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Speech Therapy & Incidental Learning.

Updated: Apr 15, 2021


Incidental learning is a kind of unplanned or indirect learning method, where you teach a child by engaging in a real-life activity like gardening, cooking or playing a sport. This method can be effectively used in a home setup and, as well as, in a controlled learning setup. Most of the parents use this method in their day to day life in explaining, guiding and teaching kids regarding life routines, good habits etc.; however, they don't realize that this is a scientific approach, and it could be more effective if used consciously.

Has "Incidental learning" outdated "Conventional learning (a.k.a. Formal or Controlled learning)"?

The incidental learning method is effective than the conventional way of classroom teaching. The conventional methods make children bored, adamant and uneasy; they find that teaching is something to be forcefully accepted or to be hated. Japan had foreseen the incredible advantages of incidental learning and had well integrated it in their education system; children until the higher secondary have minimal hours of classroom teaching, and instead, they are taught concepts by engaging in real scenarios and play activities. However, note that conventional learning is not completely obsolete or something to be disregarded; it has its own perks such as developing focus, attention and discipline. So, what is significant to be understood is that we should incorporate both the method to achieve the real purpose of learning.

Can we include incidental learning in a formal learning method?

Yes, of course! Often times, there is a limitation of outdoor space in many institutions, but that doesn't necessarily be a hurdle to disregard this incredible way of learning. In such conditions, we can simply introduce this method using role-play teaching style with toys such as kitchen set, doctor set, garden kit and so on. Even telling a story and creating an imaginary environment can hook the children to the advantages of incidental learning if carefully executed.

How does incidental learning play a role in speech therapy?

The prime motto of speech therapy, especially with children of special needs is to improve their speech and language skills, whereby they could effectively communicate to express their needs and emotions. Some special kids show enough resistance and hostility to speech therapy sessions with a new speech therapist, in the early days. In such scenarios, incidental learning could be an amazing tool or method to introduce the child to the new environment and to create a great bonding in a friendly way, even without their awareness.

Incidental learning is incorporated in speech therapy sessions to make children learn concepts, vocabulary, action words and to improve their basic understanding related to a language. Through this method, we can gain the attention and focus of children for a longer period of time to follow instructions in a natural way. It also helps to stimulate their inquisitive mind at ease leading them to ask questions at their own will, and thus relate to 'WH' questions.

For instance, along with gardening activity, a special need child learns vocabularies like a garden, leaves, sand, water, give, more, few, pour, put, vegetable, tomato, flower etc. They learn to understand how to follow and relate to instructions such as, 'pour more water', 'put little sand', 'take five leaves', 'pluck the tomato' etc. Further, a child could ask WH questions such as ' why to?', 'how to?', 'when will?' and 'who shall?', and also exhibit expressive language like 'no', 'yes', 'I want' etc.

So, what are the other merits of incidental learning?

Apart from the benefits already discussed above, the following are a few other key ones:

  1. Improves their sense of reasoning.

  2. Enhances their ability of questioning.

  3. Facilitates the scope of meaningful imagination, both synthetic and creative imagination.

  4. Enables useful transfer of thoughts from one scenario to another.

  5. Aids in behavioural modification including body language.


Incidental learning is an inevitable method that we must use in speech therapy to attain the desired goals in a playful, exciting and interesting manner. Further, we should also understand that this technique can be widely used in many faculties or fields of learning associated with special need children, such as occupational therapy, behavioural therapy, counselling and special education.



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