Clapping & Language Development

Clapping & Language Development

By  Whitney, M.S. CCC-SLP

Learning to clap to a beat is the final stage of neural processes which impact speech and language development.

Have you tried clapping with some of your clients during speech therapy sessions? I have noticed that many of my clients with speech and language deficits (of all ages!) have difficulty clapping to a beat. And it may be more than having dancing-challenged family members. Let’s find out why…

Recent nuero-scientific studies indicate the importance of children learning to keep a beat and its impact on literacy skills. Before the age of one, babies attempt to master clapping with a beat. Neural networks in the brain have made significant connections when babies learn to clap. Increasingly more research indicates that when babies clap with a consistent beat, neural pathways needed for learning to read are connected and active.

What is involved in keeping a consistent beat?

Below are different stages involved in learning to clap to a specific beat:

  1. First, the beat has to be identified by separating the sound (the beat) from other sounds within an environment. Dr. Anita Collins, PhD, wrote in the article, “Just Beat It”, that babies hear sound as one mass similar to listening to music in a recording studio where all the dials are turned to full volume. Infants and children up to seven years old continuously learn to process sounds by categorizing and filtering what they hear.
  2. Second, after the beat is identified from other sounds, communication to the limbs to move to the beat has to occur. Research indicates that babies use rythm to teach limbs to move by understanding that a beat is fast or slow and guiding limbs to connect with the rate of the beat. Learning to control movements is key for moving the body intentionally.
  3. Lastly, the beat needs to be maintained. A big factor in reaching this goal is to increase attention span, which is a foundation for all learning tasks. Start with recognizing a beat for 1-2 seconds and then 10+ seconds. This recognition helps move beyond the early steps in learning.

Literacy and Keeping a Beat

New research challenges speech and language development theories. Recent research has found that the first stage of keeping a beat (mentioned above), when the sound is heard as one mass, is an integral part of speech and language development. The sooner a child learns to separate speech from other sounds within this mass of sound, the sooner they begin to acquire language. More language exposure leads to earlier development of grammar rules, pitch, and rhythm of speech sounds. Learning to speak and understand the rules of effective communication leads to easier transitions when learning to write, which is the next stage in communication.

Activities for Keeping a Beat

  • clapping
  • stomping
  • jumping
  • tapping the table
  • dancing
  • rhythm sticks
  • using maracas
  • using triangles

I enjoy starting and ending my therapy sessions by playing a song that is engaging for my clients. I help them to clap with hand over hand assistance and then eventually they will begin to process the beat rhythm independently. You can play any song they like! I have Spotify and YouTube Songs that I use a lot. Baby Shark and Raffi are a few of my favorites! I hope you have dancing and clapping with your clients! It is such a wonderful way to connect with your clients and help to engage caregivers.

Information taken from Just Beat It…For Literacy by Dr. Anita Collins


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