Halloween Preschool Speech Therapy Carryover

IMG_4297I have the privilege of working in homes so parents of preschoolers can watch their child’s speech therapy sessions and carry over techniques to further progress. Sometimes they will sit down with us or often, they are “busy” close by but I know they are listening. It takes some time for them to understand what to say to encourage language growth as well as how and when to say it. I am used to modeling words or phrases, pausing and requiring a response that I can shape before reinforcing the child. But parents have to change their behavior, typically, as they realize they have been “talking for their child” or giving them what they want, without requiring some verbal request.

Last week, as I was wrapping up my session, I realized Mom was talking to her preschooler, modeling the words she wanted to use, pausing and encouraging her and she was less frustrated, using verbalizations for her needs more often. It was gratifying to see this change, knowing that now Mom was the therapist in my absence!

As I walked to the front door to leave, Mom said to her daughter, “Say hi to Frank!” and her daughter said, “Hi.” It was a great example of how preschool speech therapy should never end, but be carried out throughout the day.

Posted in Birth-3 year-olds, Language, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

6 Tips For Picking Smart Baby Toys

wrenn and smithWhen baby arrives, it’s time to play. Since newborn babies prefer a variety of shapes, curves, angles and contrasts in light and dark, your face is his first favorite toy! He reacts as you talk to him and smile, watching your mouth, eyes and face move, casting shadows and changing expressions.

But by the time your baby reaches three months, he can see more clearly, focus on an object and is interested in a toy. You’re still a favorite but now it’s time to pick great toys that will enhance language. Certain features in a toy will invite more language, giving you more to talk about as you play with your baby.

1. Find a Friendly Face: Choose toys that have a friendly face. A rooster, a caterpillar or even an apple can all have a face, ready to engage in your baby in conversation with you. Babies are naturally attracted to faces and actually talk more to a face, especially one with lots of expression. Take on the voice for your bug or pony and talk to your baby, describing actions like eating, sitting, playing, or galloping while moving your toy. Blocks and stacking rings are great toys for building that can be animated when they have a face on them. Look for toys with a face.

2. Feels Good: Describe contrasting textures to provide your baby with lots of exciting vocabulary like crinkly, smooth, bumpy, soft, hard or fuzzy. Talk about the puppy’s shiny, smooth paws and fuzzy, squishy tummy, as your baby is exploring the toy. Look for toys that have lots of contrasts in texture—some soft, hard, slippery, fuzzy, bumpy or smooth surfaces. The more contrasts your toy has, the more you have to describe and talk about with your baby. Feeding babies descriptions with rich vocabulary builds their understanding or words (receptive language) and prepares them  to say their their first words (expressive language) around one year of age and build up to 50+ words by the age of 2, combining 2 words together to make their first mini sentences.

3. Sounds Alive: Many baby toys make a sound—a rattle, a jingle, or a squeak. Some even make the sound for the specific animal like a bark for a dog or moo for a cow. Squeeze your little dog to bark or shake your elephant to rattle, pause and watch your baby’s response. Talking about the sounds you’ve heard and repeating them yourself adds interest to your baby’s play and promotes listening skills.

4. Colorful Contrasts: Since newborns focus on the boldest patterns and see only some color, toys with bold patterns of black and white are of greatest interest to them. But, by the time a baby is three months old, he can make nearly all the color distinctions so bring on the color! While a toy with many contrasting colors is exciting to look at, it also provides lots of opportunity to describe the different colors, by the caregiver. Don’t forget a board book with bright colors on a white background serves as an interesting “toy” to look at also. Hold the book up so your baby can see it as well as your face as you read the simple text, or prop it up for a more interesting tummy time.

5. Bring on the Action: Look for flexibility in a toy—one where you and your baby can engage in lots of action to describe. Moving parts like doors to open, peek-a-boo windows, containers to put things in, and openings to push through all provide opportunities to talk about objects in, out, through, and opening and shutting.

6. Peek in a Mirror:  At about 6 months babies react to their own image in a mirror and start to babble and giggle at themselves. Make sure the mirror is large enough so your baby can see herself in the toy. Follow your baby’s lead and let her start the conversation, with you joining in to add to the dialogue.

As a speech and language expert and grandmother of 7, here are some of my favorite PAL Award picks for great play and learning with your baby:

Walk-Along-Snail by Hape

196813209651bThis goofy snail with the wiggly, buggy eyes is a happy companion as he tags along, rotating his shell of colored blocks. Flexibility in a toy leads to open-ended play, as children grow and can remove the snail’s shell for some shape sorting practice.

Wonder Whale Kicks and Giggles Activity Gym by Infantino


Parents appreciate Infantino’s baby products designed for multiple learning stages, keeping equipment to the minimum as little adjustments can take a baby from over-head discovery to lying on her back watching and reaching for the sea animals or turned around to kick the whale’s tail,  jiggling the toys and chatting back to them.

Trampili Elephant Music Box by Steiff


Elephants are a hot item in the nursery these days and this little one invites a hug or coo with his stitched on smile and eyes. Pull his cord to soothe your baby to sleep and know that he is listening to differences in sounds and building listening skills preparing for speech.

Magic Forest Friends by HABA


Magic Forest Friends decorate six interactive sides of a reversible house complete with a bunny to reside inside or out. Describing little activities associated with each animal as well as sensory options both tactile and auditory,  make this playbook an enriching language learning experience.

Musical Gator by ALEX Toys


 Kids can experiment with the beat and different sounds of the instruments, building listening and discrimination skills. Since kids learn to imitate gestures before sounds and words, this Musical Gator is perfect for playing a little game of follow the leader while building skills essential for language learning! Tap two times on the drum and hand the mallet to your toddler, waiting for his response. Then follow his lead to imitate what he bangs next, engaging in your own learning game.




Posted in Babies, Birth-3 year-olds, play, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Halloween Books and Apps for Speech Therapy

103881798As speech therapists, we love a holiday to use as a theme in our lessons with kids! Here is my post from last year which is worth revisiting for some ideas to get a little “boo” out of kids we are working with:

Halloween is such a fun holiday for kids and provides lots of material to make our speech therapy sessions special!

ASHASphere has a guest post this past week,Appdapted: Halloween Themed Apps by Speech Pathologist, Jeremy Legaspi, which provides a short review of 16 Halloween apps and how to use them for speech therapy–thanks, Jeremy, for the nice list!

As for recommended Halloween books, those of you who know me know that I don’t like the gory, mystical themes of Halloween and prefer the cute and fun themes to share with kids so I thought I would list some my favorites:

  1. The Hallo-Wiener by Dav Pilkey. Kids can’t get enough of this book! It can actually be used to discuss the theme of bullying as poor wiener dog, Oscar, is laughed at by his fellow dogs for his shape and called names. Innocently, his mother refers to him as her little Vienna sausage and gives him a giant hot dog bun for his Halloween costume. Not wanting to hurt his mother’s feelings, he wears the costume and bears all the taunts. Who would know that the other dogs would need someone to rescue them from the ghastly monster? In a cute quirk of fate, Oscar is just the right size and shape to take on the “monster!” I’ve used this book for wh-questions, inference, and even as a bit of a social story (particularly the beginning) in language lessons.
  2. Skeleton Hiccups by Margery Cuyler. This poor skeleton woke up with the hiccups and nothing seems to help. Every time he goes “hic, hic, hic) the force of the hiccups shoots the soap out of the shower, launches his jaw straight out or detaches his arm at the shoulder. Ghost does his best to scare him but that doesn’t work either until Ghost gets smart and digs in the costume box for just the right prop to get rid of this friend’s hiccups. This book is great for audience participation with the little “hic, hic hic” traveling across the page.
  3. Sheep Trick or Treat by Nancy Shaw. In anticipation of Halloween, the sheep friends make their costumes–a dinosaur, mummy, vampire, witch and two-sheep ape. They set off for the barn to collect their healthy treats of apples, oats and sugar lumps. A wolf hiding in the woods sees the sheep and can only hope to get his tasty treat on their way home. But the sheep stand up when they hear the wolves and guess who is the one who gets scared? This book is in delightful rhyme like the rest of the “Sheep” series by this author and illustrator. There is plenty to talk about as the story takes a twist and kids can explain why.
  4. Just Say Boo! by Susan Hood. This newcomer to Halloween books is among some of the safest to read to little ones, celebrating the fun of the holiday without scaring anyone. Also in delightful rhyme, we are taken out trick-or-treating with the kids as they learn to just say Boo! to anything scary.Here is my full review.
I wish everyone a very Happy Halloween!


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When a Therapist, Client Relationship Doesn’t Work

Artwork big and small peopleI thought I’d blog about a topic that we don’t talk about very much but is part of our experience as speech pathologists. Most of the time we move into a  place with our clients where there is a nice balance of communication and things are “humming” so to speak. Certainly we have periods of time that are more challenging as kids might be more difficult behavior-wise or we need to change up our materials to engage a child that is growing and might need to play with teenage ninja turtles, rather than Fisher Price little people to interest him.

But what about the rare but realistic times when the client-therapist relationship just doesn’t jive. I work with kids so can only speak from that perspective but it makes sense that once in a while personalities just don’t click. Or maybe the delivery model just isn’t the best for a child to progress at the best pace. Working in homes, in a child’s natural environment works really well for me since  parents can easily observe my techniques and their child’s progress, as well as carry out appropriate activities throughout the week until I come again. Kids are usually very relaxed in their natural environment and more verbal, especially if I ask to have a tour of their playroom. As good as that model is, especially for preschool therapy, there have been a few times when a child just couldn’t leave his free form play place (home) and stay engaged in a therapy session. On those occasions I recommended to the parents that they pursue therapy at a clinic or office, not their home.

On the flip side, parents have come to me over the years, disenchanted with their present therapy situation. Some of the complaints have been: a clinic run by an experienced therapist but weekly sessions conducted by therapists with little experience, little communication, inability to observe sessions, and lack of progress. I make it a practice not to criticize other therapists because I would like to receive the same grace so I  simply move forward, addressing the needs of that child.

It’s best for all parties involved to be honest about what works and what doesn’t and move ahead.

Posted in Speech and Language Delay | 2 Comments

Toys and Games Shared on “Teachmetotalk” Podcast today

safe_imageI really enjoyed being a guest on Laura Mize’s Podcast today for “Teachmetotalk” on the topic of “Great Toys From Play On Words.” She is a pediatric speech pathologist who hosts a weekly show highlighting information for parents of children with special needs as well as speech therapists working with the birth-three population. Laura invited me to talk about the value of using toys in sessions with children and at home with parents as well as my recommendations for best toys, games and books for that age range.

Here are the products that I mentioned on today’s show, many of which are PAL Award winners,  with tips on how to use them for language learning. If you have any further questions, feel free to email me:

Age 1 and up:

  • Rubbabu’s “3 D Shape Sorter”
  • Bubbles, especially bottles with the wand attached so you can operate it with one hand such as “Bear Bubbles.”
  • Thinkfun’s toddler games are designed for 18 months and up and can be adapted for younger ages: “Roll ‘n Play”
  • Thinkfun’s “Hello Sunshine”
  • Balls and slides
  • Popper ball machines
  • Hape’s “Mighty Mini Band”
  • Little Tikes “Discover Sounds Tool Box”
  • “Laugh and Learn Learning Piggy Bank” by Fisher Price

Age 2 and up:

  •  Lauri puzzles
  • Ravensburger puzzles-My First Puzzles, Garden animals 2 -piece
  • Playdoh, tubs, oven, cookie cutters
  • Fisher Price little people, vehicles, car wash and gas station.
  • Alex toys ‘ “My 3D Zoo puzzles”
  • Lego duplo sets: grocery store, horse stable, zoo animals
  • Playmobil 123 sets, designed for toddlers, pieces are chunky

3-4  year-olds love games. Here are some wonderful companies who specialize in preschool games and have lots of language learning embedded in them:




Posted in Birth-3 year-olds, Games, Language, play, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Toddlers Lead the Play in Speech Therapy

Mr. Potato Head glassesNo matter how much I plan and pack in my therapy bag, I still have to follow the lead in play of the little toddler I am working with. What I thought was a great toy or idea often goes off in a different direction and thankfully entertains and keeps his interest for a productive language session.

Today I had the usual staples and some new finds–Play-doh, Fisher Price little people and vehicles, a car wash and gas station, a slide (great for making balls out of Playdoh and sliding them down for “go,” “down,” “ball” and “uh oh”), Mr Potato Head, and a pull toy and musical station.

Experience shows me that Mr Potato Head never quite gets completely dressed! The toddlers I work with often want to pull the body parts and clothing out of the holes right after we have “pushed” them in. But today took a different turn. Besides wanting to try on the glasses, my little friend found it a lot  more fun to put the pieces in and out of the opening in Mr. Potato Head’s body for storage, than complete him. Of course I went right along and set up a scenario where he had to name the object, and say a number of target words to get what he wanted, “open,” “in,” “out,” “shut,” and “shake!” As long as we can set up a play situation where he thinks he is in charge, but really I am, we are alright!

Posted in Preschool, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | 1 Comment

PAL Award Winners Offer Back to School Learning on NBC CT TV

PAL winners were featured last week on NBC Connecticut TV as fantastically fun learning products to boost learning at home as kids head back to school. Parents want to know how they can support the learning in the classroom and PAL winners do just that! Toss the flashcards and worksheets and have some family fun while supporting academic skills. Need a little help in writing? Check out the night sky with Educational Insights’ Moonscope and record your observations and comparisons in the companion journal.  Have a little trouble focusing and listening in class? Practice your listening skills while playing HABA’s Loco Lingo games that reward attending to a story, rhyme or riddle.

Visit playonwords.com for all the PAL Winners!

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Birth-3 year-olds, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Play “That’s It!” by Gamewright to Teach Vocabulary and Categories in Speech Therapy

GAMEWRIGHT-1104-frontIt’s Back to School time and teachers and therapists are looking for that new fun game that is filled with learning potential. Gamewright’s new PAL winner, “That’s It!” really is just that! And portable too for those of us who travel from home to home. It is designed for players age 10 and up and 3 or more people. I have adapted the idea for younger kids as well. I just played a hilarious game with a second grader who is working on word retrieval. This game is perfect as you select a topic such as “an activity that makes you sleepy” and players shout out answers within that category until theirs matches the one on the card. In subsequent rounds, players earn tokens with number values and eventually category cards to win the game. Building vocabulary within a category supports many language goals.

Here is my full review:

If you want just the right party game that can also double as a perfect learning tool for teachers, play “That’s It!” by Gamewright. The tiny box is loaded with 200 topic cards . Draw a card and race to shout out answers until one matches the answer written. Name “something that gets backed up” elicited “sewer” and “plumbing” before “the correct “traffic” answer was given. It is hilarious to hear everyone madly try to guess what s written while they go through their file of words associated with that category. “An activity that makes you sleepy” conjured up “yawning” and “watching TV” before “reading” was named. Several of the categories have qualifiers so players have to dig deeper to think of words on that list–”land animal that can’t walk” or “a place that has uniformed guards” require players to to search their memory for subcategories such as place->that would need security->that would have uniformed guards. A terrific language learning game, “That’s It!” requires searching for vocabulary within categories and requires rapid naming. It is surprisingly funny to see what seems like a simple category can take a long time to arrive at the right answer. “Something you push around” caused a series of “vacuum, lawn mower, broom and wagon” before being stumped over “stroller!” Win a category and collect tokens of random value to add up to determine the winner of that round. This element of luck evens the playing field for different ages to play together.

Available at Gamewright



Posted in 10 and up, Games, Language, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Word Finding | Leave a comment

Dr. Seuss Books Soon To Be Available as E-Books

imgres-6Last week’s New York Times reported that our beloved Dr. Seuss books will soon be released in e-book format. Generations have enjoyed the likes of “Green Eggs and Ham,” and now parents and educators will be able to download the Dr. Seuss canon.

Interestingly enough, the article reports that although e-books for adult fiction have exploded over the last 5 years, children’s picture books have not followed suit. “Several publishers said e-books represent only 2 to 5 percent of their total picture book sales, a number that has scarcely moved in the last several years.”

Gee, I wonder why? I have heard the argument that e-books are more portable, convenient and even eco-conscious. I get that I could download several picture books onto my tablet for a vacation and not lug a backpack of books. Call me old fashioned but I still prefer to open up a traditional picture book while snuggling with a child and explore each page, handling it and turning the page.

The publisher calls this new move “a companion to print,” as the school market is very interested in digital books.

As long as we keep both options, I will be happy. I always get a lift visiting our children’s library in town when it is teeming with kids enjoying the playscapes and shelves of books, trying one out at a time.

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PAL Winners on NBC CT Today, Building “School” Skills At Home Through Play

photo 1Here are the terrific new toys and games, our latest PAL Award winners, featured on my segment on NBC CT this morning. Kerry-Lee Mayland gave a great interview as usual, getting hands on with all the new products I showcased.

It’s Back to School and parents are asking what they can do at home to reinforce and support the learning in their child’s classroom. Here are some great new products that can do just that:

Disney Sofia the First Magical Tea Time Game by Wonder Forge (3 and up, $20)

  • Don’t we girls all love a tea party!
  • Learning colors, matching, pretend play storytelling and social language of manners
  • Blow on your teacup or squeeze the magical tea pot to change the color in your cup and collect treats–key lime pie, chocolate covered strawberries– from the matching colored fairy headmistresses


See ‘n Spin Alphabet Rack by B Kids (12 months and up, $40)

  • Kids love to spin the alphabet, searching for letters in their name, guessing what object might be pictured on the back–cute illustrations of Bebee and his friends
  • Learning upper and lower case letters associated with words, preparing for reading
  • Portable learning, moms love it’s self contained and no letter blocks to pick up


Loco Lingo Games by HABA ( 3 and up, $12.00)

  • Trio of games that are fantastic for exercising listening skills
  • Players listen intently to stories, rhymes, poems and riddles and want to be the first to grab the object or picture being named.
  • Builds listening skills, inference as kids listen for contextual clues preceding the word, “I went to the sandbox and used a (shovel).” Child said, “I knew that before you even said it!”
  • Children need to focus and listen to access the curriculum in the classroom


Racing Round Stacking Pyramid by Janod (12 months and up, $15.00)

  • let’s not forget our toddlers, any room in the house is their classroom
  • as they love to put things in and out of containers, why not turn them over to stack a story about silly animas driving up the road?
  • Begin learning the language of math (increasingly important as children are required to write out how they got an answer, what worked and what didn’t): numbers, describe the action on the race track, match the puzzle 


Artzooka!  Recycle Sticker Creations by Wooky Entertainment (5 and up, $4.00!!)

  • Fun craft projects that provide a platform for pretend play–collect toilet paper rolls, cans, and plastic bottles, use the 250 stickers to create castles, submarines or pirates
  • Imagination, creative play as kids construct their projects and take off providing sound effects or stories using their props


Nancy B’s Science Club Moonscope and Star Gazer Activity Journal by Educational Insights ( 8 and up., $50)

  • Can magnify the night sky up to 90x to view mountains on the moon or Saturn’s rings
  • One in a series of science tools to get girls interested in science
  • Language learning in recording observations, making comparisons, and creating a writing piece about your activity in the Star Gazer’s Journal–record the differences between a daytime and nighttime moon, describe your thoughts and feelings about seeing Saturn and Jupiter up close, write a poem or song about the night sky



Posted in Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment