Pre-verbal skills - How to promote breath control

ask silvia Jan 12, 2023

(Photo 102887981 / Child Blowing Bubbles © Eleonoraos |

Learning to control one's breath flow is critical in developing speech.

From a young age, babies experiment with this as they make sounds and babble. When babies are "blowing raspberries," they discover they can inhale and exhale to produce a sound.

This is what we do when we talk. We inhale first, and then we exhale as we speak. The longer the word or sentence we want to say, the more air we need.

Breath control is vital for the production of speech.

When we speak, we use our breath in quite a complex manner. Different sounds require us to control airflow differently. For example, the sound S requires us to exhale continuously, and the sound P requires a short burst of air.

As adults, controlling the airflow as we speak feels natural and effortless.
However, this is a skill that some children with developmental delays need help with to develop or improve speech.

I practice blowing games with my young students to help them develop this pre-verbal skill. However, I also practice these exercises with older children so that they learn how to take a big breath to talk loud in a noisy environment and how to control the airflow when they want to whisper a secret into someone's ear.

Here are some fun games you can practice with children to help them develop good breath control.

Demonstrate these activities for children and gently encourage them to imitate you. If the child doesn't want to copy you, just let them watch initially. Some children may have more difficulties learning breath control; in that case, you can consult your speech and language therapist.

You can try several activities until you find the one that motivates your student.

🔹 Blow bubbles.
When I introduce this activity, I blow a bubble and catch it with the wand, and then I encourage the child to blow the actual bubble. Or, if you are a parent, run a bubble bath at home, put bubbles on your hand, and encourage your child to blow them.

🔹 Blow feathers off your hand.
Place feathers or light tissue paper on your hand and blow it away. Make it easy for the child to blow the feathers or tissue at first. As the child progresses, you can roll small tissue balls, so the child has to blow harder to blow them away.

🔹 Dandelion blow.
Parents can do a simple exercise in the garden and the park: find seeded dandelions and encourage your child to blow off the seeds.
Demonstrate it for your child first, and then encourage them to do it too. Children love doing this and watching the feathery seed bristles fly away.

🔹 Blow whistles.
Try different types. At first, pick whistles that make a noise even when you blow softly.
As your child learns to blow harder, you can introduce fun party whistles that require a more intense burst of air to work.

🔹 Blow through a straw to blow bubbles in a glass of water.
As a child, I remember blowing through the straw into the milk to make bubbles; I found this amusing.
You can easily do this at home with your child too. Put water, juice or milk in a glass and encourage your child to blow into the liquid with a straw to form bubbles.
This task can be tricky initially, as your child instinctively might suck and drink rather than blow, so it may take a bit of practice to learn to do this.

🔹 Blow toy windmills.
Paper windmills are fun to blow. The child will need to blow hard to make the windmill spin, so wait until the child has practised easier blowing before introducing this game.

🔹 Blow candles.
Blowing candles can be fun but do take into account safety issues. I only practice this with children that understand they can't touch or get close to the small candle, and I always remain close to the child for safety.
I start by encouraging the child to blow out a candle.
Once the child masters this, we practice blowing candles with short breaths (as in making the P sound to blow out the candle) and blowing two candles consecutively with a more extended breath.

Remind your child to take a big breath in before blowing. You can do this by demonstrating a deep breath, exaggerating a deep breath as you inhale for the child to see, and then exaggerating exhaling or blowing.

You can use picture cards as visual supports, such as symbols for "smell a flower (inhale) - blow a candle (exhale)."

Encourage children to take deep breaths and get them to breathe from the diaphragm (or belly) instead of shallow chest breaths. Ask children to place their hands on their bellies and notice how the air goes deep into their lungs.

You may be unable to explain breathing from the belly to younger children, so focus on simple blowing activities with the little ones.

And now, your turn. Do you know other fun activities to teach blowing and breath control? We would love to learn from you! Please share your ideas in the comments below so we can continue learning from each other.

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