30 Year-old Legos Excite Speech Therapy Kids

Lego ship-Bill's
As you know, I find myself with several 5-8 year-old boys on my caseload and they are wild about legos. My little friend ran upstairs this morning to pour over his lego catalogue with me, showing me that the picture had the same “Chima” stick as I had in my pile of 30 year-old legos from my boys. After hearing all the details of the Lego Movie (I don’t even have to go, I know so much), I picked up the easy reader books which are also a staple in my therapy bag. But the real hit is a zip lock bag of legos I’ve grabbed from a huge tub my kids played with 30 years ago. It didn’t occur to me that they were so special until several boys asked me if these were “old” legos. “How can you tell?” “On, my dad lets us play with his and he has some of these same pieces.”

lego space-Bill's legosLately they are the toy of choice in my therapy bag for reinforcement as kids practice their sounds and work on fluency. We have discovered that “old” legos can fit right into the current Chima theme, although I had to fish out all the clear green pieces for chi, and several pieces like the long grey arm and white flat piece that opens in three sections are exciting to kids because they aren’t in their repertoire of new legos.

Effective therapy is so much about making sessions fun and having rewards for kids that are meaningful. AND I am always changing up what is in my bag and learning something new from my little clients.

Who would have known that I would be an expert on Chima and Ninjago legos?

Posted in 6-8 year-olds, Language, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toys | Leave a comment

NBC CT Interview, “Summer Play To Keep Language Skills Sharp”

IMG_6869Here’s the live interview clip from my interview at NBC CT TV last Thursday with Kerri-Lee Mayland. It is always fascinating and fun to watch their hour long morning show being produced from Bob Maxton, the weatherman who does his sweeping gestures in front of a completely blank green screen (which looks like a map to us) to a couple of guys getting interviewed on how to make good summer drinks.

I shared some of my favorite PAL Winners:





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Toys to Keep Language and Literacy Sharp Over Summer, NBC CT Interview

TV NBC CT 6-14It was fun to share some of the latest PAL Award winning toys and games today at NBC CT in a live interview with Kerry-Lee. Summer is all about fun but we can also provide some great toys for our kids to spark fun, and keep language and literacy skills sharp over the summer–including reading and writing. Don’t forget, toys can teach too!

Letter Slide by SimplyFun (7 years and up, $30 )

  • kids choose water slide game board
  • draw a word card with 2 letters missing at the beginning or end of the word, turn over the timer and race to make as many words as they can, from letter lagoon
  • po__ became poke or poem
  • learn spelling, reading, letter-sound association and sound sequencing as kids, sound out possible words
  • earn letters on their game board for completed words
  • full review and where to purchase, click here

Play Park by Plan Toys (3 and up, $80)

  • encourage oral story telling
  • take a ride down cable car, Kids rode their bikes, raced down the ramp, climbed the rope ladder and took off on the glider from the launch area.
  • fun scenario to encourage pretend play and stories
  • full review and where to purchase, click here

Counting Animals by Ravensburger ( 3 and up, $15)

  • preschoolers love their super sized puzzles
  • friend got into the counting as he randomly called out the next number he needed to complete the puzzle
  • goofy animals: 1 cycling giraffe, 4 happy hippos playing tennis
  • lots of buzz as kids describe the pieces they need and what they’ve assembled
  • full review and where to purchase, click here

Speedy’s Magical Shell by BKids (1 year and up, $15.00)

  • indeed magical with all the learning options, favorite toy of 1 year-olds and up
  • pull toy, shape sorter push colored balls, open and shut shell, shell becomes a drum (antennae/sticks)
  • make a little music
  • full review and where to purchase, click here

My Super Life Journal…By Me by PomTree (6 and up, $13.00)

  • I would have loved this when I was a kid
  • inspires girls to celebrate and document the special things in life with color, over 200 stickers, cut outs, art work, words and adornments.
  • favorites, places to visit, their town, doodles, trips, super special pockets to hold notes
  • vinyl storage zip bag and pockets hold little pieces in process
  • full review and where to purchase, click here

XL Graffiti Black White Board by Janod (3-8 years, $90)

  • accommodate author and illustrator on each side
  • pull down paper and write story or paint
  • pretend play:  Menu at restaurant, store prop,, write message to mom or day to see before work
  • adjustable height for table top
  • full review and where to purchase, click here

DIY  Dream House by Hape (3 and up, $200)

  • dream come true for little decorators
  • all wall accessories are magnetic–(shower,  sink or clock) transformed and reinvented for play over and over again
  • fill empty frames with personalized drawings or photographs–personal touch
  • favorite feature is the elevator–that’s a pulley-engineering lesson
  • “I want to live in a house like this..it’s modern,” kids say.
  • full review and where to purchase, click here













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Taking a Summer Break From Speech Therapy

Ben jumping in sandThis is the last week of school for public schools and there is freedom in the air! I remember the feeling when I worked in the public schools as we wound down, took down the bulletin boards and said goodbye for the summer. There is a natural break for many of the students although some qualify for summer school services.

In private practice we keep chugging along. I personally have started to take several weeks off because I think it is healthy for me as well as my students. Over the years, I find that kids are participating in more structured activities in the summer and it is even harder to schedule therapy in the summer than during the school year! I was faced with several kids going to camp until 5:00 and then I could schedule their therapy. I can’t imagine engaging little guys after a full sweaty day of camp fun:)

When parents asked me if it was “okay” to take a break, I said, “Yes.” I am going to give them several suggestions for practice related to their goals for articulation, language and word-finding to keep skills sharp over the summer.

So…Happy Summer!

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Armond Goes To A Party, Social Story for Asperger’s

imgres-6It’s not often that a picture book is co-written by an author and child but in “Armond Goes to a Party, A Book About Asperger’s and Friendship,” Armond weighs in on what it feels like to be asked to a birthday party and attend, even if it is a good buddy like Felicia. Armond has Asperger’s Syndrome and what is fun for his typical peers can be daunting for him, since “…parties are disorganized,” might have surprise smells, noises like the pop of a balloon, or require you to socialize which is hard. This new book clearly looks at anticipating a birthday party from the perspective of a child with Asperger’s and is a wonderful tool to use as a social story for friends like him as well as his typical peers to see things from Armond’s view. How can he go to the party? It’s not in his normal Saturday routine? What if something stinks? What if I have to think of something to say to the kids? What if a balloon pops? What if no one wants to talk about dinosaurs, my favorite topic? The party was all that and more, so Armond asked Felicia’s mom for a break. She knew just what he needed, a quiet room with favorite toys and books. When he rejoined the party, he gave Felicia her gift and helped organize her gifts. He admitted to Mom that the party was hard but he was proud of himself for going.

Reading the story, I’m proud of Armond too. AND thankful that he told his story to the author so other parents and kids who like “Armonds” and want to invite them for playdates or parties can have a little homework assignment of reading a book like this to to learn how to be a better friend.

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

“Never Ever” and “Splat” New Picture Books for Early Readers Over Summer

imgresWith two of my grandchildren discovering the joy of reading in this kindergarten year, I am especially tuned in to fun, new picture books with simple repetitive lines that can reinforce reading over the summer break . Here are a few of my favorites that I grabbed from the “New Books” section of our public library, one of my frequent hangouts.

“Never Ever” by Jo Empson: A cute, pigtailed little girl and her beloved stuffed bunny takes us through this story of the imagination as she begins with the declaration, “Nothing exciting ever happens to me! Never, ever! Humph…” Passing through the apple orchard, grasslands, wheat fields, and river she is oblivious to a flying pig following her, gorilla beneath her feet, lion among the grass, and turtles as her stepping stones. The repetitive phrases “never, ever, ever, ever” provide a wonderful opportunity for kids to repeat and “read” this story with an adult. Roar! Yuck and MMMmmmm…yum add some punch to each encounter with an animal.

imgres-4“Splat! Starring the Vole Brothers” by Roslyn Schwartz: These loveable rodents  set out for their stroll when a pigeon flies overhead and “SPLAT,” drops a white mess on one of the mole’s head. “Tee hee, ha ha, ho ho” ensues as the other brother finds this hilarious. The pigeon’s droppings continue to be slug to others with a “Who-hoo” and a high-five until the two have a mishap with a banana peel but realize it is the best protection from future droppings!

It’s not easy to write a fun, silly, and engaging book with few words but both of these books are on the mark for making summer reading a favorite activity.

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

How to Keep Kids Writing During the Summer Break

journal invented spelling 1

“Salty, sugary, good rice with soy sauce!”

Parents are conflicted right now. They are excited for the end of the year and all the deadlines, homework to be completed, projects to oversee and conferences to end. But, if you’re honest, you also worry a little that you should be encouraging reading and writing over the summer so your child doesn’t regress in these important skills.

When my boys were younger I had them keep journals (which lasted only a short time) of activities and outings over the summer. I often get great ideas at homes where I do speech therapy and just last week two kids shared their “journals” with me that I wanted to share.

A first grader wanted to “read” his whole journal to me. It is always so fascinating to see the invented spelling and see a child decipher it so easily when I am still struggling to see what he wrote. This little friend was using “My Journal” by Really Good Stuff which had the top half of the page for an illustration and the bottom half with lines to describe his picture. Really Good Stuff’s website has journals appropriate for kids by grade level, giving them the space for their drawing and the number of lines to write that are typical for their grade.

Pomgtree journalI’ve shared a PAL Award winner that I think is fantastic for girls 6 years old and up, “My Super Life Journal…By Me” by Pom Tree. Opportunities to write are intermingled with photographs, places to draw and sticker and felt pieces to adorn your book. Parents report that little girls get lost in it for hours as they make their DIY book about how fantastic their life is!

Fun opportunities for language growth through writing can be as simple as setting up a pretend store with a pad of paper where kids have to write down their order to receive it, or add a pad of paper to the pretend doctor’s office where the doctor writes down the diagnosis. I’ve see the latter suggestion at work in free play in a preschool and it was so funny to read the doctor’s orders–and YES the handwriting was hard to read, just like in real life!

No matter what, make it fun and learning happens.


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

Helping Parents of Kids with Special Needs Plan Transition to Summer

Red flowerEvery year I am more amazed at the elaborate plans parents make for their kids for the summer. I couldn’t wait for summer to come when my three boys were young so we could get away from a schedule and plan one day at a time. Sounds really out-dated doesn’t it?

But, parents of kids with special needs, especially on the autism spectrum, have a harder job in planning the transition from the routine of school to the open-ended time of summer. I just got a newsletter from Esther B. Hess, Ph.D.,  a developmental psychologist and executive director of a multidisciplinary treatment facility in West Los Angeles, Center for the Developing Mind. I had attended one of her continuing education seminars and was impressed with her knowledge and class so wanted to pass on her tips for planning a summer schedule “of stability and certainty” for kids with special needs which includes checking out what is available from your school district for summer school, looking for camp programs that match your child’s strengths, if you plan to travel, staying in one place for a while, including new therapeutic programs, and scheduling regular play dates with typical peers.

I’ve watched as parents have executed some of these plans, signing up for weeks of sports camps when their child was strong in that area and admired by peers, or taking guitar lessons which didn’t fit into their schedule during the school year. Also, parents have taken advantage of a morning of a specialized intensive therapy program to build language or reading that again couldn’t have fit in their school-year schedule.

Thanks Dr. Hess for the great suggestions!




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Using Oral Motor Techniques in Articulation and Phonological Therapy

T063I have enjoyed reading, learning and sharing practical knowledge to use in speech therapy from Pam Marshalla’s book on Articulation Carryover and am ready to tackle her book on “Oral-Motor Techniques in Articulation and Phonological Therapy” to blog about what I am learning and trying out!

Pam Marshalla is an expert in both areas and I appreciate that she goes deep and is practical in both subjects.

According to Pam, oral-motor therapy is incorporated in 6 treatment areas today of which articulation and phonological therapy is the one emphasized in this book. Practically, that is where I am looking to learn too.The primary goal of OM therapy is to facilitate improved oral (jaw, lip tongue) movements.  She makes the point clearly that oral-motor therapy is INCLUDED in a program of articulation and phonological therapy and doesn’t stand alone.

Techniques fall into 3 categories, according to the book–exercises, cues and stimulation techniques:

1. Exercises where a client practices movements that have been taught. I am working with a child who has a strong tongue thrust and trying to teach him the /s/. We have been “exercising” getting to the spot on the alveolar ridge by making a clicking sound and repeated /t/ sounds

  • Repeating movements: Again he is asked to practice lifting his tongue to the alveolar ridge 10 times in a row
  • Maintaining Postures: He is asked to hold his “spot” and count to 10. It has been rewarding to see progress as kids practice during the week, strengthening their tongue by doing this holding exercise
  • Lifting weights: Add weight through resistance in an exercise. I am also working with a child on tongue elevation for /l/ an overall precision. I have used an upside down spoon to provide a bit of resistance to elevation.
  • Stretching Muscles: We all stretch to warm up before an athletic endeavor so we need to stretch the oral motor mechanism. This was a good reminder for me to begin with this. I do use “gigglers” to “wake up” the face as I tell my little clients. They love them if they are not overly sensitive to stimulation. I have had kids grab he alligator or elephant and start to press it against other parts of their body. Do you think they crave sensory stimulation?? I have to laugh. I have the alligator and elephant but noticed that now they have basketball players and cheerleaders.

2. Cues are used to teach and remind students of oral-motor movements

  • Hands-On OralCues: These are touch cues a therapist uses on the client’s face. I prefer PROMPT and highly recommend taking that course to learn physical prompts. I am continually amazed at how difficult cases come around when I start to use physical prompts.
  • Modeled Oral Cues: We can emphasize the intended movement on our own face. The tricky thing here is that many kids I work with have trouble with eye contact (or should I say maintaining eye contact with my mouth). I have a little guy right now who is hyper active and I have to give verbal cues to get his attention but when I do, he is able to imitate my oral cues.
  • Cues on the Rest of the Body: Pam suggests that at times cues on the rest of the body are helpful such as “tickle the arm to remind the client to produce prolonged stridency,” etc. It would be fun to share those cues that have been successful. Anyone want to share?

3. Stimulation Techniques are used to cause new movement to arise. They “utilize tactile and proprioception stimulation” to inhibit abnormal movements to facilitate more normal ones.

That’s it for today, I am going to add “stretching” to my OM routine with kids today. I will continue to review this helpful manual over the next few weeks.

What are your favorite go-to manuals for teaching oral-motor techniques?



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Talking To Your Premature Babies in the NICU Improves Language Scores

kc and twins in NICUHaving experienced the NICU in a very personal way about a year ago, I was excited to read about a new study published online February 19 in Pediatrics. We were blessed with twin grand babies, born several weeks premature and visited them in the NICU where they stayed for several weeks. It was an unbelievable atmosphere with very able professionals tending to so many tiny babies and parents holding, feeding and talking to their little ones.

Researchers at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island looked at the amount of words spoken to premature babies and how it impacted their language skills at the corrected ages of 7 and 18 months. 36 medically stable premature babies, on average born 13 weeks early and weighing about two pounds at birth were in the NICU where their environment was recorded, so researchers could count the number of words that had been spoken to them by their parents, child vocalizations and “conversation turns” meaning mother’s words or child’s vocalizations within 5 seconds.

As the number of words spoken to the child by his parents increased, so did the babies’ scores, with those exposed to the most parental talk, having the most developed language skills. The mother’s education level was not a factor in the findings.

“The adult word count to which infants are exposed in the NICU at 32 and 36 weeks predicted their language and cognitive scores at 18 months, according to study results….Every increase by 100 adult words per hour during the 32-week recording was associated with a two-point increase in the language score at 18 months.” (ASHA Leader).

Not only does this show the powerful impact parents can have on their premature infant’s language development during their stay in the NICU, I think it also speaks to the need to get this information out to parents when they are in this new, and might I say intense situation, with a premature infant. I know from watching new moms in the NICU, they might not be able to nurse their babies right away, dress them in their own clothes, visit whenever they want or even hold their babies right away, but they CAN talk to them and have a very positive impact on their language development.



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