Early interventionists, speech therapists and caregivers can improve a child’s oral motor skills by practicing certain activities to strengthen mouth, chin, tongue, and jaw muscles. Exercises using food or drink should not be used with children who have swallowing difficulties. These activities should never cause pain or discomfort for the child, and should not be practiced for long periods. Five to 10 minutes per day is plenty, particularly when beginning these exercises.
Blowing is required for the formation of speech sounds. Infants and toddlers practice blowing soap bubbles in the bathtub or from a bubble wand, notes the National Down Syndrome Congress. Children can also practice blowing into kazoos, harmonicas or whistles.
Using a Straw
Sucking is an important skill for speech sound formation. So, when a young child has a weakness when it comes to this, it is a red flag, notes North Shore Pediatric Therapy. Toddlers can practice sucking liquids through a straw. Thin liquids, such as water or juice, should be used initially. As children’s oral motor control improves, thicker liquids, like milk shakes or yogurt, can be used.
Using a tongue depressor or spoon, young children can practice tongue exercises. The young child sticks out her tongue. An adult holds a spoon or tongue depressor against the center of the tongue. The child pushes against the object as hard as she can for about five seconds, then relaxes. The child should do between six and eight repetitions of the exercise. The child can repeat the exercise using the left and right sides of the tongue.
Use thick syrup or cheese spray to draw faces or shapes for the child to lick off a plate. For older toddlers, draw letters or numbers and have the child name them. To watch the child’s technique, use clear plastic plates. Put cheese spread or marshmallow fluff into a 4 oz. paper cup and let the child practice licking the food out of the cup. With older toddlers, licking ice cream from a cone or yogurt from a spoon strengthens tongue and mouth muscles.
The child can practice moving her chin from side to side. Adults can make this part of a game or particular song the child likes. Adults can also use gentle pressure against the chin for resistance as the child’s jaws become stronger.