FROM READERS: Fall foliage offers an opportunity for language learning

Sunday, October 21, 2012 | 12:00 p.m. CDT

Carrie Clark is a speech-language pathologist in Columbia who works with children who have speech and language difficulties. In addition to working full-time as a speech therapist in the early childhood special education department at Columbia Public Schools, she runs a private practice out of her home where she works with children of all ages before and after school. This post comes from a section of her blog where she posts weekly activities that parents can use to help their children improve their language skills.

I don’t know about you, but I always get excited when the leaves start to change colors in the Autumn! The changing leaves mean cooler weather, delicious harvest foods, and the coming of family gatherings.

Here are some great Autumn leaf-themed activities I have put together that you can do with your child to improve his/her speech and language skills. I have organized the activities below based on what speech or language skill they address, though keep in mind that many of these activities can address a variety of communication skills, not just the main one listed.

*Note: If you live in a place where the leaves have not yet begun to change and fall, you may want to hold on to these activities for a few weeks. If you live in Nebraska….sorry :(

Vocabulary Development

Time to play outside!  Grab your jackets and rakes, and head outside.  If you don’t have many trees around your house, you may want to take your children to a park for some Autumn vocabulary development. While you and your children are raking and playing in the leaves, talk about what you are doing and what you see. The more times your child hears these words, the more likely he/she is to retain and learn them. Here is a list of common words you may be able to work into your play. You can adapt this list based on your child’s level. For younger children, stick to the more basic words.  For older children, use some of the more difficult words.


  • Leaf
  • Rake
  • Bag
  • Tree
  • Branch
  • Acorn
  • Squirrel
  • Bird
  • Stick
  • Pile


  • Rake
  • Jump
  • Throw
  • Drop
  • Climb

* One fun way to work on verbs is by making a pile of leaves and then practicing different actions through the pile. For example, you can tell your child to march, stomp, skip, run, or roll through the pile.


  • Color words: Green, red, orange, yellow, brown
  • Dry
  • Rough
  • Smooth
  • Pretty

Following Directions/Sequencing:

Now it’s time to make an Autumn-themed craft! For this, you will need some paper, glue, leaves, scissors, and a writing utensil.  

First, grab some dried leaves and crumble them with your hands or cut them with scissors. Then, glue the leaves to the paper. Your child can glue them on randomly or try to make a scene with them by drawing a tree and gluing the leaves on or using their imagination to create a different picture. 

Here’s how you can use this craft to work on following directions and sequencing:  Set the activity up so that there are steps the child has to complete. For older children, you can tell them the directions out loud or give them written directions. For younger children, you may want to take pictures of you doing each step as well as break the steps down so that you only give them one or two directions at a time. 

Try doing it this way: think about what would help your child do this activity easily, and then make it just a little bit harder. For example, if you think “my child could do one step of this at a time easily,” then you need to give them two directions at a time. Or, if you think “my child could do this whole thing with pictures of each step,” then try to give the directions out loud and don’t use pictures. Here are the steps to the activity that you can use to create the directions for your child:

1. Collect leaves

2. Crumble or cut leaves

3. Draw a picture on paper (for younger children, skip this step)

4. Put Glue on Paper

5. Put leaves on Glue

6. Place your picture in a safe place to dry

* After you’re done, make sure to talk about the project with your child. You can talk about what you did first, next, and last.

Speech Sound Development (/l/)

Is your child having trouble saying “leaf”?  Here are some ideas about helping your child produce the /l/ sound:

How to teach the “l” sound: To produce the /l/ sound, your child needs to place the tip of the tongue directly behind the top front teeth.  Show your child your /l/ sound and help him/her focus on your tongue by describing what you’re doing. 

You can say “That’s the “L” sound, we need to put our tongue right behind our top teeth like this, watch me.” Then help your child practice making that sound by itself over and over again. If your child is having a hard time finding the right place to put his or her tongue, try putting a little peanut butter (or something else sticky) on the spot and have him or her lick it off. Then you can remind him to put his tongue back in the place where the peanut butter was. Once your child can say the sound by itself, have him practice saying the sound in a syllable, like “luh”, “lah”, or “lee”. Once he can do this, you are ready to put the sound in a single word, like “leaf”. 

This process may take a while, sometimes several weeks, so have patience and keep working!


This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising Editor is Joy Mayer.

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