What is pragmatics?
Pragmatics is the social use of language. In other words, it is the way that we communicate with both words and our bodies in a social context. For example, establishing eye contact, taking turns verbally, greeting, showing and responding to emotions of others.
Preschoolers with delays in pragmatic development are typically seen as "self-directed" or "prompt-dependent." Gaining skills in pragmatic development is essential for children to develop functional communication skills, establishing friendships with peers and improving self-esteem.
Here are some strategies I find helpful when targeting development of pragmatic skills in preschoolers:
When targeting eye contact, I make sure to be eye level with the child and try to minimize distractions before speaking. If eye contact is so poor that the child does not respond even when their name is called, I will pair the verbalization (in this case, their name) with a visual (e.g. bubbles). I reinforce their response to turning toward me when their name is called by blowing bubbles (a preschool favorite). Once the child responds to the pairing consistently, I will gradually fade the bubbles and increase distractions, to encourage a more naturalistic context.
Verbal turn-taking is another biggie. Before a child can respect your and their verbal turn, they have to be aware of the general rules in turn-taking. This can be targeted during singing songs by leaving off the final word of a familiar song for the child to "fill in" or by engaging in simple turn-taking games, such as "Go Fish" or rolling a ball back and forth.
A child's ability to respond to a question seems to come more easily than asking questions. When I target this goal, I first must create a functional reason for the child to communicate. My favorite way to "set the stage" is to sabotage the situation. For example, with a group of three students, I may use a color, cut and paste activity and only provide one red crayon or one glue stick to be shared. Being able to ask questions of peers is usually a HUGE turning point in the child's ability to take the perspective of others and engage peers as social communication partners.
I used this M&M End of the Rainbow activity from Lisa at Criss-Cross Applesauce to target pragmatic development with a small group.
I adapted the directions to engage the children in a verbal exchange with each other. I started each child with a blank rainbow board and separated each color of M&Ms into cups. I then gave each child one cup to be "in charge" of. If a child drew a card containing someone else's color, they had to ask for what they needed before adding it to their rainbow. The children initially needed modeling to ask questions and by the end of the session, I was barely helping them interact with each other. Truly awesome for them!!