Westport’s Holiday Art Trail

Karen Ford, artistOne of my favorite events of the season in Westport’s Holiday Art Trail, where local artists open their studios and invite visitors in to view their work and hear their stories. This is the third year of the Art Trail where finding the studios is like an adventure hunt. Some are tucked away next to streams, situated in an old  barn behind a house, or down a windy road in the woods. Each of the artists are a delight to visit with as you experience their creativity.

I wish I had seen more children on the Art Trail, being exposed to art and the creative process. I’ve written before about how language is linked to art as kids create and talk through their masterpieces. Sometimes a child’s favorite part about writing a story is illustrating it. They come up with new ideas as they express themselves visually.

I was pleasantly surprised to see artist Karen Ford at the first studio stop. I had been impressed with Karen’s ceramics since I was introduced to her at this summer’s SoNo Arts Celebration in South Norwalk, Connecticut. She describes her work as “functional porcelain with melted glass inlay thrown in a Japanese, contemporary style.” Translated, that is a beautiful combination of peaceful, aesthetic pieces to use or just enjoy looking at.

Elise Black, artistThe next stop was Elise Black’s studio. This gracious multi-media artist encouraged us to wander through her home, taking in her impressive collection of works. From the custom glass backsplash in her kitchen to this vibrant collection of found objects, (one canvas included a bicycle wheel), you are visually entertained. After reading Elise’s bio, with a background in fashion illustration and textile design, it made sense that her studio had bags of fabric scraps and canvases using suede and other fabrics.

Keep your eye out for special programs during the holiday season to expose your kids to the arts. Don’t limit yourself to seemingly adult programs, just like you wouldn’t skip The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ask your child to choose a favorite piece of art and ask them why? You might just learn something.

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Listen to Your Child’s Language Through Art

toddler paintingI love art and have hopefully instilled that love in my three boys, one of whom is in an art related field. I’ve written before encouraging parents to listen for the language in art with their children.

Recently, I sat out in the garage next to the easel and paints as a three-year-old  painted one picture after another. He narrated them for me which was so interesting. The story changed as colors mixed and lines ran into each other. Listening to this picture’s production, I was told that the orange was a giraffe, the green was a T-Rex and the blue was a big wave coming. Here are some ways to get language from art:

Set out the art supplies and watch your child create. Encourage her to tell you about what she is making or has finished

  • Display the “picture” so there can be a continued dialogue about what she made
  • have her illustrate a story after dictating it to you or writing it herself, encourage detail
  • sit with her while she is painting or drawing and have her “tell the story” as she creates
  • just sit and listen and you will be treated to her creativity
Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Language, play, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Teachers Getting Paid for Lesson Plans Online

The New York TImes ran an interesting article on the front page called, “Selling Lesson Plans Online, Teachers Raise Cash and Questions.” They discussed the new market for teachers to sell their lesson plans online and the philisophical question of whether this is ethical or whether the school districts should get a share of the profits if their resources were used.

Frankly, in most cases, where teachers have worked long hours outside of school to prepare great plans for a unit or lesson, I think they should be able to share those with other professionals and make a profit. In this era of documenting children’s progress and more meetings eating up a teacher’s time, we are all looking for ideas that would be beneficial to the students without reinventing the wheel. Isn’t it their “intellectual property” if they have developed these materials on their own time?

The article mentioned two websites that sell teachers’ lesson plans:Teachers Pay Teachers andWe Are Teachers, If you are a teacher or therapist, you might want to check these out for help in planning your next unit. I didn’t see much from speech therapists so maybe we need our own site!

Let me know what you think about teachers selling their lesson plans online in the comments below.

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The Importance of Play in Preschool

pretend play horsesI’ve always  been a proponent of play in preschool settings. Based on research, we know that play develops communication skills and social and emotional development.

A recent article in the Washington Post “The Playtime’s the Thing,” supports the importance of play with preschoolers. The author describes a delightful scenario of 5 year-olds playing pretend hair salon using a plastic fork as a hairbrush, taking appointments by phone and curling a client’s hair with an egg beater! In this pretend play, there is more being learned than just taking on creative play roles.

The article goes on to say that “Research has shown that by 23, people who attended play-based preschools were eight times less likely to need treatment for emotional disturbances than those who went to preschools where direct instruction prevailed. Graduates of the play-based preschools were three times less likely to be arrested for committing a felony.”

Play is developing language and social skills as well. More recent research showed that certain kieds of fantasy play helps children learn to control their impulses, which is more closely correlated with academic success in kindergarten than intelligence is.

So why are we decreasing play time in an effort to push academic preparation? Children can learn academic skills through play and it is much more meaningful.

Keep this in mind when chosing a preschool for your child, and looking for a balance in how their day is spent.

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

Creative Play for Language Delay, Disorders or Autism

As a speech language therapist or parent of a child with language disorders, we want to expand our child’s play, while following their interests.

The other day, I was playing with a little boy with the Fisher Price barn. After getting out the animals, feeding them, playing in the mud, and putting the farmer down for a nap, I started to make some hay out of Play-doh to feed the animals. My little play partner began piling it up in a nest for the chicken. As it got higher and higher, I commented that it was tall. Then he said, “Beanstalk.” So, following his lead, we made a beanstalk that was tall and had the animals climb up to the top to greet the rooster on the roof.

Research shows that when you follow a child’s lead in play and talk about it, they take in more language. You as the parent can suggest a little change in the action, (like make some food for your people or animals) and then sit back and watch your child adapt the story to take in the food. If you child needs more modeling in play, go ahead, but step back when they can start to lead the play.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Autism, Birth-3 year-olds, Language, play, Preschool, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Cyber Monday, Educational Toy Ideas for Gifts

Okay, you have survived “Black Thursday,” and now it is off to “Cyber Monday.” Personally, I would much rather go online to shop than battle crowds but I do like to hold and feel what I am purchasing! So, if you are one to get your holiday shopping done tomorrow and want some great ideas for educational toys for gifts, here are a few helps:

  • Best Language Toys and Games for Gift Giving, 2009. This is my annual post of my favorite toys that encourage language development for babies through 8 years. I especially liked the games this year. Last year’s list is made up of toys and games introduced in 2008.
  • Parents’ Choice Awards’ Gift Finder allows you to choose a gift by the child’s age, interests, and your budget and you will get a list of top toys that have been tested by experts and recommended for their play value.
Let me know what lists are helpful to you in finding the best educational toys for your child.
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Happy Thanksgiving to All

Pumpkin decoratedHappy Thanksgiving to you all.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday with family and friends.

Sherry

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Best Language Toys and Games for Holiday Gifts, 2009

It’s that time of year to make our lists and check them twice–and select the best toys and games for our kids and grandkids for holiday gift giving. Again, there are many helpful lists out there from Parents Magazine to Parents Choice Foundation. Check them out for their carefully toy tested lists, and kudos to Parents Choice who included a section for recommended toys for children with special needs.

Here is my list of favorite toys and games that build language skills through fostering pretend play, encouraging chat, and giving parents plenty to talk about to a baby or toddler:

Babies and Toddlers:

Cuddly Kid Mirror by Alex Toys:

Kids love to cuddle and check out faces so why not get snuggle and face time in one toy? With outstretched crinkle hands, this half ball of fun is asking for play. Strap the “Cuddly Kid Mirror” in the crib for baby entertainment, or prop him up for tummy time and crawl around exploration. Showing off his bright colors, fuzzy textures, knotted strings and bean bag legs, this buddy encourages visual, auditory and tactile investigation and is just plain fun to squeeze.

Recommendated age: Newborn and above

Taggies Go Go! Car

Cuddle up with this friendly-faced coupe, covered with soft plush and shiny geometric designed tags. A takeoff from the popular Taggies balls, this car packs more features for your baby to explore and parents to talk about, enhancing learning. Press the button on top to hear “beep, beep” and see his cheeks light up, grab the crinkly wheels, see your reflection in the mirrored bumper, play peek-a-boo with a puppy peering out the window or pull the string to start the motion. A combination of textures, vibrant colors, and sounds, this compact car is engineered to give kids plenty to investigate and parents many features to describe, feeding your child important language to encourage learning. His endearing face invites baby’s conversation, providing practice for future chats.

Recommended age: 3 months and up

Favorites from other years:

Taggies First Touch Ball

Taggies Go Go Car was provided by International Playthings.The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author.

Flow ‘n’ Fill Spout by Yookidoo:

Toddlers are drawn to running water. Since the best part of bath time is playing with the stream as the tub fills up, imagine the investigating going on with the “Flow ‘n’ Fill Spout” as it keeps the water flowing after the tap is turned off. Submerge the little pump under the water and suction the spout anywhere in the tub for continuous streams of water play. Little ones quickly learn to start and stop the flow by pushing the face, and experiment with the three friendly-faced cups, spinning a propeller, creating a shower and revealing a surprise pop up friend. Teaching the language of empty/full, heavy/light, start/stop, on/off, up/down, and floating/sinking, this joyful distraction makes scrubbing a dirty toddler a little easier.

Recommended age: 9 months and up

Taggies Rocker by International Playthings

Kids lined up for a turn on Taggies’ newest giraffe rocker, swinging a leg over his sturdy, plush back and hanging on to the handles for a lively ride. Just the right size for a one to three year-old, this playful friend is adorned with bright colors, varied textures, crinkle ears and patterned taggies to amuse the youngest ones while the older toddlers can saddle up and hang on to the mane of ribbons. A plush, huggable friend with a cock-eyed grin, this giraffe leaves the fun and creativity to your child–no batteries needed. He’s low enough to the ground but life-size for kids to invite him into their land of imagination. Don’t be surprised if he is asked to join the picnic or play house. Watching a one-year-old greet him with a morning hug, I know this giraffe can serve to expend rockin’ energy or just be a hang around pal in the playroom.

Recommended age: 12-36 months

Taggies Rocker was provided by International Playthings. The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author.

Preschool and Above:

PLAYMOBIL Pyramid:

Take a break from the usual monsters and dragons menu for boys’ pretend play and introduce the ancient life of the Egyptians. Available in the complete pyramid set or smaller sets of chariots, the sphinx, or tomb raiders to name a few, this newest play scenario invites a history lesson as well as creative play. Secret chambers and trap doors set up the fun for chases, captures and discoveries. Kids love to investigate, hide and surprise with all the moving parts to keep the action going.

Recommended age: 5 and up

Playdate Central Puppet Show by International Playthings

Pull out this puppet show in a box when the kids come over to play and watch it spark their imaginations. Mom or Dad can easily assemble the cloth, hanging theater to suspend in the doorway as kids make puppets, part the curtains and start the story telling. Before the show starts, kids create their own puppet characters with six fuzzy bodies and thirty stick-on ears, faces, tails, noses or outfits. Go traditional in making a prince, princess, lion, puppy, or dragon or combine the features to make an original character. As the story develops, kids can re-figure the puppets, ripping off the reusable features and attaching them to create new characters. Moms were amazed at how well the features stuck on the puppets during active play. My three-year-old puppeteers enjoyed presenting a show and then chased each other with puppets in hand. Language learning begins with selecting a character while devising and assembling the puppets, continues during the creation of the story and dialogue, and extends through open-ended play with flexible props to expand plot possibilities. Take a seat and let your children learn language through play.

International Playthings Playdate Central Puppet Show

Recommended ages 3-6

Playdate Central Puppet Show was provided by International Playthings.The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author.

Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found it! by I Can Do That Games

Having raised my kids on Richard Scarry books, searching for Lowly the Worm, I am excited to see a new generation of children examining his delightful drawings, learning about communities of fun. “Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found it! Game” is a winner in innovative, entertaining, language learning games. Unfold the six foot game board and race  through the bustling town, busy airport, industrious construction site, and working farm, to board the ferry for Picnic Island to grab your lunch before Pig Will and Pig Won’t eat it. Spin a Goldberg Mystery Card and start the timer as all players work together to spot the most objects on the game board of the kind pictured on the card—construction cones, garbage cans, shovels, kites, or bicycles. Kids love to place their magnifying glass tokens on the objects when found, rewarded with a bonus move. Can you see why I hear squeals of delight when a bug card is spun?

This team game models collaboration, encouragement, patience and the satisfaction of “winning” together. Scarry’s detailed drawings teach the language of concepts, categories, association, and storytelling as little ones learn what objects, people and actions go together to build narratives. Where would we find shovels? Look in the construction site. Where would we search for letters? Check the town post office or neighborhood mailbox. What about garbage cans? Everywhere! Enjoy this game for a balance of talents and fun for kids and adults alike.

Richard Scarry’s Busytown was provided by I Can Do That Games. The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author.

Recommended age: 3 years and up

Favorites from other years:

Cat in the Hat-I Can Do That

Horton Hears A Who-You to a Rescue

Green Eggs and Ham-Speedy Diner

Gobblet Gobblers by Blue Orange Games

Assemble your tic-tac-toe grid and off you go with a chance to place three of your gobblers in a row to win. With each turn, players can add a new gobbler to the board or move one that is already in place. Two options–to find an empty space or “gobble up” an existing smaller piece–make this game a multi-leveled game of strategy and memory. Go ahead and move your piece already on the board but don’t forget who was under him, because the littler guy will be left behind in that space and might set up a play for your opponent. Requiring visual-spacial memory and the ability to weigh different strategic options and outcomes,“Gobblet Gobblers” stretches young minds and gets them giggling as they surprise even themselves as opportunities open up to win!

Age: 5 and up

Favorite from other years:

Froggy  Boogie

Pengaloo

Step2 All Around Art Tower

There’s fun all around when kids step up to this tower of artistic possibilites. The circular table allows for budding artists to work side by side and select their medium from the two bins surrounding the central pole. Don’t be fooled that this can’t be a language building toy–many kids create stories and narrate their drawings while painting and drawing. Having a friend next to them encourages the dialogue of sharing supplies and talking about what they are making. I love the feature of displaying their finished pictures or works in progress on the clips above the table. Don’t miss a chance to ask your kids about what they’ve made and to tell you the story.

Recommended age: 3 and up

Favorites from other years:

Step 2 50’s Diner

ChickyBoom by Blue Orange Games

Chicks have come to roost on their favorite perch, performing a balancing act on thick bales of hay and slim wagon wheels. Plump Mom and baby chickys peer out their adorable eyes, beckoning players to take turns, skillfully plucking pieces off the teetering perch without toppling the brood. Players remove birds and their accessories, hoping to keep the remaining pieces in place. Each piece has its own point value from one to three, so after the perch is dumped, collect your pieces, add up your score and declare the winner.

A game of fine motor skill and balance, “ChickyBoom” requires slow, precise movements so as not to disturb the roosting chicks. Strategy comes into play as risk takers remove a piece of higher value that might start the gang wobbling but adds value to their winnings. Get some math practice as you add up the numbers on your pieces to reach the highest score and win the game.

Recommended age: 4 and up

ChickyBoom was provided by Blue Orange Games.The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Games, play, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toys | Leave a comment

Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It! Game

Having raised my kids on Richard Scarry books, searching for Lowly the Worm, I am excited to see a new generation of children examining his delightful drawings, learning about communities of fun. “Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found it! Game” is a winner in innovative, entertaining, language learning games. Unfold the six foot game board and race  through the bustling town, busy airport, industrious construction site, and working farm, to board the ferry for Picnic Island to grab your lunch before Pig Will and Pig Won’t eat it. Spin a Goldberg Mystery Card and start the timer as all players work together to spot the most objects on the game board of the kind pictured on the card—construction cones, garbage cans, shovels, kites, or bicycles. Kids love to place their magnifying glass tokens on the objects when found, rewarded with a bonus move. Can you see why I hear squeals of delight when a bug card is spun?

This team game models collaboration, encouragement, patience and the satisfaction of “winning” together. Scarry’s detailed drawings teach the language of concepts, categories, association, and storytelling as little ones learn what objects, people and actions go together to build narratives. Where would we find shovels? Look in the construction site. Where would we search for letters? Check the town post office or neighborhood mailbox. What about garbage cans? Everywhere! Enjoy this game for a balance of talents and fun for kids and adults alike.

Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It! Game

Recommended age: 3 years and up

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Preschool, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment

Articulation Cues for Consonants in Speech Therapy

I just got a note from Marshalla Speech and Language, pointing me to Pam Marshalla’s new free videos on YouTube, demonstrating her cues for consonants. She has developed a helpful system of hand cues to focus a child on placement of sounds. I watched her video and tried them out with a few of my 3 year-olds who keep confusing /k/ and /t/. They were helpful and the kids started to use the cues themselves! Try them out.

What cues do you find helpful in articulation therapy? Share with us in the comments below.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Apraxia, Articulation, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | 2 Comments