School Day Chats

back to school conceptual creativity cube

The first day of school is upon us! How many times have you asked a child “What did you do at school today?”, only to get a response of “I don’t know.”? It can be tricky to get kiddos to volunteer info about their day. Here are 10 ideas to spark a conversation with children about school:

  1. What was the best part of your day?
  2. What was the hardest part of your day?
  3. Who did you play with?
  4. What did you eat?
  5. Where did you sit?
  6. What is something new that you learned?
  7. Who were you kind to? Who was kind to you?
  8. What happened that was funny?
  9. What are you looking forward to doing tomorrow?
  10. What did you do well today?

Here’s a tip! If your child has language deficits that make answering these questions challenging, consider asking the teacher to fill out a quick slip of paper with 3 talking points: “Something my child did. Something my child learned. Something my child did well.” Most teachers will be happy to jot down a word or two for each line, and this information could be used for all kinds of things- including your child’s speech therapy session that day. 🙂

We hope you all have a wonderful first week of school! We can’t wait to hear about!

boy in brown hoodie carrying red backpack while walking on dirt road near tall trees

-Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP

 

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WH Questions

 

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Questions are a very important facet of language development. Being able to both answer and ask questions is critical for engaging in conversation. But all questions are not created equal! Here is a break down of different types of questions, ranging from easiest to hardest:

  1. Yes/No
    • opinion (ex: “Do you want milk?“)
    • concrete (ex: “Is this a dog?“)
    • abstract (ex: “Is snow cold?“)
  2. Choice Questions
    • choice of two (ex: “Did you go to the zoo or the park?“)
    • choice of three (ex: “Do you want pizza, pasta or rice?”)
  3. Concrete WH (Talking about items in the room)
    • what? (ex: “What is this?”)
    • what have? (ex: “What does Mommy have?”)
    • what doing? (ex: “What is Daddy doing?”)
    • who? (ex: “Who has the ball?”)
    • where? (ex: “Where is your ball?”)
  4. Abstract WH (Requires some background knowledge)
    • when? (ex: “When do we go to sleep?”)
    • why? (ex: “Why does he have an umbrella?”)
    • how? (ex: “How do you build a tower?”)
  5. Higher Level Questions
    • predicting (ex: “What will happen if the paper gets wet?”)
    • perspective Taking (ex: “Why does he feel sad?”)
    • opinion (ex: “What is the best movie of all time?”)
    • biographical (ex: “Who has been your greatest teacher?”)

When setting goals, it is helpful to work through a hierarchy so you can tease out exactly where the child breaks down. If your child is having difficulty answering questions, it might be good to back up a few steps and build from there! How do you tackle working on questions?

 

-Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP

Speech vs Language

When you are new to the speech therapy process, it can be difficult to understand the difference between speech and language. It’s all talking, right? On the contrary, this is an important distinction and directly impacts the treatment methods we use, as well as our recommendations for home. Here is how I like to break it down:

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SPEECH

Speech refers to the production of sounds. Any issue related to the way a child moves his mouth, uses his voice, or puts sounds together falls under the umbrella of speech. Speech does not refer to the meaning of words or the content of what a child is saying. Speech goals might cover articulation errors, oral motor skills, breath support, volume regulation, rate of speaking or motor planning.

 

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LANGUAGE

Language refers to meaningful content. It can be expressive, which is what the child can communicate or receptive, which is what the child can understand. Language is not just spoken! There are many ways to communicate language including with high tech devices, body language, facial expression, written communication, sign language or gestures.  Language goals could include things like grammar, vocabulary, answering questions, expanding sentences, or even social skills.

woman and child sitting on fur covered bed

 

Part of the initial evaluation process is determining whether a child’s communication difficulties are rooted in speech or language. It is important to note that children can have deficits in both areas! Plenty of our clients here at the clinic have both speech AND language goals.

If you aren’t clear on what your child’s goals are targeting, don’t be afraid to ask! The more you understand, the better you will be able to work with your child at home to support his or her progress.

 

Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP

Tips for Summer

Here at Skill Builders, we are wrapping up the school year schedule and gearing up for a fun summer with our kiddos. Summer is a great time to mix things up and nudge your child to step a bit outside of their comfort zone. Here are some tips to help you make the most out of your summer break!

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Make a plan

Encourage your child to help you plan out each week. You might have some structured activities like camp, therapies or appointments, but you probably also have some free time in there. Use those executive functioning and expressive language skills to plan some fun activities. Ask questions to help your child:  What will we do? When will we go? What materials do we need? What are the steps? Who will participate?

Take a trip

A new environment can be a wonderful catalyst for language, sensory and cognitive development. New and exciting experiences often challenge children to put their skills to work. Vacations are great but try to get the most out of your local attractions as well. Explore a museum, take a hike to a creek, see a performance, or scope out a new playground!

Seek out sensory

Summer activities are packed with sensory input. Swimming pools, sprinklers, sand…there is so much to take in! Give your child opportunities each day to fuel their sensory needs. Got a kiddo who tends to get sensory overloaded? Carve out some “wind down” time each day for him to reset.  Reduce light and noise, offer a comfortable seat and provide something calming, such as a fidget toy.

Try new foods

A lot of our kiddos tend to stick with the foods they know. Summer can offer many opportunities for picky eaters to give new tastes a try. Hit up your local farmer’s market, attend a food festival or dine at a new restaurant. Summer is also a great time to experiment with new foods at home. Dig out some kid-friendly recipes and try making something together!

Get a job

School is out which could mean less accountability for your child to complete tasks independently. I recommend giving kids one “daily job” and one “weekly job” to do. Select tasks that you know your child can do independently, or with very little support. This could be as simple as refilling the dog’s water bowl or bringing in the mail from the mail box.  If needed, create some kind of visual reminder to help keep track of tasks completed.

Recap

When your child returns to school, I guarantee that he will be asked “What did you do this summer?””. For kids with language or social deficits, this can be a daunting question! Snap a pictures over the course of the summer and pull together a small photo album to stick in your child’s backpack. Flip through the album together and help your child generate one or two talking points for each picture. Practicing this at home will help set up him for success when he gets into the classroom.

 

You can also check out this post about getting the most out of your therapies during summer session. We can’t wait to hear about all of your summer adventures!

photo of family on seashore

-Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP

Games for “R”

“R” is one of the last sounds to develop, and one of the most difficult sounds to make.  It is really important to make therapy fun and keep the child motivated. Here are some of my favorite games that really lend themselves to tackle that pesky “R” sound:

Race to the Treasure

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targets: ROAD, ROLL, RIGHT, OGRE, TREASURE

 

Robot Face Race

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targets: ROBOT, ROLL, COLOR, RED, GREEN, PURPLE, RIGHT, WRONG, SHAKER

 

Sneaky Snacky Squirrel

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targets: SPINNER, SQUIRREL, RED, GREEN, PURPLE, REACH, ALREADY

 

Frankie’s Food Truck Fiasco

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targets: SPINNER, TRUCK, FRANKIE, SQUARE, RECTANGLE, CIRCLE, TRIANGLE, CRESCENT, HEART, STAR, WATERMELON, ORANGE, RAVIOLI, CRACKER, ICE CREAM

 

Mermaid Island

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targets: MERMAID, URSULA, SPINNER, ROAD, BRIDGE, WATER, START

 

Farkle

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targets: FARKLE, ROLL, FOUR, THREE, MORE, WINNER

 

Sorry

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targets: CARD, RED, GREEN, SORRY, BACKWARD, THREE, FOUR, FORWARD, TRADE

 

Raccoon Rumpus

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targets: RACOON, WEAR, SHIRT, RED, GREEN, PURPLE, TRADE, ROLL, COLOR

 

Of course, you can work your targets into any game, but I like that these words come up naturally during game play. This is especially important when you are working towards generalization. Parents also like that they can order these games to have at home!

 

-Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP

Get Outside!

colors empty equipment grass

Spring is officially here and the warmer weather has all of us itching to get outside! There are lots of skills to be worked on while enjoying the great outdoors. Think like a therapist and get the most out of your play with these fun ideas:

Hopscotch

This classic game is perfect for working on counting, turn-taking, jumping on one foot and motor planning! It is also easy to change the rules to meet your child’s goals. For example, instead of numbers, you could write target words in each square to sneak some articulation practice in.

Sidewalk Chalk

Speaking of hopscotch, sidewalk chalk opens endless possibilities to work on fine motor skills, visual motor skills, copying pictures, letter formation and arm strength. Kids can choose fun colors and when the work is done, they can spray away the chalk with a hose!

Playing Catch

Tossing a ball back and forth actually takes a lot of hand-eye coordination and core stability. Take your game up a notch by asking your child to name items in a category while you play.

Playground Equipment

Look no further than your local playground to give your child a comprehensive workout! Monkey bars and other climbing equipment allow children to increase strength, coordination, and balance. Swings offer sensory input which can be organizing and have a calming effect for later in the day.

Scooters/Bicycles

Core stability is key for riding scooters and bikes. Additionally, riding toys strengthen bilateral coordination and visual motor skills. Learning to ride a bike also let’s children learn to follow important social rules.

Nature Walks

Nature is filled with so many different textures and colors. Take a walk through a nature center or even around your own neighborhood and see what you can find.  Expand vocabulary by describing how things look and feel, or practice observation skills by playing a game of “I Spy” as you walk.

Gardening

If you think about it, working in the garden is a total sensory-motor experience! Dig, scoop, pinch, pull and pat. Don’t be afraid to get dirty! 🙂

Freeze Tag

Learning games with rules is an important life skill. I especially like Freeze Tag because it allows children to practice keeping their bodies in control, following auditory directions, and tolerating frustration.

Lemonade Stand

A lemonade stand is an awesome way to help your child practice conversation and social skills! Plus, making lemonade (or another easy treat) is a great way to work on following directions.

Bubbles

Bubbles never get old- no matter what age you are! Practice those oral motor skills by having a bubble blowing contest, or practice gross motor skills by jumping to pop the bubbles!

Rain Puddles

Don’t let a rainy day stand in your way of having fun! Jumping in puddles and feeling the rain fall can be an amazing sensory experience.

water jumping photographer beauty

Did you know that research shows that just 15 minutes of outdoor time can improve a child’s behavior for the entire day?  Outdoor play has also been shown positively impact attention and social-emotional stability. And guess what- the same applies to us adults too! Access to nature has been linked to improved mood, mental acuity and energy levels. So make it a priority to tuck the screens away and get your family outside as much as possible. Happy Spring!

 

-Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP

Cooking Together

abstract art cooking cutlery

At our practice, therapists will often use food preparation as a fun avenue to tackle treatment goals. If you think about it, cooking requires several different skills that need to be integrated all at once. Both OT and SLP goals can be easily addressed through a cooking project.  Here is how I like to approach cooking with children to allow them to get the most out of the experience:

Step 1: Pick a dish.

Skills targeted:

*Social Wonder questions (“What do you like to eat?” or “Have you had ____ before?“)

*Perspective taking (“If my friend does not like chocolate, we should pick a dish without chocolate.”)

*Decision making (“I need to think of my own idea or choose between a few choices.”)

Step 2: Read a recipe. (Or watch a tutorial on YouTube!)

Skills targeted:

*Comprehension (reading or auditory)

*Sustained attention

*WH Questions (I like to pause videos periodically and ask questions as we go to ensure comprehension.)

Step 3: Make a list of ingredients.

Skills targeted:

* Working memory/recall

*Handwriting

Step 4: Gather ingredients and materials. 

Skills targeted:

*Working memory

*Problem solving (“Where can we get the ingredients?”)

*Organization

Note: For older kids, I have even taken a field trip to a grocery store to shop for ingredients. Talk about unlimited opportunities to practice problem solving ,executive functioning and social skills! 

Step 5: Prepare the food. 

Skills targeted:

*Following directions (Use a visual schedule if needed!)

*Fine motor skills (cutting, pouring, scooping, etc)

*Sensory experiences (Don’t be afraid to get messy!)

Step 6: Clean up. 

Skills targeted:

*Motor planning

*Independent task completion

*Sharing responsibility

Step 7: Enjoy and/or share with others!

Skills targeted:

*Trying new foods (I find that kids are much more likely to try something that they made themselves!)

*Social language

person flattening dough with rolling pin

I look for recipes that require no more than 5-6 ingredients to make things easier. We don’t have a full kitchen in our office, so I choose no-cook dishes or things that can be cooked in the toaster oven. I typically divide this up over a few sessions- we use 1-2 sessions to prep and then another to actually prepare our food. Doing this in a social skills group adds a whole other layer because the kids have to negotiate responsibilities, be flexible, and work as a team!

Here are a few ideas to get your started:

*Smoothies

*Rice Krispie Treats

*Homemade Ice Cream

*Fruit Salad

*Ants on a log

*Sandwiches

*English muffin pizzas

And if you are working with a child with food restrictions, you can make something non-edible such as slime or play dough. There are lots of great video tutorials on YouTube and several of them feature kids doing the cooking! Always check with parents ahead of time to make sure you are aware of all allergies and sensitivities.

Parents- this is just as therapeutic at home! Get in the kitchen with your kiddo and cook up something fun! 🙂

-Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP

Making Articulation Practice Fun!

Articulation therapy- not the most exciting thing you’ve ever done but certainly important. As an SLP, I am always looking for ways to make articulation practice more enticing to my little friends. Here are some tried and true ways to spice up your articulation practice:

  1. Stickers – Stickers are seemingly simple but man on man, do my clients love getting to use them! Depending on the fine motor skills of the child, I will hand her a sticker each time she says a target, or I will let her peel the stickers off the sheet herself.  Those old-school metallic star stickers are perfect for practicing s-blends! (STAR; STICKER; STICK; STUCK)   919r+eOSGpL._SL1500_
  2. Ball Toss – A ball is an easy thing to keep tucked in your room or therapy bag. Kids love rolling, tossing or kicking a ball back and forth as you practice target words and phrases. I also like using an empty box or trash can as a makeshift basketball hoop! balls-3288122_1920
  3. Mailbox – I have been using a deck of flashcards to play post office. Preschoolers especially enjoy pushing cards into the slot of a mail box and opening the doors. You can easily make a mailbox out of a shoebox but I love this wooden one here. 71TCWuEYtlL._SL1500_
  4. Swing- I frequently incorporate a swing to motivate my kids to practice. We either negotiate a number of targets to earn a push, or we do one push for every target. At our office, our swing has a little slot on the side which is perfect for slipping articulation flashcards through!81Z783dBAOL._SL1500_
  5. Bingo Markers – It is very easy to photocopy or print out word lists and worksheets to use for articulation practice. I’ve been using these fun bingo makers to mark off each word picture. They add a nice sensory component to our work, and I find that kids of all ages find fun in making patterns or pictures as we go. 71oijqqy6yl._sl1200_.jpg
  6. Muffin Tin – This is a cheap and fun way to shake up articulation practice! I grab a mini muffin tin along with small objects (cotton balls, fake coins, figurines, cheerios, etc) and have the child drop an object in each well every time he says a target. Then we go back through and pick them up using tweezers, tongs, a spoon or our fingers. I’ve also done this using objects containing our target sounds. (ex: CAR, ROCK, CUPCAKE, etc)61sUFsB6sAL._SL1080_
  7. Stairs – I often give this tip to parents for home practice, and I like to try to use this when I see a client at a school. I will have the child say a target in order to move up or down a step. This works well because the child can see clearly how many more steps are left. I also find that most kids think it is really fun to roll objects down the stairs. I will use small balls or Slinkies. If he says 10 targets, we get to launch it down the stairs! A15q+e2HFSL._SL1500_
  8. Flashlight – A few years ago, I had a client who was very hard to motivate in our sessions. After trying several different activities, I finally got him excited about using a flashlight! I taped articulation cards to the wall and flipped off the lights. He used a flashlight to spot each picture, and when he found all of them, we plugged each word into a sentence. Super fun, minimal prep and very easy to replicate at home!51W0tiJn+DL._SL1100_
  9. Faux grass – If you’ve had a baby in the past 5-6 years, you are probably familiar with these “grass” drying racks.  I discovered that these are perfect for propping up artic cards! My kids seem to enjoy putting cards in themselves, or using tweezers to pluck the cards out of the grass. (Bonus- you can also use this for kids who aren’t yet able to hold a fan of cards up for a card game!)61htjk0ZmXL._SX522_
  10. Bubble Wrap – What is it about bubble wrap that is so addicting? This is a good trick to have up your sleeve for those elementary school aged kiddos who might be kind of over the same old drill work. Pop a bubble for every target OR say 25 targets and get to pop the whole sheet! OTs like this one too. :)A1+KKYQEylL._SL1500_

 

How do you motivate your kids to practice? I always tell parents that the most important thing is getting as many repetitions in as possible. Whatever works!

 

-Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP

 

Love Language

white black and red person carrying heart illustration in brown envelope

I LOVE YOU.

These are three little words that we say to our children all the time without much thought. Of course, we mean it when we say it, but most of us can agree that we often say “I love you” out of routine or habit. “Love you” is an easy way to end a conversation, bid farewell or say goodnight to your little one.  Our kids get used to hearing it and are conditioned to say “Love you too” in response. In order to make children feel truly loved, and to model ways to express affection, check out these alternative words of affirmation:

  • “I’m proud of you.”
  • “I’m happy to see you.”
  • “I love your ______” (smile, eyes, hair, laugh, etc)
  • “Excellent work!”
  • “You’re really good at _______” (soccer, math, playing piano, etc)
  • “You’re special.”
  • “I love _____ with you.” (singing, reading, baking, etc)
  • “You can do it!”
  • “I like the way you ______.” (shared, tried, said)
  • “I will be thinking of you.”

Don’t forget about those important non-verbal signs of affection too. Kids get a lot from eye contact, a warm smile, a pat on the back or a high-five.  This is not just for parents! Teachers, therapists and caregivers also have a big impact on a child’s social-emotional well-being. Feeling loved and secure gives children the confidence to try new things and gain independence. And of course, there is nothing better than feeling that love in return. 🙂

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

-Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP