How to Teach a Child to Say the R Sound in Speech Therapy

If you’ve noticed that a child’s speech sounds different from other children their age, it’s possible that they’re having challenges articulating the /r/ sound in speech. For unfamiliar listeners, it may sound like the child has an “accent” or it could be hard to pinpoint what sounds different. This is because the /r/ sound has many different forms depending which other sounds it is near. The /r/ sound is normally picked up by children by the time they are between 5-7 years old. More often than not, if parents notice that their child are having difficulties pronouncing the sound around that age, they wait for it to correct itself naturally rather than consulting somebody who knows how to teach a child to say the /r/ sound. Waiting can be economical, but delaying speech therapy needs of a child could increase the difficulty of fixing the issue.

How difficult can it be you ask?

Clinicians and researchers in the field of Speech-Language Pathology have long recognized that the /r/ sound is the most challenging to correct. Dennis Ruscello, one of the leading researchers of West Virginia University laid out in his presentation Understanding, Assessing, and Treating the /r/ Speech Sound that 91% of speech-language pathologists found that traditional methods of speech therapy don’t work for a child having challenges producing the /r/ sound correctly. Although it can be difficult to correct the articulation of the /r/ sound in children, with the right tools and guidance, it is possible!

Regardless if you’re a speech therapist or a parent, this guide will provide a comprehensive approach as to how you can teach a child say the /r/ sound correctly.

Why is the /r/ sound challenging to produce?

The term “Rhoticism” refers to the difficulty in articulating the /r/ sound. When a child struggles with this, they often substitute the /r/ sound with the /w/ sound instead. Instead of saying the words “rabbit” or “carrot” correctly, a child may pronounce it as “wabbit” or “cawwot”. Or, they may produce a sound that is close to an /r/ but not quite, and some children leave off /r/ sounds at the end of words (so that “paper” sounds like “papuh”).

The /r/ sound has 32 different variations (also known as allophones), each considered a unique sound. The /r/ can appear in various positions in a word – the beginning, middle, or end – and can be joined with other consonants such as /tr/, /br/, and /str/. In addition, the consonant /r/ can appear alone as in “run,” or in rhotic vowels such as “ar,” “air,” “eer,” “er,” “or,” “ire,” seen in words like “star,” “fair,” “steer,” “feather,” “for,” and “fire.”

Different /r/ sounds require unique tongue movements and positions. Children might have trouble with all /r/ sounds or just one type. This makes correcting the /r/ sound a complicated process but there are steps that can help a child produce the /r/ sound effectively.

When to know if the child is ready to practice the /r/ sound

When assessing if a child is ready to practice the /r/ sound in speech development, there are multiple factors to consider:

Age Factor

Children usually begin to develop the /r/ sound between the ages of 5 to 7 years. However, it’s important to remember that speech development can vary widely among children.

Speech Milestones

Before tackling the /r/ sound, children should have mastered most other speech sounds. The /r/ sound is one of the later sounds to develop, so readiness often comes after other sounds are well established.

Ability to Follow Instructions

Practicing the /r/ sound requires the child to understand and follow specific instructions regarding tongue placement and mouth movements.

Interest and Motivation

A child who shows interest in learning and is motivated to practice speech sounds is likely ready to work on the /r/ sound.

Physical Readiness

The child should have the necessary oral motor skills to manipulate their tongue into the correct position for the /r/ sound. This involves tongue strength and coordination.

Awareness of the Sound

If the child can hear the difference between the /r/ sound and other sounds (like /w/), they may be ready to start practicing the /r/ sound.

Thorough Assessment of a Speech Therapist 

A professional evaluation by a speech-language pathologist can provide a clear indication of whether a child is ready to start practicing the /r/ sound, especially if there are concerns about speech development.

Keep in mind that every child progresses at their own rate, and the right approach for one child might not work for another, especially with the /r/ sound. It’s crucial to be patient and understanding when it comes to developing this particular speech sound. If you’re worried about a child’s ability to produce the /r/ sound, seeking advice from a speech therapist can offer tailored assistance and reassurance.

How to teach a child to say the /r/ sound

Teaching children to articulate the /r/ sound can be an enjoyable and engaging experience. Whether you’re a speech therapist or a parent, using straightforward and effective methods can greatly assist children in correctly pronouncing this sound.

How to teach a child to say the /r/ sound: Use of Auditory cues

Auditory cues are very important when teaching the R sound. They help children hear the right way to make the sound and tell the difference between right and wrong sounds. It’s important for effective learning that a child can tell the difference by hearing and seeing. Use these following techniques:

Making the /r/ Sound Stand Out

Emphasize the /r/ sound when speaking to make it more distinct. For example, in words like “rabbit” or “race,” you might stress and elongate the /r/ sound.

Comparing the /r/ sound with Familiar Sounds

Analogies that relate to familiar sounds can be helpful. Link the /r/ sound to sounds kids know, like a lion’s growl or a car engine’s “rrrr.”

Using Words that Rhyme

Choose words with the /r/ sound that rhyme, like “car, bar, far, star,” to show the pattern of the sound.

Focusing on Just the Sound

Say just the /r/ part in words to concentrate on the sound alone. For example, saying just the “rrr” part from “rabbit” or “run.”

Reading Together

Read with the child, emphasizing the /r/ sound in words. This allows the child to hear the sound clearly and attempt to mimic it.

Listening and Comparing

Recording the child’s attempts and playing them back can help them hear the difference between their pronunciation and the correct one.

Give Feedback

Providing immediate verbal feedback when the child attempts the sound. This could include positive reinforcement when they get it right and gentle correction when needed.

Use Stories and Songs

Incorporating the /r/ sound into stories or songs makes the learning process enjoyable and memorable. Children can listen to the repeated sound in a fun context.

How to teach a child to say the /r/ sound: Use of Visual cues

Visual cues are useful because the /r/ sound is made with movements inside the mouth that are hard to see. Use these following techniques:

Using a Mirror

Using a mirror allows the child to see the shape and movement of their mouth, lips, and tongue as they attempt the “R” sound. This can help them adjust their articulators (lips, tongue, etc.) in real-time.

Showing Lip Shapes

Demonstrating the correct lip shape needed to produce the “R” sound. For instance, showing how the lips should be slightly rounded or pulled back, but not as rounded as when producing a “W” sound.

Tongue Position Pictures

Using diagrams or pictures to show the correct tongue position for the “R” sound (e.g., where the tongue should be in relation to the roof of the mouth).

Hand Signs

Using hand movements to symbolize the tongue’s motion or position. For example, curling a finger to represent the curling of the tongue.

Use of Pictures and Symbols

Associating the “R” sound with a specific symbol or image that reminds the child of the sound’s characteristics.

Use of Flashcards

Using flashcards with words and pictures that emphasize the “R” sound. The visual association with the word can help in sound articulation.

Engaging with Coloring and Drawing Activities

Incorporating the “R” sound into a drawing or coloring activity, where the child can color or draw items that start with the “R” sound.

Watching Videos and Cartoons

Watch videos or cartoons that focus on saying the /r/ sound can help the child be engaged and be informed of the articulation of the sound.

How to teach a child to say the /r/ sound: Use of Tactile cues

Tactile cues are touch-based methods in speech therapy. They help kids feel how to make sounds like the /r/ sound. These cues are great for kids who learn kinesthetically. Use these following techniques:

Tongue Depressor Guidance (Should only be done by a speech therapist)

Using a tongue depressor to gently guide the tongue to the correct position for the /r/ sound, like behind the upper front teeth or raised towards the roof of the mouth.

Instructing a Child to Feel their Throat

Encouraging the child to feel their throat while making the “R” sound to sense the vibration and muscular tension, which is essential for this sound.

Lip Touching

Asking the child to touch their lips to understand the position and movement required for the “R” sound. This can include feeling the lips rounded or slightly tensed.

Employing Manual Guidance of Articulators

Gently guiding the child’s jaw, lips, or tongue with your hands to demonstrate the correct position and movement for the “R” sound.

Doing Facial Massage

Massaging areas around the mouth and jaw to increase awareness, which can help in articulating the “R” sound more easily.

Doing Tongue Exercises

Engaging in exercises that increase awareness of the tongue placement, especially while looking in the mirror, as spatial and proprioceptive awareness are necessary for producing the “R” sound correctly.

Doing the Straw or Finger under the Tongue technique

Placing a straw or a clean finger under the tongue to encourage the correct tongue placement and movement for the “R” sound.

Use of Vibration Tools

Using tools that vibrate to provide sensory feedback. The child can feel the vibration in their mouth, which can help in understanding where the sound should be resonating.

Note: Children may have different reactions to speech therapy cues, so it’s important to change the methods to fit each kid’s own way of learning. Using a mix of visual, auditory, and tactile cues usually works best. Visual cues help with seeing how to make sounds, auditory cues with hearing and repeating sounds, and tactile cues with feeling how sounds are made. This combination helps kids learn in different ways, making speech therapy more effective.

Conclusion on How to Teach a Child to Say the /r/ Sound in Speech Therapy

Incorporating these techniques into a child’s everyday activities can greatly enhance their ability to correctly articulate the /r/ sound. It’s important to remember that patience and regular practice are essential for effective speech therapy.

SpeechTherapyByPro is an online speech therapy directory that connects speech therapy pros with clients in need. If you’re a speech therapist, you can Join our community and add your practice listing here. We have assessments, practice forms, and worksheet templates speech therapy professionals can use to streamline their practice. View all of our speech therapy worksheets here.

SLP Team
Author: SLP Team

Our Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) team is a dedicated group of professionals committed to sharing industry expertise to help you grow your practice and improve how you treat your patients.

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