Lessons in Writing from “Little Red Writing” by Joan Holub and Melissa Sweet

16668399With everyone anticipating the start of school, teachers and therapists are gathering new ideas to teach their lessons. I have worked within classrooms during writing lessons to encourage brainstorming, critical thinking and organizing for a writing assignment. I’ve seen teachers start with a picture book to stimulate thinking and teach about the important elements to a well written story.

Recently I was given an advance copy of “Little Red Writing” by Joan Holub and Melissa Sweet. What a treat! This picture book chocked full of word play, inference and instruction about writing a story, can be used on many levels by educators to build language and writing skills. A discussion on comparing it to “Little Red Riding Hood” would get the thinking started and lead to all the coaching on how to write a good story.

Here is my full review of this newest PAL Award winner that I highly recommend:

This clever adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood has so many levels of creativity and learning, I don’t know where to begin. Beginning with “Once upon a time in pencil school,” the teacher announces to the class of various pencils–slammin’ basketball, yippee birthday and sharp Little Red–that today they are going to write a story. We are cleverly taken down the story path of good writing, starting with our idea, characters and setting and traveling through the school to pick up essential story elements and trouble. Little Red picked up some excitement in the gym at the “verb action fitness program,” where she boogied and bounced, walked through the “deep, dark, descriptive forest” to add some adjectives for pizzazz, and squeezed the glue from the supply closet, providing a few too many conjunctions in a run on sentence. The Adverbs truck arrived “suddenly” to to move along the story and get to the trouble! Little Red bravely weaves her way through the school rooms following a strange, frightening sound. Amazingly, Principal Granny was missing and suspicious pencil sharpener was in her place (named Wold 3000). As any good author would do, Little Red saved the day and overcame her antagonist, creating the perfect story. This book is just as intriguing and entertaining to a a child as an adult, chocked full of great information on how to write a story with underlying word play at every turn. Every elementary teacher should have this book to begin their writing units. Trying to teach a first grader what an adjective is can be daunting until they recall the the dark, descriptive forest with the “deep, piney, russet, verdant, deciduous leaves.” Melissa Sweet’s illustrations invite a language lesson on each page with all of her clever detail and inference. Why are the adverbs “delivered speedily?” what do the dabs of glue represent when too much came out? What would you name each of the pencils and why? Maybe the first writing assignment should be comparing “Little Red Writing” to its red hooded counterpart!

This book will be available in October


Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Books, Elementary School Age, Language, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, writing | Leave a comment

Back to School Language Learning, New PAL Award Role Play Games from Wonder Forge

Wonderforge Jake Treasure HuntThe big buzz right now is “Back to School” everything–backpacks, mommy calendars, pencil cases, notebooks and headbands. How about having some fun playing games that sharpen listening skills, get conversation going, and encourage role play and imagination leading to story telling? New PAL Award Winning games from Wonder Forge, “Disney Doc McStuffins All Better! Game” and “Disney Jake and the Neverland Pirates Shipwreck Beach Treasure Hunt Game” are fantastically fun beginner games for kids that encourage pretend play with inviting pirate and doctor props. AND I might add, you have an incredible memory if you can remember the name of the games:)

“Disney Jake and the Neverland Pirates Shipwreck Beach Treasure Hunt Game” is perfect for family play or speech therapy as all the pieces fit in a storage bag that doubles as the game board. Kids use the foam sword, spyglass and doubloons for game play but can’t help but take time out to venture off as a pirate brandishing their sword and spying for treasure. Here is my full review:

Yo ho ho and away we go! Kids gathered around to place their doubloons on the grid over a map of Shipwreck Beach (which doubles as a clever storage bag for game pieces). Players took turns turning over two gold tokens to find a match, using Jake’s spyglass to decode secret clues. Finding a match, they flipped over the timer and raced to grab the same stand-up treasure–a bell, tiki, hat, sack of gold, or urn–snagging them with the foam sword. We had quite a laugh as older brothers were playing, got their first match, started the timer, grabbed for the sword but it was missing. Soon, toddler Sam entered the room brandishing the sword in his oblivious world of pretend play! We convinced him to give it up and continued our treasure hunt. The winner collected the most treasures. A great blend of physical and mental play (visual memory, matching, fine and gross motor skills), this game includes props that invite role play. My players were “playing pirate” as soon as we opened the box, tapping language skills as they took the game play to a new level of creative story telling .

Wonderforge Doc McStuffins Feel Better“Disney Doc McStuffins All Better! Game” taps visual memory, matching and language skills as players “slap” bandaids on opponents and score points for remembering who needs what tool to heal their boo boos! Doc’s kid sized foam tools invite pretend play as kids start their story using  props to play doctor. Here is my full review:

Playful pretend meets problem solving in Doc McStuffins All Better! Game. I could hardly open the package fast enough as little hands were grabbing for Doc’s tools–magnifying glass, otoscope, stethoscope, reflex hammer, syringe and thermometer–and trying them out on each other. Spread out the tools and snap bandages matching each tool, and spin the spinner to get your instructions. Name a tool and snap the corresponding bandage on another player (with the tool illustration on the inside of the bandage so no one sees it), “use a tool” to match to a bandage on someone, or spin the “All Better” option when any tool can be used. Make the boo boos go away with a correct match of a tool and bandage to win a scoring tile and put the bandage back in the pile for further play. Memory skills are further challenged as bandaids are re-used and players have to remember who is wearing which bandaid. When we were packing up the game pieces stored in Doc’s bag, mom commented, “That could be the best part of the game!” My little friends tapped into the role play aspect of the game, exercising language learning as they chatted up the role of Doc McStuffins using the tools to perform “check ups” on each other. My 3, 6 and 8 year-old friends were so engrossed in play that they didn’t realize they were walking out the door with bandaids still on their arms!


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

Lessons From A Speech Therapy Internship

Julie FrackerI was privileged to have Julie Fracker (University of Connecticut) as my intern this summer, observing therapy, and evaluating toys and games for their value in building language skills. Kids really enjoyed Julie joining our sessions and were very interested in impressing her! “Will Julie be joining us?” asked one of my kids who loved having her play our games. When I asked Julie what she had learned from her weeks shadowing me her first comment was, “I didn’t know how important toys were in speech therapy!” Julie agreed to be my guest blogger, sharing how her internship has shaped her thinking:

I have been so fortunate to have interned for Sherry this summer. The many observation hours, toy reviews, and therapy sessions that I have been exposed to within the last few months have made me grow as a student and have made me even more excited and passionate about speech pathology. From toys to therapy, what I have learned this summer has prepared me for my future.

One of the many positive outcomes of my internship has been the opportunity to determine what types of therapy I am most interested in. I observed articulation cases, language therapy, word finding difficulties, and more.  I most enjoyed working with children to build language and conversation skills. I was pleasantly surprised that we were able to have so much fun while shaping language skills. Sherry uses different strategies to bring conversation into therapy and molds them to fit each particular child’s passions and interests. For the book-loving children, we read to learn how to make connections to the world and to work on description skills. Along with stories, a conversation building technique of Sherry’s that I found interesting used only an assortment of small foam shapes. Each time that someone had something to say they would take a shape from the pile and add it to the snaking chain of pieces. This kept the children involved in the conversation and inspired them to participate so that they could be the next to add a shape to the chain.  Two young boys talked about baseball for a large portion of the session so that they could use up all of the foam shapes. This was just one of the many techniques that I learned from Sherry and I look forward to using it in my future career.

In addition to language therapy, I observed Sherry while working with children on articulation. An interesting aspect of articulation that I learned this summer is how to use physical prompts during therapy. When doing this, Sherry would help teach a child how to produce a particular sound by helping him move his lips, tongue, and jaw the right way. It was amazing to see the impact that physical prompts made on the child’s pronunciation. This type of therapy seems challenging; keeping a child engaged while having them repeat the sounds that they struggle with over and over can be difficult.  Nevertheless, Sherry had a way to make the task fun for everyone. Toys and games proved to be great tools in generating interest and attention during articulation therapy. Sherry uses apps on her iPad to provide silly sentences using words that contain the subjected sounds for the child to repeat. We would play the child’s favorite game and in between every turn we would pause to repeat the next sentence that the app has to offer. I was fascinated to learn which sounds were difficult for certain children and different ways that they can be improved.

My summer internship was an amazing opportunity for me. I saw information that I have learned in some of my classes in action while observing Sherry and I will be able to apply my new learning when I return to school. Not only will I take away a plethora of fun toys and games to use in therapy, but also knowledge of how to use them in a functional way to improve speech and language skills. I also learned that all types of therapy take time and hard work toward meeting objectives, but it is a rewarding process when you see how far a child has come from where they have started. My summer as Sherry’s intern has reconfirmed my decision to pursue speech language pathology and I eagerly look forward to applying this experience in my future endeavors.

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PAL Award Winning Books on News12 CT TV

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I had a fun interview with Gillian Neff on News12 CT TV last week. On Monday the segment featured the reading program at the Fairfield Public Library, “Dig Into Reading” and on Sunday I shared some tips for getting the reading going over the summer as well as some of my favorite PAL Award winning books.  I’m reading a new PAL winner, ‘Little Red Writing” by Joan Holub and Melissa Sweet which is coming out in October.  Such a clever book, this take off on Little Red Riding Hood is full of spunky word play and creative rule on writing a good story.

Here is my full interview: Click here

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Interview With App Developer Kyle Tomson, Mobile Education Store

KyleTomsonI have really enjoyed reviewing and using Kyle Tomson’s apps for children with special needs and was interested in the man behind these terrific apps so decided to let you in on our interview:

How did you get into developing apps for kids with special needs?

I started creating my first app, SentenceBuilder, for my daughter Caitlyn.  Caitlyn has a serious language disorder, and back in 2009 my wife and I were desperately trying to find some speech and language apps to help supplement her speech therapy.  After a fruitless search, I decided to create one myself, and the idea for SentenceBuilder was born.  An interesting side note is that I didn’t intend to sell SentenceBuilder at first, it was customized specifically for Caitlyn.  After she had been playing it for 3 months, I entered into a wager with a friend of mine as to who could get onto iTunes first.  The rest is history.

How do you determine what you will develop next?

Again, my daughter has been my inspiration all along.  I designed SentenceBuilder because she was struggling to put together grammatically correct sentences.  Then I created QuestionBuilder because she wouldn’t answer questions in the classroom, she only repeated the questions back to her teacher.  Then I created StoryBuilder because she was struggling with how to write simple stories.  One of my last apps was TenseBuilder, which I created because she struggled (and still does) with tense.  All the new projects I’m working on are related to reading comprehension, which is the most pressing issue at the moment.

Who gives you input?

My wife has been a source of many great ideas along the way.  I also work with a team of SLP’s during the development process.  This has worked out extremely well as they get to test out the apps with their students for 4-6 months before they are released.  This helps me flush out any bugs but it also I receive feedback as to new features that should be incorporated.  As a for instance, many of the settings options in TenseBuilder were a direct result of my SLP team.

What are some of the surprising uses for your apps that professionals have shared with you?

I think the most unexpected use came from an educator in Australia.  Back a few years ago, there were a series of terrible wildfires throughout Australia.  Many kids not only lost their homes, but their entire families.  Although these kids were not on the spectrum, their lives had been so turned upside down that they exhibited many of the traits of autistic children.  Many became completely non-verbal.  The educator wrote me to tell me that they had been successfully using StoryBuilder to help bring these kids out of their shells and start communicating again.  It was the only tool they found that had any success with many of the orphans.  It is a source of great pride that something I created could help kids on the other side of the world in such a profound way.

What do you enjoy most about what you are doing?

There are two things I enjoy most.  The creating part is something I get a lot of enjoyment from.  I put a lot of effort into identifying the core of any language problem I’m trying solve.  The eureka moment when I’ve found a new way to teach something is very satisfying.

The other thing I enjoy is the feedback.  I’ve lost track of the number of emails I’ve received from people telling me how my apps have helped their students or children.  Many of the stories are heart warming. Knowing that I have created something for my own daughter that has helped so many people is very humbling.

What is your most popular app?

It is a pretty close race.  StoryBuilder and SentenceBuilder jockey back and forth between being the most popular, but RainbowSentences is very close behind.

What’s coming up next in your lineup?

I’m actually coming out with an entirely new class of app.  Nothing quite like it exists on iTunes.  This summer we will be releasing the first 5 titles of our Crack The Books series of interactive textbooks.  These books have been under development for the last year and have been developed in collaboration with top universities, scientists and educators from all over the country.  They were designed to align with all the appropriate academic standards as well as core curriculum.

Crack The Books incorporates adaptable reading levels from the 1st to 8th grade, allowing teachers to adjust the reading level to each student without sacrificing curriculum content.  There are also chapter and final tests incorporated into the apps that are also adaptable from the 1st to 8th grade, allowing schools to choose what grade they want to teach the subject.  Common IEP accommodations such as text to speech, visual re-enforcement’s and answer dictation can be turned on/off as well.

The real magic in these apps is in the content.  They include the photos and video’s that everyone has come to expect, but also 3D interactive maps, custom animations, interactive games that allow the student to change inputs and watch the effect on a biome, interactive glossary’s, exploring games and more.

By tying all of these multi-sensory features to the text, students gain a richer understanding of the curriculum.  The adaptable reading levels enable special ed, regular ed and gifted students alike to experience the same subject matter, but in a way that engages and challenges each of them.

We have been beta testing these with kids that range from special needs to very gifted and all of them love the books.  We are excited to release them in the next month or so.



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Co-Creator of Game, Twister, Died

61yKn5mYS0L._SX385_For some reason I find the obituaries in the New York Times fascinating. This week we learned that Chuck Foley, the co-creator of the game Twister, died. I grew up playing Twister with all my friends and family and just recently found our original copy in our family lake house. The plastic was a little yellow but the game was still playable. I loved reading the story of how the game came about. Originally it was called “Pretzel” since players ended up in that position as they were asked to place their hands and feet on different colored circles on the vinyl mat. The patent for their invention was awarded for “Apparatus for Playing a Game Wherein the Players Constitute the Game Pieces.” So true! The game is so simple as players spin and follow the directions to put “Right hand, green,” or “Left foot, yellow,” and proceed to get all tangled up in their own body. Apparently, according to the obituary, sales really took off after Johnny Carson played Twister with a low-necklined Eva Gabor on the “Tonight Show” in 1966.

Posted in 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Games | Leave a comment

Speech Therapy For Apraxia, NACD Home Speech Therapist App Review

Apraxia app level 4Apraxia therapy can be challenging as it requires frequent and intensive treatment, involving repetition of sounds and syllables in a systematic approach. As therapists, we need to be creative to make the process of practice fun. With toddlers and preschoolers, I analyze what toys, puzzles, books or objects start with my target sounds and plan how to use them to engage  young kids. I have used “flip books” that some of us made to customize to our kids’ needs. Enter the iPad and the Speech Therapy For Apraxia–NACD Home Speech Therapist” by Blue Whale and we have an excellent tool to add to our bag when working with children with apraxia (which is also appropriate for use with adults). apraxia app consonantsDesigned primarily for motor planning but also articulation drill, this app is organized by consonant groups presented in CV syllables to be practiced in increasingly difficult levels from 1 to 8. Speech sounds are arranged in a developmental sequence from early developing /b,p,m/ to later developing /l,r/ as well as grouped by approximate place of articulation. Once you have determined what group of phonemes to work on, decide on an appropriate level. It is recommended that you start at level 1 each time you begin work on a new consonant group since the first level presents one syllable at a time associated with the illustration that represents it. When a child has mastered the single syllables in level 1, move to the next level:

  • Level 2: Requires repeating three repetitions of 1 syllable, third being as clear as the first (pay, pay pay)
  • Level 3: Requires repeating five clear repetitions of the same syllable (boo, boo, boo, boo, boo)
  • Level 4: Requires repeating four repetitions of the same syllable and the fifth syllable changes requiring the student to say a CV syllable containing the same initial sound with a different vowel (pea, pea, pea, pea, pie).
  • Level 5: Requires repeating two syllables with the same initial consonant but different vowels which alternate back and forth in sequence (buh, bay, buh, bay, buh).
  • Level 6: The syllables in this sequence start with the same consonant sound, differ in the vowel, and have a random arrangement within the sequence (bye, baa, bow bow, bye).
  • Level 7: This is a random arrangement of syllables, with varied consonant and vowel sounds, with all the consonants within the chosen group (pie, may, baa, pie, may).
  • Level 8: This is a random combination of any of the syllables that have been worked on through Level 7, so syllables will be included from different consonant groups. The user must have worked through level 7 in at least 2 consonant groups to move to this level (no, pa, moo, toe, nuh).

Each level has 10 sequences to practice before moving on to the next level.

Apraxia app level 7This app is very user friendly, picturing the CV syllables with fun illustrations when possible and different fonts to distinguish those that are written. Kids who weren’t reading yet, could quickly learn the syllables by touching the screen to hear the model. Organized systematically, each level required the child to make small adjustments in motor planning while correctly producing the target consonants. I found that some kids can learn a consonant group of similar place simultaneously like /d, n, t/ to go through the series of levels, while others took longer to be able to correctly produce all 2 or 3 sounds /sh, ch, j/ to be able to use this app effectively.

“Speech Therapy For Apraxia” is a wonderful tool for therapists to strengthen motor speech planning for specific sets of sounds as well as for parents to use for home carryover. A data collection feature would be a welcome update in the future to help therapists who are increasingly being asked to furnish data from their sessions. Available for $4.99 in iTunes        

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. The app was provided for review.         

Posted in 10 and up, 12 years and up, 14 years and up, 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Apps, Apraxia, Birth-3 year-olds, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Fairfield Library Encouraging Kids to Dig Into Summer Reading

Fairfield library dig into readingYou know I love my public library. I am always discovering new offerings besides great books there. I took one of my students to our Fairfield Public Library for a summer outing. As we climbed the stairs to the children’s library, we were greeted with a huge poster with a ground hog saying, “Dig Into Reading” with little bunnies representing all the children who are signed up for their summer reading program. Judging from the fact that I couldn’t get a parking spot, this program is successful in attracting kids to the fairfield library reading listlibrary. I overheard  a mom say that her daughter comes every day. Yea! Kids can go online and log all the books they have read. Summer reading lists are available by grade if they want suggestions, and can even write a review. Rewards are offered after reading a certain number of books or pages.:

  • 5 books/500 pages: Put your name on the “Wall of Fame” and choose a bookmark.
  • 10 books/1000 pages: Seed packet and Dig Into Reading tatoo
  • 20 books/2000 pages: Scratch art and Hobby Town coupon
  • 25 books/2500 pages: Ticket to Bluefish baseball game certificat of completi9ns and hame honored in a library book.

Fairfield library gnomeRaffle drawings for summer goodies are held weekly so kids are excited to earn raffle tickets by reading 5 more books, visiting the library, attending events and participating in challenged like finding the gnome this week. What a clever way to encourage kids to get to know all the nooks and crannies of their children’t library–search for a gnome. Is it in the farmyard, on the train, on the pretend stage, or near the mailbox where kids regularly send letters to their favorite characters? My friend and I needed a little clue to find the gnome but were excited to find him in the middle of the biographies–just don’t tell the kids!

Posted in 10 and up, 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Books, Reading | Leave a comment

Getting Kids To Read Over the Summer

Elkhart girl readingI was on vacation at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin and visited one of my favorite vintage shops, “Three Gables Consignment,” partly because they have a sign that says, “Open” on one side and “Shut” on the other. As I was browsing I heard a child reading and turned the corner into the next room and found a little girl curled up in a chair, reading to herself out loud. She held a large book called, “Rapunzel’s Revenge,” and was completely absorbed in her book, unaware of my presence. I was so excited to see a child loving a book and soon found out it was the shopkeeper’s daughter. Mom reported that her daughter had made three trips to the library that week alone.

So how do we keep kids reading over the summer?

  • Keep reading TO your child, even though they can read independently. There are great read-alouds for older children with far more intricate stories than what they are capable of reading themselves.
  • Allow your child to select what they find interesting. There will be a better chance that they will pick up the book if it is of interest to them. (Aren’t we the same way?) I have to laugh when I arrive at homes the day kids visit their school book fair. They come home with some very unusual titles but the choices are theirs, which makes them special. The kids can’t wait to crack them open when they get home.
  • Offer some books around the theme of what your family might be doing this summer–visiting a national park, going to the beach or exploring a city.
    This strengthens the book-to-life connection and will be fun for the family.
  • Suggest some series that might interest your child and get the first book. If she makes a connection and enjoys the book, she has several more to read.
  • Make regular visits to the public library which often has fun incentive programs for summer reading.
  • Engage in conversations about the books your child is reading as well as yourself. Think of it as your own book club between the two of you. I have heard of moms organizing a book club with their daughters which turned into a lot of fun!


Posted in 10 and up, 12 years and up, 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Books, Reading, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | 3 Comments

Happy Fourth of July

Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

Happy Fourth of July to you all!

May you have a wonderful day with family and friends celebrating the freedoms we enjoy in this great country of ours!

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