Christian Homeschool Resources & Homeschooling Advice

Play What You Mean

  • JoJo Tabares Contributing Writer
  • 2006 25 Jan
Play What You Mean

...Creative Ways to Teach Communication Skills

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. --Proverbs 25:11

"What are you talking about, Jenny? What does that mean?" "That didn't sound very nice, Johnny!" "Go ahead, Mary, ask him if you can play with it." "Say what you mean, Billy."

You are probably already teaching your children some social communication skills. Most parents do acknowledge that communication is an important skill. But I'll bet you weren't aware of just how important being an effective communicator is in today's society. What a difference it can make for your child to be a great communicator as opposed to just having an adequate grasp of the art of social conversation! According to a study done by the National Communication Association, only 44% of people feel that they are effective communicators. Our children need better odds for their success in today's society, and here's why.

Effective communication skills are important for school or college.
A study on "Why Communication Is Important" concluded that students with ineffective listening skills fail to absorb much of the material to which they are exposed. It also stated that their problems are intensified when they respond incorrectly or inappropriately due to poor speaking skills.
Let your conversation always be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. --Colossians 4:6

Effective communication skills are vital to your child's career.
Results of two different studies show that oral communication is the most important competency for college graduates entering the workforce. Over 90% of personnel managers at 500 U.S. companies said that more communication skill is required for a successful career today. Furthermore, people who enjoy giving speeches earn higher salaries than those who avoid public speaking according to a study done by AT&T and Stanford University. The Department of Labor's research on skills "most needed for all employees in the 21st century" concluded that listening and speaking abilities are necessary competencies tomorrow's workers must master.
You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your ideas won't get you anywhere. --Lee Iacocca

Effective communication skills can affect your child's relationships.
A survey commissioned by the National Communication Association cited a lack of effective communication as the number one reason for a marriage to fail.

An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of the citadel. --Proverbs 18:19

Communication is a subject that is gaining more and more attention and importance--very much as critical thinking recently did. The problem is that many parents have never taken a communication course and don't know how to teach it to their children. Most curricula centers around a very small slice of communication skills needed for success in today's world: speech and debate. While very worthwhile, these are too advanced for younger children, may be intimidating for shy children, and are fairly dry reading for children with ADD (our little Wiggly Willies!). So what's a homeschool mom to do? Make it fun!

Learning is always more effective when it's fun, so here are some easy and creative ways to teach your children to express themselves well. They are broken down into age groups to make it easier for parents to use.

This is an age group almost entirely forgotten by most who teach communication skills because the children are too young for speech and debate. But the truth is, if parents take advantage of the fact that their preschooler has a natural lack of fear in social situations, they can bring up a more confident and happy child!

What Do You See?
Show your preschooler a picture and let him describe what is going on in the picture. Prompt him to talk about the colors, textures, people, and items in the picture. Description skills are basic communication skills teaching your child to express what he sees.

How Do You Play ...?
Ask your preschooler how to play his favorite game or how to use his favorite toy. This creates a reason for him to practice expressing his thoughts in a logical way. Gently correct him when he describes something in an illogical, hard to understand, or incorrect way. Praise him when he is done and thank him for explaining that to you. This will keep him motivated to explain and describe things again.

Look at Me!
Ask your preschooler to demonstrate his favorite activity or talk about his favorite toy in front of the family. It's a great way to introduce public speaking to your little one.

This age is very important for making friends and gaining confidence. Here are some fun ways to engage your elementary child in communication building activities.

Talk 'n Listen
This is a funny way to illustrate that you cannot both talk and listen at the same time. Have your child sing "Yankee Doodle" while someone else recites the Pledge of Allegiance. Usually the participants will break down in laughter halfway through because it is so hard to concentrate. For older elementary children, have both participants read a paragraph from a book at the same time and then try to tell you what the other said.

Find the Ice Cream
Have your child write out directions to the nearest ice cream shop. Follow them exactly as written. Did you get there? If you did, have some ice cream! If you didn't, discuss what went wrong with the communication, have your child revise the directions, and try again!

This is an oldie but a goodie! Have your child and his friends play telephone. The more the merrier. Give them a three-sentence instruction that is somewhat complicated. As they whisper the instructions to pass them around the circle, see how much they remember and how close they get to the original at the end. This is a fabulous way to improve active listening skills.

Junior/Senior High
This age is the perfect time to prepare children to stand up for their faith and values and to assert their own ideas. College can be a very difficult place to express your ideas if you are a Bible-believing conservative. Your teenagers will need to learn to express his or her ideas and back them up with conviction and facts.

Feed Me
Blindfold someone and have that person feed applesauce to anther person who is also blindfolded. Have a third person, who is not blindfolded, give instructions to one of the blindfolded people in order to feed the other. This exercise teaches teens to give directions effectively. Make sure they are wearing rain slickers or it will also teach them about the laundry!

Your teen should use his imagination to think up a unique invention--preferably one that is not yet technologically sound. Then have him present these ideas to family and friends. This is a creative way to introduce public speaking to your teens that won't intimidate them.

Dress Up
I know! This sounds like it belongs under the preschool section! Explain to your teens that the way they come across to people is a reflection not only on them but on their faith as well. If someone professes to be a Christian but doesn't act or dress the part, the unsaved may decide that if that's a Christian, they sure don't want to be one! Then have your teen dress in their Sunday best and go to a store. Tell them to smile sweetly at people and be friendly. Have them take note of how they are treated by the sales clerks and other patrons. Next have them go back to the same or a similar store dressed in grubby clothes. Ask them not to be as openly friendly. They shouldn't go out of their way to smile. Discuss the differences between how they were treated each time and the difference their nonverbal communication made on their first impression.

Teaching your children to express themselves well is imperative. The earlier you begin, the more proficient your children will become. Communication skills can be intimidating and even scary for children, especially if they are shy, but there are so many creative ways to make it easier and more fun!

He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend. --Proverbs 22:11


JoJo Tabares holds a degree in speech communication and is the author of the Say What You Mean series on effective communication skills. She lives in Southern California with her husband and two homeschooled children. For more information, visit

Copyright 2005. Used with permission. The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Right now, 19 free gifts when you subscribe.