One of the joys of having a blog is that I hear from people literally all around the world. Some are parents seeking advice for their children who have speech and language delays, some are students in grad school asking my opinion on a app they are developing or a grant they want to pursue, and some are fellow SLP’s who have great suggestions, questions or just need a little encouragement. I got the following note that falls in the last category. I asked the sender if I could excerpt her note and include it on my blog in hopes that it would help others who might have the same questions.
“Hi Sherry. My name is__and I am an SLP. I came across your blog a few weeks ago and have enjoyed following it very much. I just started working again in the schools, part time, after taking 10 years off having my own 3 children. The needs and direction of services seem to have changed so much since then! I am enjoying myself and the kids tremendously, but still feel trepidation as I enter the preschool classroom!!!! I have five 3-4 years olds I’m providing services for, 3 of which are on the spectrum, and 2 others with rec/exp delays. I go in for an hour at a time, and work with 2 kids at a time, 20 min each in a small corner of the room. To be honest, I am beside myself with coming up with things to do and bring!! I have one boy who is really difficult to engage, protests and yells “no” to everything in front of him basically. Other than “no” he has very limited spontaneous language, but when engaged will imitate up to 3 words. The others are pretty compliant. I guess I’m just wondering if you have suggestions for engaging 2-3 kids at a time with various levels of engagement and communication skills. Are there toys, games, activities, etc that you have found to be successful, a bag of tricks perhaps?! I havent worked much at all with this age group and population.”
Dear SLP Colleague,
I can relate since my first job as a speech pathologist was with preschool kids and I went full-circle to again end up with that age in an early learning center in our town before I started my private practice. I actually had to serve five 3 year-olds at time for up to 1 1/2 hours per session. Basically you need lots of activities to change things up to keep them engaged. On my website, I have listed my PAL Award winners which you can sort by year and age for toys, books and games to encourage language. Here are some of my favorites that I fill my therapy bag with:
- Play-Doh–an essential. You can keep kids interested by having a set of cookie cutters (there are great tubs by theme available such as Play-Doh Picnic Bucket), add a roller and put them in a closed container so kids have to ask for them to get one. Even opening the Play-Doh lid requires “help me” or “I do” or “open” to get a response by you. The Play-Doh EZ 2 Do Zoo is like a Mr. Potato Head with animal pieces that you stick into a ball of Play-doh. Kids love this!
- Duplo, Lego sets that again involve you holding on to the box of pieces as they request one, either a bear, water, fish, man or car in the Zoo Set or try the farm and supermarket themes. Kids love these because they are familiar vocabulary and they can add-on and build a little bridge, pond or step for their figures. Here is my blog about best Duplo lego sets for building language.
- Fisher Price Little People sets are great for generating language and conversations, working on pretend play as you model talking with one of the figures and kids respond. Boys really like the cars and trucks, gas station and car wash. Camping, motorhome and eating themes are popular too.
- I often read short books, modeling 1-3 word phrases and pausing for the kids to repeat, and then do an activity related to the story whether it is a song, or simple craft. If we make something, then they can take it home and it becomes an opportunity to share with the parents what they did, bridging the language lesson to home. Help kids to see the joy of reading a book early. I even get my kids to repeat with me, “We LOVE books!” (especially if they are a little resistant, it seems to get them fired up.)
- Play food and a kitchen are always popular with the kids and a great way to build language. You don’t need a huge kitchen. Step2 makes a Sizzlin’ Shapes Kitchen table top version for portability and HaPe has several smaller sets of wooden food to throw in your therapy bag for an activity.
- Puzzles are another preschool therapy activity. You can model a word or phrase and reward a child by giving them a piece to the puzzle. Puzzles by Lauri and Rubbabu provide a sensory experience with their rubber pieces. Also I might use a bigger puzzle like “The Pirate Ship” from Ravensburger because I describe the scene on a piece before putting it in the puzzle.
- Pretend Play scenarios are fun whether it has to do with buying or eating ice pops or creating cupcakes in the add-on Duplo lego set, “Creative Cakes.” or Alex Toys’ stand for making ice pops.
- Crafts involving glue, glitter and paint seem to excite preschoolers. I have been through many tubes of glitter glue, decorating frogs or people. “Dot a Dot” paints are simple tubes of paint with a stamp at the end. Kids are excited to ask for the tubes by color, “more,” “on,” etc.
These are just a few of my favorite materials to use with preschoolers in speech and language therapy. I invite my fellow SLP’s to add on their favorites to this list. I know when I was working in the schools we had very limited budgets for materials so I bought a lot of my toys at tag sales (garage sales) and got many things donated by parents of elementary aged kids who were more than happy to have me take their outgrown toys when they were cleaning out their play room. That being said, I started to buy a few good quality toys and games each year and many are still with me.
Disclosure: The PAL Award winners were provided for review by their companies. The opinions expressed in my reviews are solely my own.