Often in preschool or in early intervention, you will have a little one on your caseload who is not talking or communicating in any meaningful way. What do you do? The first inclination of many Speech-Language Pathologists and educators is to teach the sign or picture for the word “more.” Why? Well, it starts to teach the child to request. It is an easy sign for children to do. Most educators and SLPs know the sign. There are many opportunities throughout the day to practice it in a more natural environment. So, what’s the problem? Here are three reasons people need to work on other words beyond “more.”
1. It only teaches the child to request. While requesting is important, we need to be focusing on the other pragmatic functions as well. You can’t get far in life if you are only asking for things. What if they can’t have more of what they want? How do they express their frustration, disappointment or anger? How do most children protest? They cry, scream and maybe resort to trying to harm themselves or others. This is no fun for anyone.
2. Children overgeneralize “more” to mean any request. The children we teach “more” to typically learn that when you put your hands together, you get something not that you more of what you have already had. As a result, you will see children move towards an object and sign “more” to say “I want something.” For example, I had a little guy that had been taught more at home and to a certain extent at school. He would walk up to the classroom door and sign “more.” Now he did not want more doors. What he wanted was the door to open so that he could go and play in the gym. At that point, “more” was not any more functional than him taking my hand and pulling me to the door.
3. We are not teaching children vocabulary. When we teach “more” we are only teaching one word. As stated above, this is not always functional. What if they walked up to a toy box of toys and wants one specific toy and signs “more?” Odds are you would know that child well enough to guess what toy he wants but what if he changes his mind and wants a different toy that day? How is he going to tell us what toy he wants other than loudly protesting and getting upset? You may be teaching other words in addition to “more” but why not make those words a priority?
So what should we do instead of starting with “more”? Teach the words of objects/activities that they would be requesting.
Find out what activities/toys/objects that the child loves to do and start working on requesting using their names. For example, the little guy who signed “more” to the door we taught him the words “out” and “gym” so that when he needed a break, he was able to tell us what he wanted when he wanted it. When he wanted to a spin on the dizzy disk, we taught him the word “spin” instead of standing at the toybox signing “more.”
Not only are you teaching words of objects/activities that he likes, which is highly motivating, they typically learn them fairly quickly. As well, you are showing him the building blocks for putting sentences together. This also allows you to start to work on building their use in other pragmatic functions.
How would you teach children to use these words? I typically use a core board base system. I will use some sign, but, as you can see here, I’m very selective of who I teach to sign. I’m also not a massive fan of PECS, so I tend to also be very particular who I use PECS with. The adults in the classroom, usually have the AAC system with them and I had them scattered throughout the school so that they were readily available.
So do I ever teach children “more?” Yes but not until much later. The children are usually already combining words into phrases before I actively work on it. By this time, they are most likely using it as it is a high-frequency word in English.