The “sh” sound can be a tricky one for kids to learn because it’s later developing, requires central airflow release with the sides of the tongue raised, and involves placement in the middle of the mouth, where there’s not a ton of feedback that kids can see or feel about whether they’re making the sound right.
So, while it might seem counter-intuitive at first, sometimes I’ve found that teaching “er” first is a great way to lay the foundation for “sh.” This is because having the tongue stabilized against the upper molars is important for both the bunched “er” and “sh.” If you have a kiddo who’s struggling to learn the “er” sound, check out our post about how to teach vocalic /r/ using sound shaping from “ah.”
If you’re a parent looking for help with a child’s articulation skills, please reach out today for a free screening with a speech-language pathologist! They can help you learn if a sound should be worked on in therapy, and identify the best strategies to teach your child!
A child who can make the “er” sound
Ask the child to say “er.” Tell them to pay attention to how their tongue feels at the back of their mouth. Can they feel how it pushes up towards their upper molars in the back?
Next, tell them to keep their tongue up against their upper molars, and then lift the tip up to the roof of their mouth and keep the air going. Model this as “er-sh.” Because the tongue is already generally positioned correctly, and the lips are already rounded, this is a slight movement that will result in a generally correct “sh” production. Have them repeat a few times to stabilize. Then, see if they can drop the “er” at the beginning by asking them to “pretend” to say the “er” portion, or to say the “er” to themselves and then only say the “sh” out loud.
If the production has lateralized airflow release, check if /s/ and “ch” are lateralized as well. If one of these two is produced without lateralized airflow, then trying sound shaping from either of these may be a good exercise as well. If starting from /s/, cue the child to slide their tongue a little farther back in their mouth, then round their lips. If starting from “ch,” ask them to hold out the end of “ch,” then ask them to leave the “short” part off the sound (the /t/) and only make the “long” part (the “sh”).
If all sibilants are lateralized (/s/, “sh,” and “ch,”) then I’ve usually had the most luck teaching /s/ first. From there, you can either slide placement back to elicit an “sh” production, or try the “ersh” trick described above.
Need some free “sh” flashcards? Check out our free downloads page!