reinforcement that they have come to expect. All reinforcement should be provided on a graded scale lessening reinforcement as appropriate so that eventually a person will perform the desired behavior all on his/her own. With that being said, praise can still be used to encourage a child to keep using desired behaviors, language, and/or speech. Even as an adult, I still love to be praised and appreciate feeling appreciated. We all want to know that our effort is worth something; that what we do is worth something. So, I encourage you to reinforce desired language with verbal praise and other strategies as appropriate to facilitate ongoing language development and improvement.

Whether it is playing with blocks, talking about a preferred topic, or navigating a new activity, the tenets of "Yes, and..." can help you to better facilitate language development in children of all ages. So please, consider the strategies discussed above and strive to implement them in everyday activities. And for an additional challenge, you can even try to implement aspects of "Yes, and..." at work, social settings, and other environments where a little extra effort may go a long way.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed reading this post, you may also enjoy reading 10 Great YouTube Videos for Early Learning. You can also check out my Instagram or Facebook page, and don’t forget to keep on learning.

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