Kids are typically producing the /k/ and /g/ sounds by age 3 to 3 ½ .  It is no longer considered developmental in nature by age 3.  If your child is still having difficulty producing /k/ and /g/ by age 4 then they need some help from a speech therapist to acquire the sounds.  I will discuss what happens to create this articulation delay, some methods to elicit the production of /k/ and /g/ sounds, and exercises to sustain them.

What Is Going On?

I discussed minimal pairs in last week’s blog.  Minimal pairs are a great way to help a child create awareness of what they are saying, help them begin to self-monitor their speech, and support emerging literacy skills.  The phonological process that happens when kids substitute a /t/ for /k/ or a /d/ for /g/ is called Fronting. Fronting is a very common phonological process. It occurs when kids substitute sounds made in the back of the mouth with those produced in the front of the mouth. For example, saying “tan” for “can”, “dot” for “got”, “tar” for “car”.  The substitution happens in all positions of a word and can create a lot of difficulty in understanding what a child is saying.  Even parents and caregivers who can usually crack the code of their child’s speech and translate for others can have difficulty deciphering words that are being “fronted”. 

How To Start?

There are several ways to increase awareness and production of /k/ and /g/.  The first thing I do is show kids where the sounds are made. I ask them to put their fingers on their throat.  From there I model how to make the sound and then show them the difference between the voice off (for /k/) and voice on (for /g/).  As I model the sounds, I ask them to copy me as we make the voiced and voiceless sounds of other cognate pairs (p-b, t-d, k-g, f-v, s-z, sh-zh, ch-j). Once they have a sense of where the sound is produced, and that there are voiced and unvoiced sounds, then we move onto exercises to elicit and produce the sounds.

What To Do?

Tongue Depressors 
Many kids don’t like tongue depressors, so you can get flavored tongue depressors to warm them up to the idea.  Also, I always show everything on me first and take it slow and easy so they can see the tongue depressor as a tool and not as something scary.  Of course many kids like to play with it too! While this isn’t the first method I use, I list the tongue depressor method first because it is very popular and can definitely get the job done! What you do is push the tongue into the correct position for a /k/ or /g/ sound. While holding the tongue in the correct position, have the child try to say the /k/ sound. If the child typically says the /t/ sound for the /k/ sound, the tongue depressor will hold the tongue tip down and the child will end up producing the /k/ sound. The same goes for stimulating the /g/ sound. Allow the child to feel what it feels like to produce the /k/ sound correctly, then slowly pull the tongue depressor forward and out as the child continues to try to say the /k/ sound. If they are unable to produce the sound when the tongue depressor comes out of their mouth, then in addition to continuing to work on it, they may also need some oral-motor exercises to help them improve the strength and coordination of their articulators (tongue, lips, jaw) if weakness or lack of coordination is present. 

I typically use this method first. It is similar to the tongue depressor, and motivation to participate will rarely be a problem!  The child lays flat on their back, which causes the tongue to naturally fall backwards in the mouth.  From here, the lollipop is placed on the front of the tongue and gentle pressure is applied as the child is instructed to produce the /k/ and /g/ sounds.  Kids get a feel of the placement quickly and easily and love the lollipop treat! 

When the tongue is not retracting (elevating the back of the tongue) then the tongue and associated muscles may need to be strengthened.  A fun way to do this is with straws, but not just any straws.  I recommend using Lip Bloks. The Lip Bloks attach to a straw and will help facilitate retraction of the tongue, while not allowing for any compensatory movements.  This way all of the articulators get strengthened properly.  The Lip Bloks are only used with a thick liquid (smoothie or shake) so that there is enough thickness to be effective.  Using Lip Bloks only needs to be done once per day.  This way they have focused attention on the exercise, but it is fun and tasty too! 

Gargle Water
Gargling water is another method to have kids get the feel and practice of tongue retraction. When you gargle water, the back of your tongue is positioned correctly for the /k/ and /g/ sound. It can be successful if the child has the motor skills to gargle water, otherwise the tongue depressor and the lollipop are easier to use. 

Reading Books with /k/ and /g/
Provide models of the /k/ and /g/ sounds for your kids by giving them as much exposure to the sounds as possible. A good way to do this is to read books with them that have lots of /k/ and /g/ words in them. You can slow down and overemphasize these sounds to they can grasp the sound. You can also remind them where we make the sound and either have them say the words after you, or read the words themselves depending upon their age and reading level. 

The Hierarchy

As with all speech sounds, we have to start small and simple and build up the length and complexity over time.  It takes time to make a change so working from the phoneme level to the conversation level can take some time.  After the sound is elicited and the phoneme is stablized, then we move onto the syllable level, which if you recall from the Final L blog, we use the vowels to help give the sound a solid foundation. 

Syllables: Once your child can produce good /k/ and /g/ sounds at the phoneme level, then it’s time to move onto syllables. Using vowels is an excellent way to practice syllables (kay, kee, kai, ko, koo and gay, gee, gai, go, goo).

Words: Once your child can produce good /k/ and /g/ sounds at the syllable level, then it’s time to move onto words. You can purchase online practice games or picture cards for /k/ and /g/ at the beginning, middle and end of a word at Boom Learning or Teachers Pay Teachers

Sentences: Once your child can produce good /k/ and /g/ sounds at the word level, then it’s time to move onto sentences.  You can make silly sentences, play around with tongue twisters, or make single sentences with /k/ and /g/ while also focusing on building grammar and spelling skills. You can purchase materials at Boom Learning and Teachers Pay Teachers, and also on apps from Little Bee Speech, and Virtual Speech Center’s Articulation Carnival

Stories: Once your child can produce good /k/ and /g/ sounds at the sentence level, then it’s time to move onto stories.  One of my favorite apps to use for stories is Little Stories Pro from Little Bee Speech. You can also use any books your child likes to read or make up stories.

Conversation:  Once your child can produce good /k/ and /g/ sounds at the story level, then it’s time to move onto conversation.  This is where the rubber hits the road!  When conversation is spontaneous it is most challenging, and even more so when they have emotions on top of it! You can start with structured conversations about their daily routine and what happened in school or with other activities, and then move onto helping them to recognize and make corrections during more spontaneous speech. 

There is a lot to do but we are here to help and make it as easy and fun as possible!

At Vibe, our speech therapists are trained to work with children of every age, and in every facet of speech and language.  We are experts in our field. The clinical and personal relationship we have with you is at the core of everything we do. From the resources we bring to support growth in communication, to the highly individualized therapy sessions. We offer collaborative partnerships with other providers, family and caregivers and we are committed to exceeding your expectations. We look forward to helping your child bring their best self into the world!
Contact Vibe Speech Therapy to learn more about how we can help you!