Clusters at Christmas - practice speech sounds with your child at home

Clusters at Christmas

Practicing speech sounds with your child is fun all year round but the Christmas season brings with it the opportunity to practice lots of festive words! Check out clusters at Christmas!

What is a cluster sound?

Words with cluster sounds (also known as blends) require that your child says two or more consonant sounds together e.g. ‘sp’ in ‘speak’ or ‘tr’ in ‘tree’ or ‘spr’ as in ‘spray’.  Understandably these can be tricky to learn and for little tots to get their tongues around. Up until around age four you may find that your child misses out one or more of the sounds in the cluster. Speech and Language therapists call this ‘cluster reduction’. So instead of saying ‘speak’ your child may say ‘peak’ or ‘seak’, instead of saying ‘spray’ they may say ‘pray’. It can take time for children to become confident with cluster sounds. Like any other area of speech, practicing them as often as possible will support your child in knowing how to combine these sounds successfully.

The festive season puts everyone in a good mood! Below are some ideas to keep that spirit up while practicing clusters!

How to work on cluster sounds with my child?

Before you attempt to work on cluster sounds, make sure that your child can produce the sound by itself first. For example, if your child can’t say ‘sneeze’, check that they can produce an ‘S’ sound. If they can’t you will need to work on the sounds by themselves first.

It’s always important to work at a level that your child can manage.

Let’s take the cluster sound ‘sn’

  • If your child is struggling to say the cluster as part of the word, you may need to make it easier for them e.g. request ‘sn’ instead of ‘snow’ or try breaking it up as demonstrated below.
  • Your child may be able to say ‘s’ and ‘n’ separately. So, in a word like ‘sneeze’ they may need to have a pause between the S and the rest of the word e.g. ‘s’ PAUSE ‘neeze. pausing makes it easier to plan the word and splits it in to manageable chunks for your child
  • Your child may be able to use the cluster ‘sn’ but are not using it consistently yet i.e. they can use it successfully in some words but not others, so you can try practicing with a mix of ‘sn’ words e.g. ‘snow’,’sneeze’, ‘snip’
  • You could also help your child produce the cluster more consistently by making it visual i.e. having a pair of pictures that differ only by the presence or absence of the cluster e.g. ‘snow’ and ‘sow’. Help your child to collect the right pictures by saying the right sounds. There is more on how to make it visual below.
  • Once your child is using the cluster sound well in words, you can try short phrases and sentences e.g. ‘I am building a snowman!'

Christmas clusters!

Decorate the cluster tree Everyone loves decorating a tree, right?! Using a drawing or a printed-out picture of a Christmas tree and cut out baubles with the cluster written, take turns to practice the cluster then ‘hang’ it on the tree. This works well if you want to practice saying the same cluster sound many times e.g. ‘sn’. The more baubles, the more attempts your child has! If your child is more confident with cluster sounds you can try mixing it up so they have a some ‘sn’ sounds with ‘sp’, ‘sk’ etc. If your child is working on saying ‘st’ then you can practice hanging the star at the top of tree, saying ‘st’ or ‘star’ each time.  You can use this game for any cluster sound but remember, if your child is struggling, it is best to keep things simple with one sound to start with.

You can also use this to practice ‘tr’ for ‘tree’. Each time they hang something on the tree they must say ‘tr’ or ‘tree’ depending on how confident they are with the cluster

Make a snowman

Make a snowman, by drawing, colouring, gluing and sticking or collecting real snow outside! For each turn in making it, have a go at saying ‘snow’.  Your child must say ‘snow’. If they say ‘no’ then shake your head playfully and repeat back ‘no? or snow?’.

Presents! You can be as creative as your like with this one.  Wrap up pretend presents with many layers and each time you take off a layer you can have a go at saying the cluster sound you are working on e.g. ‘pr’ for ‘presents’. Get the rest of the family involved and pass presents each other as your say all say the sounds.

Stockings! Fill up and empty real or pretend paper stockings with pictures. Practice the ‘st’ cluster for ‘stocking’ each time you take something out or put it in. You can try this with pictures for things that have the cluster sound that your child is working on e.g. ‘star’, ‘stable’ if they are working on ‘st’ or simply use this game with pictures of anything and practice any cluster your like.

Sleigh! Make a picture of Santa and his sleigh. Take turns to add reindeers, colour, stack presents or simply move the sleigh around whilst practicing ‘sl’ for sleigh!

Crackers Use real or homemade crackers, Jamie Oliver has some ideas for making them at home here

Whilst making them practice saying the ‘cr’ cluster or the full word ‘cracker’. You can then take turns cracking them open and making lots of ‘cr’ noises!

For extra practice, talk about what you have made, how you have made it or ask your child to explain it to someone else! Happy Ch/rist/mas!

  • CLUSTER BUSTERS – tips for working on cluster sounds - clapping out the sounds
  • This can help your child to recognize how many sound parts there are in the word e.g. ‘snow’ would be clapped s/n/ow. You can also try this by separating the word in to the cluster and the rest of the word, this may be easier e.g. sn/ow. Play games where you take turns to clap out the word. Can you put the word back together? - Use tokens or coins
  • Use these to represent the number of sounds heard. Each time you or your child says a sound you get a token. Who can win the most tokens? - Make it visual If you can, collect pictures of words with the cluster sound that your child is working towards e.g. if your child is working on ‘fl’ collect or draw pictures of a ‘floor’. If your child is saying ‘f’ instead of ‘fl’, ‘floor’ will sound like ‘four’. Have pictures of the number ‘four’. Play games to see who can collect the most pictures of the floor, or get the most turns at colouring the ‘floor’ not the ‘four’. This is a fun and visual way to help your child learn the cluster. - Jump! Using hula-hoops, or home made stepping stones (bean bags, coloured circles), jump or move along the corresponding number of sounds in the cluster e.g. jump twice for ‘sp’, ‘s-p’, then try and put the sounds together at the end ‘sp!’. If this is too easy for your child you can try splitting it again in to the first sound and the rest of the word e.g. ‘s/peak’. Act it out Making up actions for parts of the cluster is a useful memory strategy and can be lots of fun E.g. for ‘snow’ you can try making an ‘s’ sound and pretending to be a snake then for ‘no’, shaking your head. This way you have two actions for two sounds and your child is more likely to remember the parts. Make it as silly as your like! - Find the words within the words! You can try breaking the word up in to memorable chunks by finding existing words e.g. for ‘sneeze’ try make the ‘s’ (snake sound) and then tapping your knees while saying S/KNEES. You can also try this for longer words e.g. ‘Christmas’, try ‘k’ and tell your child ‘K’ is a camera sound or kangaroo sound (you can use pictures for this if you like). Then try K/WRIST/MAS, don’t worry too much if this doesn’t sound like the word just yet, as your child gets confident in putting the parts together a little faster it will sound like ‘Christmas’

Written by Carolyn Fox, Children's Speech and Language Therapist

Related articles

Practical takeaways for a speech error

What is verbal dyspraxia?