Kids’ Creative Play Starts With The Right Toys

A good language enhancing toy will spark a child’s imaginative play.  It is a delight to watch them build on their story as they take a prop and change the action, surroundings and storyline.

Yesterday, I made a “Silly Roller” critter with my little four year-old friend, Duncan. Choosing from the three roller options–a pineapple, ladybug or elephant, Duncan chose the pineapple car to make, complete with a banana for headlights, grapes for the exhaust, a pear man to drive and a blueberry girl as passenger. The double-sided cardboard shape, made by Alex Toys,  came with lots of stickers and punch-outs to assemble the car, as well as a set of wheels to pop on the completed vehicle. Assembling the car was just the beginning of the language fun. Talking about where the pieces go, what their function was and asking for the next piece spurred on conversation. When Duncan’s pineapple car was complete, I sat back and watched him enter a land of imagination for an hour.

He stepped outside and sat down with his car. He rolled it across the patio, through puddles to make tracks, down steps to the grass, over sticks, down the slide and past a rock. Grabbing a piece of blue chalk, he started drawing a line on the big rock, declaring it a road for the pineapple car which then navigated the craggy rock. Back down the rock, the pineapple car rolled across the lawn to more puddles.

When it was time for me to leave, Duncan was asking for the glue so he could add some small sticks to decorate his pineapple car. More ideas–more action to come.

Mix a little art and creativity and you’ve got a great language learning and play day.

The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author. “Silly Rollers” were provided for review by Alex Toys.

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

Happy Easter and Happy Passover!

I wish you all a wonderful holiday. I love how my neighbors include each other in the passover celebrations and Easter egg hunts. We all learn so much from each other.

I thought I was so clever filling my plastic eggs with cheese and graham cracker fish as well as jelly beans. Silly me–the dog ate the real hard boiled eggs and the kids only wanted the jelly beans. I’ll have to remember for next year.

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Tomorrow is World Autism Awareness Day

Tomorrow, April 2, is World Autism Awarenness Day! Autism affects 1 in 110 children and 1 in 70 boys. Celebrate the day by learning more about autism and its signs on Autism Speaks, or contribute to current research funds by participating in the many community activities to raise awareness.

If you are out tonight and notice your city lit up blue, that is part of the Autism Speaks’ “Light it Up Blue” campaign on the eve of World Autism Awareness Day. According to their website, “participating buildings include: The Empire State Building, the New York Stock Exchange and Radio City Music Hall in New York,; the new Meadowlands football stadium in New Jersey; Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in Chicago; the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia; Toronto’s iconic CN tower; Kingdom Tower in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and the Bell Tower in Perth, Australia.” That is pretty impressive!

Posted in Autism, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What Age Should A Child Have Speech Therapy for R and S?

I am often asked this question. Parents call up concerned about their preschooler who can’t say an “s” or “r” correctly. I often reassure them with norms and tell them to call back if it is still an issue in 2 years. Norms vary but it seems that /r/ and /s/ should be established by about age 6-8 years of age. Some of the norms I have used as reference are:

  • Iowa-Nebraska Articulation Norms Project
  • Templin, 1957
  • Sound Aquisition: Single Word Responses from the Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, November 1990
When I worked in the public schools, the standard was that we didn’t work on /r/ or /s/ until second grade because so many kids would self-correct before that time. I’ve seen kids correct an interdental /s/ naturally, around that age,  even when their two front teeth are out!
If I have been working with a child and she has successfully learned to produce age appropriate consonants like /k/ and /g/ and is only 5, I might see if she is easily stimulable for the above sounds and try to quickly clear them up. If she is not ready motorically, I will wait until she is older and progress moves so much faster.
The reason this is on my mind is that I have recently worked with several 7 year-old boys on correcting the /r/ sound. In some cases, Mom came to me earlier and I suggested we wait. I am glad we did because we have been able to clear up their articulation in 8-10 sessions. Now that is not always the case, but these boys were highly motivated, could clearly hear the difference between correct and incorrect productions, quickly began correcting themselves, and parents were motivated to encourage practice.
At what age do you work on /r/ and /s/ or what is your school district’s policy? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks!
Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Articulation, Elementary School Age | 2 Comments

Learning Language Lessons With “The Very Greedy Bee”

child drawing of a beeCertain books make it easier to teach language. Give me beautiful, clear illustrations, a simple but engaging story and I can use it to work on many different language goals.

The Very Greedy Bee by Steve Smallman is the story of a not so nice bee who spends his time “gobbling pollen and guzzling nectar!” Landing in a meadow of juicy flowers, he declares them his own, with no intention of sharing. As the day progresses he gets fatter and fatter and fatter until he falls fast asleep. Awakened in the dark, he found it impossible to fly home due his rotund tummy. Two friendly fireflies came to his rescue to lead him home, only to encounter another obstacle where the greedy bee had to rely on helpful friends. This turnaround story ends with a honey party and a not so greedy bee!

I used this story with kids on the autism spectrum as well as typical kids working on their articulation skills. The following language goals can be addressed:

  • answering wh-questions-How did the fireflies help with the leaf” “What did the ants do?”
  • completing statements– “The bee couldn’t fly because…
  • talking about emotions and descriptive adjectives: happy, sad, disappointed, greedy, helpful, sharing
  • prediction–“What do you think the lights are? A monster?”
  • descriptions–tell what you see happening on a page
  • beginning, middle and end–tell what changed as the story progressed
  • application–When are you greedy? When do you share? How does that make you feel?
  • preliteracy–point out the fun words in bold print that get kids laughing like “Slurp! Slurp! Burp!”
Reinforce the story with a picture. LIttle Duncan drew a wonderful greedy bee with 13 legs, two circular wings, two antenna (yes the ones on either side of the upper wing), a big smile and he insisted on making a beehive with honey.

The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author. “The Very Greedy Bee” was provided for review by Tiger Tales.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Articulation, Elementary School Age, Language, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | 1 Comment

“Large Zoo by Playmobil 123”

The toddler-preschool set is delighted to be able to participate in pretend play with Playmobil, just like their big brothers and sisters. Thanks to playmobil 123, the little ones have their own vehicles, people and animals to ride, feed and visit. Take a trip to the large zoo with double fence enclosures to keep the zoo and farm animals contained. Designed for kids 1 1/2  and older, everything stands up and stays put–from fences to people–to eliminate little ones’ frustration and keep the story building. The zoo animals (zebra, giraffe, elephant and monkey) and farm friends (horse, sheep, donkey and bunny) have smooth chunky, realistic bodies for toddler hands to manipulate. Adding flexible items for storytelling like grass and flowers for feeding, drinking troughs, a tractor to pull a detachable wagon, a park bench for resting, trees for climbing and a tunnel to drive through or perch on top, this set has all the components for beginning imaginary play. Kids loved the tunnel, riding through it, and were able to easily manipulate the one-step figures who can stand or sit with one bend of their bodies. The zoo set sparked creative play that only a toddler could conjure up. Figures stood on the flat tree branches, rode in the wagon and slid down the sides of the tunnel. That’s the best endorsement for a toy–that kids invent and play differently with it each time!

Sherry Artemenko, MA-CCC, is a speech-language pathologist with more than 35 years experience and founder of Playonwords.com. The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author. “Playmobil Large Zoo” was provided for review by Playmobil.

Posted in Birth-3 year-olds, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toddlers, Toy Reviews | 1 Comment

Interactive Pop-Up Books to Build Language Lessons

This generation of children is used to accessing information through multi-sensory, fast-paced, ever changing digital media.  How does a simple book compete?

I’ve seen elementary aged boys leave their video games to explore 3-D Close Up Animal Camouflage and Animal Homes by Silver Dolphin. Moving from insect cities to water homes, nest builders and underground burrows, Animal Homes is half detailed illustrations and photographs and half supporting text to engage the visual and auditory learner. A pop-up beaver lodge reveals the main entrance tunnel and the emergency exit while illustrating the hollowed out lodge to protect from predators, while the meercat’s desert network of underground tunnels provides sleeping chambers and housing for companion animals.

Filled with language lessons, these books can be used to encourage children to explain “Why?” coherently putting their thoughts together to link cause and effect such as “Why does the meercat need long claws and muscular back legs?” “Why does he need protective covering on his eyes?” “Why is a beaver safe from a wolf in his lodge?” “How is the grey squirrel’s nest different from a baker bird’s? and Why?” Learning and talking about how animals plan, build and use their shelters starts a lively discussion in comparison, prediction, and cause-effect. These books can be used for writing first reports about an animal, gathering facts and supporting with detail. The short chunks of text make it easier for kids to get at the facts and develop a main idea.

Use animal habitats and disguises to develop language lessons for learning.

The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author. “Animal Camouflage” and “Animal Homes” were provided for review by Silver Dolphin.

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Speech Therapy Games, “S’ Match” by Thinkfun

I use fun commercial games for speech therapy all the time. Some are valuable as a reinforcer after a turn of saying a sound, practicing a language structure or using appropriate social language. It is helpful if they are fast paced and turns are quick to keep the session going. But some games have a bit of language learning embedded in them too. I have blogged about Richard Scarry’s Busytown and Mystery Garden for learning association and categorization.

A new game that just came out, S’ Match, by Thinkfun, can be used as a reinforcer or to learn language categories. You have to know the story behind the invention of this game. When I was at the Toy Fair, I spoke with Thinkfun’s Education and Curriculum Specialist and she said the Staples Easy Button and a salad spinner inspired the pop up spinner kids love that turns the dial to point to one of three attributes: color, number or category. Players turn over two cards and try to match images according to the attributes, making this a more complex memory game.

I first used the game with a little girl working on her /s/ sound. Every time we got a match we said, “S’ Match!” and each time we spun the wheel we said, “Spin the s’match.” When it stopped, we said, “I spun color, or category.” Interestingly enough, when kids didn’t make a match according to the spinner, they still called out the kind of match they got. For instance, if they had to match by category but uncovered two orange cards, they would say, “Smatch for color,” making a verbal note of where to find that match should they need it in the future. To reinforce categories, we would say, “a s’match for vehicles,” naming the category. Each sturdy cardboard card has the image as well at the words to encourage literacy.

Don’t forget to always look for a little language in a game.

Sherry Artemenko, MA-CCC, is a speech-languge pathologist with more than 35 years experience and founder of Playonwords.com. The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author. “S’Match” was provided for review by Thinkfun.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Elementary School Age, Games, Language, Preschool Class, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | 6 Comments

“Baby Blessings,” By Michael Jordan’s Mom

I always look at the display of brand new books at our public library when I go. Today I was attracted to Baby Blessings, A Prayer for the Day You Were Born, by Deloris Jordan. It is a precious story of the blessing we receive in a newborn baby, with a parent’s desire praying that he will be kind, touch the world in a special way, believe in himself, look for the good and trust in God and his promises of blessings. I originally picked up the book because my friend had asked me to suggest some picture books that featured African American kids for her child to enjoy. Ever since I have been on the lookout for wonderful stories that picture kids of diversity.

Taken with the story, I was showing it to my husband when he asked who the author was. I opened the book jacket and realized that Deloris Jordan is the mother of Michael Jordan, an advocate for children and families, and author of several books. Illustrator James Ransome’s oil paintings depict a parents’ glow at each step of their child’s life–first smiles, learning to walk, riding a bike, discovering a book, gazing at the sky, being thankful, and venturing off to school. I am not always a fan of celebrity authors but this book is a gem. Take a look and be thankful for your blessings.

Posted in Babies, Birth-3 year-olds, Books, Toddler | 2 Comments

“Animal Den” Play Ball by HABA

Grab on to this ball of fun and discover the animals nestled in their dens. Each of the six animals–crinkle pig, squeaky chick or smiling lion–can be pulled out of hiding on their stretchy strings, only to snap back inside for a rest. Kids love to use this toy as a ball or lesson in discovery. Toddlers enjoy the element of surprise as a new friend peeks out of his crevice to be touched, adored or tasted. With younger babies, not yet adept at manipulating the animals, parents can take the opportunity to show and describe the “spotted pink pig with the fuzzy nose,” “the squeaky, red chick with the blue beak,” or “nibble on the soft green leaf,” to fill their child with enriching language linked to their experience. Later, your child will be the operator of the animal den, when her little hand can grab the animals and play peek-a-boo.

Sherry Artemenko, MA-CCC, is a speech-language pathologist with more than 35 years experience and founder of Playonwords.com. The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author. “Animal Den” was provided for review by HABA toys.


Posted in Babies, Birth-3 year-olds, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toddlers, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment