Best Pictures Books for Christmas Gifts

TV Christmas book giftsYesterday I was interviewed by Gillian Neff at News12 CT on choosing those last minute books for Christmas gifts. I shared the following books for their rich language learning potential:

  • Up! Tall! and High! by Ethan Long: This is a wonderful early reader that manages to have a fun, engaging story with very few words for the new reader to master. A flap book, it’s fun for preschoolers too as they master the opposites of up/down, tall/small and high/low.
  • The Ant and the Grasshopper by Rebecca Emberley and Ed Emberley: Filled with rich vocabulary as well as bright, bold collage illustrations that invite conversation, this book is beautifully written. A little ant is dragging his piece of watermelon to share with his family colony and growing tired. Grasshopper’s buggy band inspires him to move on with their music. “With a heavy sigh, she persevered, though each blade of grass seemed to thwart her on this hot and humid day” includes so many strong words to build a child’s vocabulary that eventually positively impacts reading comprehension.
  • Penguin and Pinecone by Salina Yoon: Sometimes a simple story and illustrations invite language as there are opportunities to talk about what is inferred in the story and drawings. This is the case with this story of friendship between a penguin and his little pinecone. Kids have pointed out details in the drawings that further the story that I didn’t even see!
  • Squirrels on Skis by J. Hamilton Ray: A delightful early reader with lots of zip and rhythm as the story unfolds about a town taken over by skiing squirrels. With plenty of fun words to swish and swoop through, the reader also gets cues from the lively, detailed cartoons that accompany the story.
Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds | Leave a comment

Best Speech Therapy Apps for Early Intervention, “My PlayHome”

screenshot-garden-smallI’ve been asked to write an article on my favorite apps to use in early intervention speech therapy so I will share some of my favorites over the next few weeks.

First of all, typically I don’t use tablets and apps with my little clients under the age of 2 because I believe the research that says children that age learn better through three dimensional play, not screens.

Also I will admit I jumped on board when everyone was trying apps with their students as kids love games on a tablet and it provided a new way to deliver therapy. I’ve now heard from other colleagues that they also have pulled back a bit and found a balance between traditional therapy materials and apps.

That being said, here is my first review of “My PlayHome” by Shimon Young, a digital interactive dollhouse where kids can move from room to room or floor to floor, open a cupboard and pour themselves a bowl of cereal, fry an egg on the stove, get dressed, go to bed and pull up the covers, turn on the TV, pour drinks, take a shower, or move outside to ride on a tire swing. I’ve used it with 2 year-olds to work on naming single words as well as generating 2-word combinations. Kids 3 and 4 were fascinated with all the interactions available in each room, as well as the outside garden, practicing verbs as well as carrier phrases for their articulation goals, “She IS swinging,” “He IS driving the ship,” or “Mom IS watering the garden.” Each screen has several characters to drag into the room that become interactive–jump on the trampoline, get dressed, lie down in bed, sit in a chair or eat pizza. They provide a nice opportunity to work on pronouns too.

Possible goals to work on with this app:

  • Vocabulary
  • Single word naming or 2-word combinations
  • Categories
  • Syntax: verbs, pronouns, prepositions
  • Following directions
  • Articulation
  • Fluency



Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Apps | Leave a comment

5 Lessons Learned From Playing Board Games

Race to the Treasure Will RThe holidays say family time and as the snow falls and forces us inside by the fire, we have a perfect time to pull out a favorite board game to name each other’s doodles, race for some treasure or spin a story from picture cubes. What can kids learn from playing board games? 1. Social language: Kids learn the language of social skills as they take turns, respond to a player’s last move and are good sports win or lose. Preschoolers have a harder time reigning in their desire to win,  so cooperative games are a great choice for their game cupboard. Here, emphasis is taken off of competing against other players and on teaming to overcome the ogre, cat or villain. I’m constantly modeling “Great job” or “Nice playing” for kids to encourage each other when they lose. Race to the Treasure by Peaceable Kingdom Players begin Race to the Treasure by taking turns drawing path cards to make a continuous line from START to the treasure, collecting 3 keys to unlock the treasure  before the Ogre beats you to it! Lots of conversation ensues when players are strategizing on where to put their path card to get to the treasure the fastest in this cooperative learning game. Animal Soup- The Mixed Up animal_soup_850 Kids loved moving around the forest game board, collecting animal picture cards to combine into a  “croctopus,” “birdle” or “squale”–(crocodile+octopus, bird+turtle, or squirrel+whale). Thankfully they have a “trade” option to negotiate with a peer for the animal to complete their creature. Kids laugh as they practice saying the goofy names of their new animals, use language to negotiate a trade, and talk about which animals they need. 2. Concepts: Children learn counting, first, next, last as they take turns and move their pirates, or gingerbread man in a game. I find that kids often verbalize their position such as, “I am only 2 spaces behind you,” or “I just need 3 more to get in front of you.” Using spacial words like “more, less, first, next, last,” throughout a game builds vocabulary. What’s It? by Peaceable Kingdom GMF1_SPREAD What’s It? is a cooperative game where players interpret doodle cards and score points for thinking alike. Roll the dice with category options such as you love it, use it, wear it, or don’t want it,  flip over a doodle card, and record at least 3 guesses based on the drawing and category, trying to think like your fellow players.  Thinking in categories is a higher level language activity as players have to call up vocabulary within a narrower class of words. Disney Sofia the First Magical Tea Party by Wonder Forge Wonerforge Tea Party Little girls love a tea party as they “earn” treats by blowing on their teacup to spin a color, or squeezing the air puffer Teapot. Encouraging good manners, this game  seamlessly integrates pretend play with fun, beginning game play. Children are exercising matching, decision-making, good manners and language skills as they pour a cup of tea for a friend before themselves, decide where to place their treats, learn colors and chat it up at the tea party! 3. Language of grammar: Some board games are designed to require asking questions, adding on to a story using conjunctions, or describing using rich adjectives for players to guess their object. Repeated practice using specific parts of speech strengthens language skills. Who Am I? by HABA  Who am I? An astronaut? Rain boots? Or a fried egg? The “Guesser” straps on the headband holding a picture card.  Through a series of yes/ no questions, the child determines what picture is on his forehead. Asking and answering questions, thinking in categories and deductive reasoning all play into a great language building experience. Rory’s Story Cubes-Voyages by Gamewright gw064 Take a trip with Rory’s Story Cubes Voyages, using the 54 images to generate epic stories! Players took off in many directions, inspired by the 9 6-sided cubes depicting images from a pirate, giant, staircase, glasses, cracked egg, to a musical note, puzzle piece or rain cloud. Players enjoy solo story telling or group productions, adding on cubes as they expand their stories. 4.  Emergent reading skills: As kids approach school age they are interested in letters as they recognize them on signs and cereal boxes. Fun games that incorporate reading skills are like popping yummy vitamins. Zingo Sight Words by Thinkfun. Kids get so absorbed in this game of Bingo, sliding the “zinger” that they don’t realize they are learning to recognize and read words that aren’t easy to learn but make up for 50-75% of the words in written material. uKloo Early Reader Treasure Hunt Game and FREE App by uKloo. Kids love a treasure hunt so get out the clues and don’t let on that they are learning to read in the process! uKloo provides a “Picture Helper” chart to reference words they don’t know, as they race through the house following directions to arrive at the prized “Surprise” card at the end. Download their new FREE app. Spell Trek by Simply Fun.  Hop on a jeep and start your trip across a game board of desert, ice capped mountains, rain forest and tropics to capture animals and sites by photograph filling in the vowels to advance to win. 5. Language of critical thinking and reasoning: As children get older they enjoy games that require some strategy, involving predicting, inferring, and cause-effect as they lay out their game plan. Qualities by SimplyFun qualities.large-1 SimplyFun’s game “Qualities” is a natural language catalyst and a creative way to get to know and be known by friends.  Up to seven players take turns identifying and rating certain qualities in themselves. What do I find more relaxing? Organizing, going to a park or visiting a museum? Or rate a player’s traits from aspiring, balanced, or commanding! So much conversation ensues as players defend their positions and reveal who is best “known” by their player peers. Doodle Jump by Ravensburger 26608 Adapting the popular app to a board game, Ravensburger has added significant math learning and strategy, that generates conversation and thinking out loud. Doodle Jump, now a hands-on board game experience, challenges players to roll the 6 die to combine and count them as needed to match a number on the the reachable pads, strategizing as  you aim for certain jumps and utilize special tiles while taking risk with subsequent rolls. A game for 8 years and up, we were surprised by all the table talk as kids figured out their next move.

Posted in 10 and up, 12 years and up, 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Games, Language, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | 1 Comment

Is The Tooth Mouse Coming to Your House for Christmas?

1450961_614283631965088_1495387947_nOne of my favorite books to give as a gift and read to children is The Tooth Mouse by Susan Hood, illustrated by  Janice Nadeau. I just read it again yesterday to a first grade boy and was reminded of all the conversation it generates with the beautiful story and elegant illustrations.

It’s the perfect Christmas gift for a child 4 and up or even a grandparent as I gave it to my brother for his birthday this week–he has 4 grand daughters:) In many countries, other than the United States, children hide their baby teeth under the pillow, awaiting a coin from the Tooth Mouse, no fairies around.

I recently found this little Tooth Mouse on Susan Hood’s website to add to the fun of the story. Acting out the story with props deepens the language experience as kids recall the story and embellish!

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Language, Reading, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Tips For Parents on How to Read Aloud to Their Children

imgresI aways enjoy hearing from former colleagues and got a note this week from Patti, a fellow speech pathologist with whom I shared a room when I worked in the preschool special education program in our town. We really enjoyed working together, collaborating at times but also supporting each other with a good laugh throughout the day. At one point, I was talking to one of my 3 year-old students, (apparently too loudly) and one of her students answered me! That was one of our favorite memories. Anyway, Patti emailed me this week asking for permission to share this list of tips I compiled on how to build emergent reading skills as you read to your child. I thought it was worth repeating. I used the book “The Pout Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark” by Deborah Diesen to demonstrate the following strategies:

  • Point out the title and ask your child what she thinks the story will be about? A fish? A fish in the dark? Will he like it or not? How would you feel?
  • Talk about what we call the person who wrote the book, the “author.” After reading this book to Will and his brother, Ben, we went around in a circle and added on to a made up story. When we finished I said, “Who was the author of that story?” They proudly said, “We were!” Talk about who the illustrator is.
  • Read with the rhythm of the book. This book has a delightful bounce to it. Read slow enough to emphasize great words and new vocabulary–”a doozy of a drowsy”–someone was tired!
  • Talk about the illustrations; ask what and where things are.
  • Look at Ms Pearl’s mouth. How does she feel? Talk about emotions, name them and explain why. “She is sad because she lost her pearl.”
  • Have fun reading words that are fun to say, “swooped through the water,” and “swishing close to land.”
  • Read with intonation and different voices. Whisper for Ms Shimmer and try to find her hiding in the ocean. Use a quivery voice for, “I’m scared of the dark.”
  • Point to and emphasize words in large bold print. “I’m FAST as a sailfish, I’m STRONG as a shark…” Kids will start to associate a spoken word with a printed word.
  • Pause on a page for your child to point anything out or comment.
  • Emphasize repeated stanzas and as your child gets familiar with the book, leave off the last word or phrase until they can recite the whole thing! Follow the words with your finger as they “read” back to you.
  • Make connections between the book and your child’s life. The whole gang gathered and swam in a circle at the end to celebrate finding Ms Clam’s pearl–just like your circle time at school.
  • Say, “The end,” at the end of the story. Children will start to learn that there is a beginning, middle and end to a story, preparing them to eventually create and write their own stories with a beginning, middle and end.
Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Preschool, Reading, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

FREE uKloo app Gives the Gift of Reading

uKloo-AppWho doesn’t like a free gift? Grandparents, parents, teachers and therapists listen up for a free app that will put the thrill in learning to read, “Early Reader Treasure Hunt App” by uKloo.

Take the uKloo fun on the road with their new FREE app, an extension of their popular Early Reader Treasure Hunt game that exercises emergent reading skills while on the hunt through the house. Their new app takes kids into the digital world of new environments like the farm and market, expanding reading vocabulary in familiar experiences outside the home. Begin by choosing the farm or farmer’s market, select 1-10 clues, and level 1-10 according to your child’s reading ability.

As with the board game, kids read the short clues to look for the uKloo card whether under the mouse, on the white cheese or beside the bird.  The same clear, helpful chart is available for kids to independently figure out words by matching captioned pictures to the word in the clue. When kids correctly read the clue and follow the directions, they are rewarded with fun actions like a snake slithering out of the log, a dinosaur hatching out of an egg and flying away or juggling cupcakes. After several correctly read clues, the child is reinforced with “Way to Go! You did a great job!” I really like the pure learning in uKloo’s app, driven by the child’s motivation to learn and reinforced with a verbal high five, not a lot of fancy reinforcers. Amazingly, just being able to read was enough of a prize for the kids I played this app with. Isn’t that what we want–to instill the joy of learning?

Available here



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Activities for Learning to Read

Reading book Caroline I seeIt’s been a fun vacation visiting our grandchildren over Thanksgiving and watching the two 5 year-olds beginning to read. Somehow I don’t remember my boys “embracing” the beginning to read process and enjoying it so much.

I found little Caroline filling many spare minutes “making a book.” I was invited to make one with her so I joined her on the floor, at the kitchen table or in the playroom. She had already torn off several sheets of paper from a small pad, bound the book in patterned duct tape and gathered her glitter markers to begin. Her first book was “I see….” as she added a different animal on each page and illustrated it. Next I found her Reading book-tauthoring. “I like…” as she asked how to spell the animal that she selected. Then I noticed she drew a deer with antlers and wanted to advance to a question, “Do I have antlers?”

Kindergartener, Ben, read several of his practice books to me that he had obviously memorized but also sounded out some words for me. He shared his “T”  book with me, reading the repetitive script, revolving around “toothbrush” “tiger” and “two.”

Reading t-book pageI had brought along the Zingo Sight Words game by Thinkfun to play with my emergent readers and it was the usual hit! Caroline and I played 3 rounds until I asked for a break. This game cleverly matches an illustration to each sight word, sometimes giving a clue to its meaning such as “in” has an arrow pointing into a box, or “me” is a little person while other tiles just provide an associated drawing like red stripes, colored concentric circles or a checkerboard pattern. Often she could read the sight words, but when she couldn’t, she’s ask me what drawing went with it to see if it was on both of our cards so she could snatch it first–smart kid!

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Reading, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving centerpieceHappy Thanksgiving to all! I hope you enjoy time with family and friends. We have the joy of sharing turkey with the kids and grandkids. Don’t tell anyone but we are cheating and ordering the dinner from Whole Foods! I would much rather spend my time playing with the kids:)

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Using Art Sets in Preschool Speech Therapy

Artzooka tapeMost kids love art and creating their own masterpiece. I often use art kits in preschool therapy because I can easily engage a child and offer her another sticker, piece of tape or a marker as a reward for repeating my articulation or language models.

Today we played with Artzooka’s new set,  ”Sketcher-Tape” which includes 6 different background cards from mountains to a big cat and dog as well 160 stickers and 5 rolls of tape.

Great for creating a story, this set inspired my 5 year-old friend to construct a bush from tape and declare, “It’s a magic bush on the mountain. It goes up to the clouds!” Then he made a “grown up nest, just for the Mommy and Daddy,” before placing the large bird stickers in it. The tape was easy to tear independently, so ladders, mountains, roads and paths could be constructed for the story. My little friend was thrilled to present his picture to mom after our session.

Posted in Articulation, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Tips on How To Find A Good Speech Therapist

snow speech therapy

Walking to a client’s house

I had such a response to my “6 Tips For Navigating Early Intervention Screening to Receive Speech Therapy,” that I thought I would do a follow-up blog based on some inquiries I got from parents. Some children did not qualify for early intervention services but parents are still concerned and want to pursue private speech therapy. “How do I find a good therapist in my area? I’m kind of lost,” wrote one parent and “I feel a bit relieved that someone could ‘hear’ me and understand the complexity of the process.” “It’s a daunting task, just to find a good reliable, professional therapist that we feel connected to.”

Here are some tips to finding a good speech therapist in your area.

  • Ask your pediatrician. They should have a list of certified speech language pathologists in your area that they are comfortable referring you to. I have several pediatricians that I have a relationship with who refer patients to me. I send them a report after an evaluation so they are aware of my recommendations. Some ask me for advice on a patients or have asked for articulation and language norms so they can more accurately refer their patients for further testing.
  •  Check ASHA’s registry. The American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) keeps a registry of certified speech therapists by area of the country.
  • Contact local school speech therapist or district Special Education Coordinator’s  office. Based on your child’s age (elementary, middle school, high school) contact the SLP at your neighborhood school and ask for recommendations for private therapists they have worked with.
  • Ask nursery school teachers. I get referrals from nursery school teachers who often have a list of therapists their families have used and liked.
  • Listen to parents, word of mouth. Many of the parents who call me have gotten my name from a family with whom I have worked. Other parents of children of similar ages are a great resource for finding a good therapist.




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