Dads Are The Best!

Dads and kids going down slideI love working with parents but usually it is Mom who participates in our therapy sessions or moms who attend talks that I give on talking, reading and playing with your baby to encourage language development. When the dads show up, I always get some fresh, fun take on the subject.

Today, as I was reading a book to a little boy, I was explaining to his dad that you can read the text of the picture book or simply talk about what is on the page illustrated by the pictures. Dialogic reading, I told him, is when you talk about all that the pictures are explaining, so you might spend extra time on each page using more descriptive language and vocabulary than is actually in the text. Research has shown that when parents “read” this way to young children, the kids make greater gains in language development.

Dad looked at me and said, “I get it. It’s like in college when I would read the text before going to class, but when the professor gave his lecture and talked about the information in the text book, it made sense.” What a wonderful analogy.

Thanks, Dad, for your amazing insight!

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

Great Science Books to Use for Language Therapy

As speech language pathologists, we try to link the classroom curriculum with language goals. Currently I have elementary aged students who are studying weather, the Civil War, the nervous system, the rain forest, poetry and Black History. I look for the best books to use for teaching the student, grammar, concepts or thinking skills, while reinforcing concepts in their subject areas.

I came across an environment education series that is excellent for teaching and reinforcing IEP goals for students. It is the “Adventures of Riley” series by Amanda Lumry and Laura Jurwitz. This author-illustrator duo combines an English degree from Yale and a Visual Environmental Studies degree from Harvard to tell an educational story through clever illustrations combined with photographs.

Each adventure begins with a letter inviting Riley to an exciting faraway place to find answers to real-life environmental quandaries. Uncle Max asks him to join Aunt Martha, Cousin Alice and himself as they travel the globe, learning, doing research and solving problems. How can we save the koala’s habitat of eucalyptus trees? Why are the polar bears becoming endangered? Why are areas of Australia’s coral reef dying and what are the implications? As kids follow the clues, and learn about animals, their habitats, and the balance of nature, they have to identify the problem, predict outcomes, make inferences, summarize and draw conclusions.

What a wonderful way to learn about animals, their habitats, and challenges, while building language skills.

I have used and enjoyed:

The Adventures of Riley South Pole Penguins

The Adventures of Riley The Polar Bear Puzzle

The Adventures of Riley Project Panda

The Adventures of Riley Outback Odyssey

The Adventures of Riley Riddle of the Reef

Posted in Books, Elementary School Age, Language, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Trends in Children’s Toys, International Toy Fair

Toy fair 2010Today I had a press opportunity to have tea with and listen to TIA’s (Toy Industry Association) Toy Trend Specialist, Reyne Rice, talk about the current trends in kids’ toys. Ironically, I had blogged about the same subject last night, based on what I saw after one day at the Toy Fair. I’m proud to say that our lists overlapped a bit!

Reyne knows her subject well and enlightened us with the following four trends she sees, supported by brands:

  • Active. We are seeing exercise being brought into toys. This goes along with Michelle Obama’s initiative to reduce childhood obesity and increase movement in kids. Active imagination is in this category which includes arts and crafts and construction. “We are seeing creativity coming back into the fray.” Wild Planet, Hasbro and Mattel all emphasize products that get kids moving. Many companies might use some technology to start the movement. She went on to say that construction toys, arts and crafts, puzzles and games showed the most growth last year in the toy industry. Brands like Crayola, Mega blocks, Playmobil and Legos all encourage active imagination. Active brain includes puzzles like the Rubik’s Cube. We are also seeing games that encourage intergenerational play, providing different levels of difficulty, so various ages can play simultaneously.
  • Accessible. We are seeing toys and games whose themes are accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Kids can go online and play games, or get information on their favorite brands. The hot toy unveiled today was Fisher Price’s new iXL which is their “multi-tech, six-in-one smart device for preschoolers,” according to Robert Eckert, CEO of Mattel. This portable learning unit comes with six applications. It can be used as a photo album or first e-reader product for kids 3 and up. In addition, following this accessible trend,  games are being offered with options to play them cooperatively–extending the value of the game.
  • Affordable. There are many toys and games coming out in the $10, $15 and $20 range. Twister twister hoopsHoops by Hasbro has 5 ways to play the game, extending its play value. According to Rice, it’s the details that delight kids so companies have introduced  3 3/4 inch action figures which have more detail in sculpting and therefore attract more interest. Rice talked about “pennies per play,” the idea of getting repeated value out of a toy or game. Construction toys can be played with in a different way each time. And speaking of the flexibility of construction, several games introduced require the participants to build the game–Lego has buildable mazes and Hasbro’s Mousetrap allows the players to make the gameboard.
  • Aspirational. Toys and games are teaching kids about empowerment. “I Can Be Barbie” comes in 125 careers. Girls can go online and read about women and the path they took to arrive at their careers. “The Princess and the Frog” teaches perseverance. According to Rice, brands build in, “There’s a choice,” because when children get older they have to make decisions. Also, curriculum based products are in vogue now. You not only can make a light saber, you can learn the physics behind its operation. Thinkfun is giving curriculum to educators and after school programs to extend their products. I met the woman who is heading up the link between their games and learning. She taught kindergarten through second grade and was getting her degree in curriculum when she interned for ThinkFun. The rest is history. She writes the instruction booklets included in the games on how to promote further learning. Good for ThinkFun! Many companies are involved in charitable giving–contributing 3-5% or even 10% of their profits to charities. Karito Kids allows a child who has purchased one of their dolls to log onto the website and choose the charity where she can apply 3% of her purchase price. Included in the aspirational trend are the eco-friendly products. These are made from organic materials, in sustainable factories, with soy based inks, wood, bamboo, etc. Rice cited the example of a company named TDC which offers a green puzzle, where literally when you have worn out the puzzle, you can go outside and plant the puzzle pieces which each have a seed embedded in it. Now that’s what I call recycling.
Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, play, Toys | Leave a comment

What’s New at the International Toy Fair, New York City

giant transformerWow! That’s how I describe the incredible experience of walking through the Jacob Javits Center, filled with inventive, imaginative, and creative people sharing this year’s new products for kids. I was privileged to go to a Blogger’s Breakfast at Hasbro Toys yesterday, as their executives introduced their newest pets, ponies, transformers and Play-doh creation stations to name a few. I will devote a whole blog to that later.

Today, I went to the Toy Fair and saw some great new products for kids that encourage language development through exploration and creative play. First let me share some of the trends that I see in 2010:

  • “Green toys” or organic lines. I visited Haba toys today and they introduced Cotti toys which are made from organic fabrics, including a little friend with a removable cushion that can be heated or cooled depending on what a child’s boo boo requires for relief. Organico Blocks by HaPe are lightweight and made from bamboo.
  • Toys with a new online connection that links the offline play with an online experience. Hasbro has introduced a new online experience for Littlest Pet Shop. Check out their website with your Pet Shop fans
  • Games where the players can determine the length of play before beginning by shortening the board’s path such as Ravensburger’s “Tonga Island,” or choosing one of three different durations for your game of “Monopoly” before beginning to play.
  • Updated graphics on classics to be more relevant to today’s child. Hasbro’s Candyland board includes baked goods along with the traditional candy and has added such hip characters at the “Duke of Swirl!”
  • Toys and games to encourage both genders to play with what has been traditionally linked to just boys or girls. Edushape introduced “Chubby Edublocks” in bright colors, including pink, to attract the girls, while International Playthings offers a series of “Wild Science” kits, including a line for girls so they can participate in a perfume lab or make fancy soaps.
  • Games designed for friends or siblings of varied ages to play together. I Can Do That Games introduced several clever, engaging games that would be fun for the whole family including “What’s In the Cat’s Hat” and “Konexi.”
Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, play, Toys | Leave a comment

Spoon People for Storytelling, Building Language in Therapy

picture book charactersWhat are “Spoon People” you ask? After over 35 years doing speech and language therapy, it is fun to invent something new that really works with kids.

I was trying to think of a way to interest one of my kids on the autism spectrum to re-tell a story. He just recently has become interested in picture books (only if they are the right combination of fun, simple, short, and inviting). I usually have two books in our repertoire, one that is very familiar that we have read and re-told in new ways, asked questions about and done a little predicting, and one that is new to him. Once i get him engaged in the fun and familiar book, I quickly move into the second one before too much protest. Soon the second book becomes the familiar one and so on.

Well now we are moving to re-telling the story. How can we do that in a fun way? I copied pictures of the characters in Timothy Goes to School by Rosemary Wells. I took Timothy, Claude, Timothy’s mom and Violet as my main characters. I glued them to a sturdy cardboard backing and in my search for a stable stick to hold them, I came upon a plastic spoon—and my spoon people were born!

First we took the spoon people and re-told the story. Then we moved to flexibly changing the story. My little friend didn’t like that Claude was mean to Timothy and quickly changed him to a “friend” and invited him over for cookies after school.

Next, I used the spoon people for practice in description. We take turns picking a character and keeping its identity secret while the other person guesses his identity from our clues. My little client held Timothy and said, “He’s nice.” “He is wearing a new shirt.” “He goes home with Violet.”

Spoon people have been known to go on to enter pretend play with a child’s favorite animals to animate. We got out the blocks and Timothy and Violet went to the aquarium with the sharks. Kids love the spoon people because they get attached to and familiar with the characters. They don’t want to leave them behind in a book!

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Autism, Books, Elementary School Age, Language, play, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | 2 Comments

When is the Best Age to Have Children? Autism Risk

This is a topic that is being discussed since recent research was disclosed this week about the effect parental age has on the chances of having a child with autism.

Yesterday’s New York Times’ article explains the new research that claims that both parents’ ages are linked to the risk of autism.

In a study published in the journal Autism Research, the researchers looked at the effect of paternal and maternal age, being very specific about the risk factors when the parents were close to the same age versus one was considerably older or younger than the other.

The article reports that using a large sample size, the researchers found that “when the father was over 40 and the mother under 30, the increased risk was especially pronounced–59 percent greater than for younger men.” Previous research had already found a link between greater incidence of autism as the paternal age rose.

As a woman’s age rose, so did her risk for having a child with autism.

Each piece of research contributes to our knowledge about autism as we continue to try to put the puzzle pieces together. What causes it? What are the risk factors? What therapies are most effective and so on.

I, for one, appreciate the work being done to answer these questions.

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Free Valentine’s Day Download Cards for Speech Therapy

Okay it is almost Valentine’s Day and I am still finding great free downloads for valentines to use with kids to make speech therapy more fun. They’re great for parents to use too for the “homemade” look for those dozens of valentines that are required for distribution to the class.

I discovered the website,, a site for “crafting, sharing and the joys of life.” They offer several designs of valentines that are simple to cut out for kids and fun with an animal theme. My favorite is the zebra (which was real popular with a 5 year-old girl today). Other options are the “Love Big” valentines featuring an elephant, sweetheart candy messages and “Love is all you need” valentines.

Add some scissors, glue and cut outs and you have your valentines, decorations for the take home bag, or mailbox.

Using Valentine’s Day books that have a simple story of making valentines, friendship and distributing them to handmade mailboxes or bags can serve as social stories for children on the autism spectrum or those with language delay or disorder. Books like Little Critter: Happy Valentine’s Day, Little Critter! by Mercer Mayer takes your child through the story of getting ready for Valentine’s Day.

And don’t forget, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Articulation, Autism, Elementary School Age, Language, Preschool, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Traveling with Children with Special Needs

man travelingI have mentioned many times on my blog that I consider parents of children with special needs my heroes. Traveling can be a challenge for anyone, but parents of children with special needs have to deal with a greater range of the unexpected.

Yesterday, as I was flying home from Florida, I was again reminded of my admiration for these parents. I was sitting in the gate area waiting to board and a young man sat next to me. I could overhear his conversation with his dad, as Dad gently guided him and prepared him for the flight–even prompted him to speak a little softer. As we lined up in our zones to board the plane, this father-son duo was again in front of me. As we bunched up to step into the plane, the father was pressed against his son’s back and I observed him affectionately and quietly kiss his son on the back. He was sending him into the unknown. I was so touched.

I told the man he was a great father. He seemed puzzled, but I told him I was a speech therapist and he said, “Then you understand.” He went on to name and describe his son’s syndrome.

I felt a little connection with a special Dad.

Posted in Speech and Language Delay | 2 Comments

Questions on Apraxia Therapy

I notice that a number of people who come to my site are searching for and interested in information on apraxia and speech therapy for apraxia. Parents want to know when and how it is diagnosed and what kinds of therapy they should be looking for to help their child.

I have blogged on this topic a number of times, often related to my view that children are often diagnosed too early or misdiagnosed in this area. I ran across a helpful interview that addresses this issue as well as appropriate therapy approaches, feedback and practice. In the professional magazine,, blogger and speech language pathologist Stephanie Bruno Dowling, interviews Sharon Gretz, MEd., founder and current executive director of CASANA, the Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America. Her interview is very informative and helpful to parents as well as therapists. Several points are emphasized that I agree with:

  • Effective apraxia therapy must be approached from a motor planning and programming approach, understanding that children with CAS practice movements that lead to permanent change in their motor system.
  • Effective therapy is delivered individually and in short, frequent sessions. I have had parents call me, telling me that their child was diagnosed with Childhood Apraxia of Speech and they were getting therapy in a group, once or twice a week for an hour. Therapy needs to be very specific for a child and include repeated execution of motor movements which is not conducive to group therapy. Several shorter sessions per week have been found to be more effective. In fact, the American Speech and Hearing Association recommends therapy 3-5 times per week for children who are diagnosed with severe to moderate CAS.
  • Effective practice by the therapist and parents as well as feedback is important for progress with CAS
  • Effective speech therapy for apraxia appears “to include multi-sensory feedback in the form of visual, verbal, or even tactile/touch cues to help guide the child’s speech movements.” Unfortunately  there isn’t one method that is right for each child so it is necessary to try different approaches that involve strengthening the child’s internal sensory systems, while giving feedback for correct motor movements. I have blogged in the past about success I have found in using the Kauffman approach as well as PROMPT.
In the final part of the interview, Ms Gretz addresses the issue of what to do when therapy isn’t working. What is considered adequate progress? She shares some realistic questions to ask that can help move therapy forward regarding is the type, frequency, practice and intensity of therapy adequate?
Especially if you are a parent with a child newly diagnosed with CAS, read the full interview for a good understanding of apraxia and how to deal with it.
Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Apraxia, Birth-3 year-olds, Elementary School Age, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Tagged | Leave a comment

Free Downloads for Valentines Day Speech Activities

We are always looking for fun free downloads to use for speech therapy activities. has been a great source for free valentines and this year they posted several options for free vintage and retro valentines for kids.

Use them for a reinforcing activity for articulation or incorporate them into a language lesson on spacial concepts, descriptions, sequencing or other goals.

Other options for fun free printable valentines are linked on the site as well. So get out your scissors and glue and have some fun this week!

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Articulation, Elementary School Age, Language, Speech and Language Delay | Leave a comment