Put Down the Pouch

food pouchesIf you have a child under the age of five, you are probably quite familiar with the popular “pouches” of pureed foods that have taken over the grocery store shelves! This modern convenience has totally revolutionized on-the-go snacking. It is easy to see why they are so popular – blends of fruits, veggies, legumes, and even meats are packaged in single-serving pouches that have a long shelf life, don’t need to be refrigerated, and are easily sucked through a neat little spout at the the top. Kids can slurp down 1-3 servings of healthy goodness in no time at all!

But before you jump on the “pouch bandwagon,” let’s pause for a moment. As a pediatric speech-language pathologist and feeding therapist who specializes in children under five (and a toddler-mom myself), I recommend taking a few points into consideration:

1. Oral Motor/Fine Motor Development

  • Babies and toddlers acquire very important oral motor skills while learning to eat solid foods. If a child is mostly eating purees, the mouth is not having to do very much work. We want those lips, tongues, and jaws learning how to move in different ways to chew and swallow a variety of textures of foods. Sucking through the spout of a pouch promotes an immature oral pattern, similar to that used with a sippy cup or a pacifier. Additionally, eating solid foods allows the child to practice picking up foods with fingers, and later with utensils. These skills take practice!

2. Sensory Diversity

  • Purees in pouches are a silky smooth texture that is easily swallowed with minimal oral manipulation. Lack of exposure to a variety of textures could result in decreased tolerance of more textured foods down the road. If you notice that your child already tends to gag or grimace when eating more textured foods, it is important to give him exposure to a variety of textures, and not have him get too used to smooth purees.

3. Picky Eating

  • Purees in pouches advertise themselves as being filled with a variety of flavors, but in reality, they are all fairly bland and it is difficult to tease out individual tastes. I can’t tell you how many children I have evaluated who will eat a food in “pouch-form” but not in any other preparation. We want to expose our children to a variety of flavor profiles early in life to promote a well-rounded diet and willingness to try new foods. Furthermore, pouches are often “sucked down” quickly, without much time for tasting/savoring flavor. It is important that children explore and taste foods to develop a diverse palate.

4. Overeating

  • With so much emphasis on fighting childhood obesity, it is important to consider the habits we are teaching our children. Pouches pack anywhere from 60-200 calories a pop. Children may get accustomed to quickly downing a pouch for a snack, and not necessarily factoring that in when choosing foods later. For older kids, pouches aren’t very filling, and therefore, it is easy to overeat.

5. Social Skills

  • Meal time is more than just nutritional intake. It is a social experience. Taking time to eat a snack bite-by-bite lends itself to sitting with a friend or family member and chatting. Children learn manners and social norms surrounding meals, and watching others eat can encourage more adventurous eating.

All that being said, there is no doubt that pouches are a convenient and easy way to get some fruits and veggies in your kids. They are especially great for on-the-go snacking!  As a busy working mom myself, I have certainly been known to appease my screaming toddler with a fruit pouch in the Target checkout line – I totally get it! My professional recommendation is to use them in moderation and prioritize eating solid foods as much as possible. I suggest keeping pouches reserved for snacks outside the home and avoiding them at meal times. Fostering a love of trying different foods will promote life-long, healthy-eating habits. For more ideas of ways to encourage trying new foods, check out our previous post on picky eating.

Happy Snacking!

– Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP


Cause and Effect

One of the earliest developing skills and interests of a child comes with cause and effect. We talked about some important toys that assist in children’s development previously, but wanted to delve a little deeper into these toys that have all the “bells and whistles” that may be so interesting to your child. These are toys such as ball poppers,
door poppers, and anything that makes noise or does something “exciting” once a button or switch is activated. It has been noted that these toys decrease interaction between parents and children since the kids can play with them on their own. But we have some ideas on how to make these toys more interactive and reciprocal.

cause-and-effectIn December 2015, a study was published that cautioned parents against the use of cause and effect toys for language development. The study (from JAMA Pediatrics) was conducted on 26 families with children ages 10 months to 16 months. The families received a variety of toys, which included a set of noisy, flashy cause and effect toys; wooden puzzles, shape sorters, and blocks; and board books with basic concepts. Results yielded information that suggested books were the most interactive and language-rich activity, followed by traditional toys (puzzles/blocks). Least interactive were the cause and effect toys. As SLPs, we are definite advocates of book reading at a very early age – start right away! Books have the power to teach concepts, character and story development, sequencing, and so much more. What a great way to get started on early literacy! But we’re not always able to sit with our kids and read all day. Playing with a variety of toys is great too. Traditional toys definitely teach great skills, including problem solving, turn-taking, fine motor development, and others. So what about those noisy, flashy toys that you already own and your child absolutely adores? Here are some suggestions for more interactive play:

  1. Turn taking: facilitate a back and forth play with a turn taking routine. You can use language, like “your turn!” and “my turn!” to start this concept early. Of course, with the little ones, it doesn’t have to be such a rigid back and forth; instead, be playful!
  2. Eye contact: wait for your child to look at you before turning the toy back on (most of them have an on/off switch that you can manipulate and control). Eye contact often indicates some form of communication and an awareness that you can give them what they want – another turn!
  3. Requesting: to work on early-developing sounds, you can practice “ah” (for “on!”) and “m” (for “more”).
  4. Problem solving: give your child wait time and see if they can figure out how to operate a button/switch or to pick something out (I’ve seen kids exhibit very nice fine motor skills this way).
  5. Narration: depending on the toy, you may be able to talk about an object. For example, in a toy that has different animals you might be able to say where they live, what sounds they make, what they look like, and other attributes.
  6. Increased utterance length: once your child has begun to use one word at a time, you can model phrases: “want more” “ball in” “go ball” “go in.” Typically, children begin to combine two words around 18 months.
  7. Prepositions: in, on, under – all these represent locations that are likely possible to talk about with any toy.

The aforementioned suggestions will take some degree of modeling. Don’t just expect your child to do it independently. Some cues include gestures (like pointing), verbal cues (like short, easy directions – “ball in”), and hand over hand assistance. You may need to work hard to make a cause and effect toy be more effective for language development, but the most important thing to remember is to have fun! They’ll only be this little for so long. Enjoy!

Too Many Toys!

As a parent, it is easy to fall into the trap of buying millions of toys for your precious little one. The market is filled with expensive toys with words like “educational” or “learning” on the packaging. Unless you have unlimited storage space (not to mention an unlimited budget), and children who miraculously put away their own toys in a perfectly organized manner, too many toys usually just leads to clutter! What if you could pare down to just 10 toys? Here is a list of 10 favorite essential toys that will stimulate your toddler’s language skills and keep them entertained:

  1. Ball Popper (or any cause and effect toy)

I usually gravitate toward the “low-tech” toys that do not make noise and do not require batteries; however there’s always an exception to the rule and for that we have the ball popper!  This toy teaches cause and effect, which is an early basic developmental skill. The music and vibrant colors keep this activity motivating for both babies and toddlers. A trusty “on-off” switch allows adults more control between turns!

ball popper

Recommended language uses: turn-taking (my turn/your turn), sequencing (take pictures of your child completing the activity, print them out, and have them put the pictures in order), targeting concepts (on/off, up/down, in/out), identifying colors, counting, expanding utterances (on…turn on…turn balls on, etc.), targeting sounds (ie. /g/ in “go”), and overall engagement.


  1. Barn with Farm Animals

You can’t go wrong with farm animals. It is preferable to have animals and barns that do not make sounds so that the child and parent can do all the narrating (you can still buy one that makes sounds – just take out the batteries or never put them in!). Most kids love to play with animals and will delight in this activity. You can model actions with the animals and then follow your child’s lead.

barn with animals

Recommended language uses: learning prepositions (put the cow in/on/under + {place}), animal sounds, vocabulary (ie. barn, tractor, farmer, hay), responding to wh-questions (Who is it? Where does he go? What is he doing?), categories (all farm animals vs. sea animals, for example), and pretend play (a great time to role play, give voices to “characters,” and establish a story line).


  1. Stacking Blocks/Stacking Cups

stacking blocks

Most kids love building and will delight in the dramatic effect of a “crash” of the tower. Here’s where stacking blocks or cups can be both fun and educational. Have your child help you build a tower and anticipate as you say knock the tower down. Hide items under or in the cups to make a fun hide-and-seek game.

Recommended language uses: prepositions (in, on, off, out….), blocks and cups allow children to learn problem solving, collaborative play, sequencing and following directions


  1. Baby Doll and Accessories

baby dollGirls and boys alike enjoy playing with baby dolls. Dolls are a great way to teach pretend play as well as show your little one how to be affectionate and gentle. Caring for a baby doll also lends itself to using lots of functional vocabulary that will help your child talk about his own daily activities!  (eat, drink, wash, sleep, hug, brush, cup, etc)

Recommended language uses:  pretend play, vocabulary (both nouns and verbs), expanded utterances and word order (ie. baby eat, baby hungry, baby want eat)


  1. Play Kitchen/Food/Dishes

The possibilities are endless with a play kitchen and pretend food. Make dinner, have a tea party, throw a birthday bash, open a restaurant, or even concoct a magic potion! play kitchenPlaying with food and talking about food helps foster healthy eating habits. Children will learn many practical skills and, hey, they may even develop an interest in helping with the dishes!

Recommended language uses: sharing, following directions, symbolic play, sequencing (eg. recipes), role play, kitchen vocabulary, expanded categories (food vs. fruit/vegetables/drinks)


  1. Car Ramp/Cars

Fisher-Price-Little-People-City-SkywayReady…Set….GO!” Toddlers love making things go, and the sky is the limit with a simple car ramp and a few cars. I love using car ramps to teach

Recommended language uses: turn-taking, verbal requesting, vocalizing on command, expanded utterances (Go car!), articulation of k/g, cause and effect

*Fisher Price at Toys R Us

  1. Wooden Puzzles

wooden puzzleYou’d be surprised at how early young children will start showing an interest in puzzles. They love figuring out how to turn the pieces in order to get them to fit just right. I love puzzles for many reasons but one of my favorite aspects is the task completion! It is exciting for a child to learn to stick with a task until she gets the job done – a skill that will serve her well for the rest of her life!

Recommended language uses: task completion, basic problem solving, vocabulary (depending on the puzzle you choose – the sky’s the limit!)


  1. Toy Instruments

little tikes drumInstruments are such a fun way to encourage children to play together. Instruments foster imitation, following directions, and motor control. Music is also a great way to engage your brain. The possibilities are endless with instruments – you’ll never run out of songs!

Recommended language uses: following directions, engagement/participation, production of multi-syllabic words (tap out the syllables on a drum!), and even fluency (think of a slow movement on a drum to help the child feel the beat)


  1. Puppets

puppetsI love a good puppet! You can feed them play food, make them talk, make them dance, or even knock down that block tower you built! Kids love watching Daddy or Mommy get silly while making a puppet talk, and I find that puppets can be very motivating when trying to encourage a child to imitate.

Recommended language uses: role play, pretend play, articulation (eg. final /t/ in “eat”), expanded utterances, narration


  1. Potato Head

potato headThis toy is a classic for a reason. Mr. Potato Head’s features are the perfect size for little hands. Toddlers will learn to construct a face and label all the different parts. This is a perfect activity to work on following directions or requesting. Once Mr. Potato Head is built, he can have a tea party in your play kitchen with your baby doll and puppets! 🙂

Recommended language uses: body part labeling/vocabulary, following directions, requesting, pretend play

*Playskool at ToysRUs.com

Of course, this list is in no way all-encompassing, but if you are looking for a simpler approach to play, this is a good start. Remember, some of the best toys are non-toys! (Think cardboard boxes, pillows, wooden spoons, pots and pans, etc). The most important thing for your child to learn at this age is to try new things, and the best way to encourage that is to get out there and PLAY TOGETHER. Have fun!


-Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP

Practice Makes Perfect!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERACold mornings, snow days, runny noses, high fevers, doctor appointments! These are just some of the challenges this time of year presents for families intending to bring their children to weekly therapy appointments – and even the best laid plans can go awry. However, consistent attendance is crucial to the progress children make in therapy. What’s a parent to do…?

1. Home practice!  Did you know that a child’s time in therapy can be reduced by up to half if they practice on a regular basis? If homework is not provided to you, please ask your therapist what you can do at home to practice skills learned in therapy. Many fun, multi-modal activities can be recommended, including iPad apps, games, and movement break ideas. Your therapist can help you brainstorm ideas to build practice opportunities into your daily routine; homework does not necessarily need to occur sitting down at the kitchen table. Children learn best when they are emotionally invested and having fun. Working on /s/ blends? Try a “splash” game in the tub! Need to work on balance? How about building an indoor obstacle course!  Visit our Pinterest page for additional home practice ideas. And check out these great homework tips from Tactus Therapy.

2. Makeups.  Makeups offer your child the opportunity to catch up on their missed lessons. Should your therapist be unavailable when you need a makeup, consider a makeup with a different therapist. A substitute therapist can often suggest novel activities for your regular therapist to try, as well as provide a second set of eyes and ears on your child’s development. Establishing an ongoing relationship with at least one sub can be helpful, especially for young children who may be shy around new people.

3. Teamwork. Foster collaboration between your therapist and your child’s classroom teacher. Teachers are often eager to help generalize therapy skills, but may want to touch base with your therapist before doing so. This is an important piece of therapy, as it is a time for your child to demonstrate and carryover learned speech, language, and OT skills. When everyone is consistent and on the same page, your child has the opportunity to progress quicker.

Stay warm and happy practicing!

Indoor Snow Fun

snow-on-tree-1534379So it snowed. A lot! Which means your kids have a ton of time on their hands. Feel like you’ve run out of ways to entertain them? We’ve got some game ideas and iPad/tablet apps that your kids will love and will be great to foster their speech, language, and occupational therapy skills!

Preschool and kindergarten kids are at a great age to pick up everything around them. They really are sponges at this age and have a great chance to develop their skills. This is especially true of articulation skills. Typically, kids aged six-seven will have all of their speech sounds (which is also important for those literacy skills!). To be able to play a game that will work on important foundational skills is a win-win! Here are a few fun games and their suggestions for speech/language/OT development:

  • Monkeying Around: this fun monkey game keeps the kids interested every time. They just love to drop those monkeys off the tree and into the water for the alligators to chomp on! Skills targeted: counting, direction following (“Put the blue monkey on before you put the yellow monkey on”), fine motor coordination and pincer grasp (grabbing the monkey and carefully placing it on the tree), turn-taking.
  • Don’t Break the Ice: your kids will delight in this fun game where you take turns knocking down pieces of “ice” – but be careful not to knock over the polar bear! Skills targeted: articulation (print out some words and tape them on the ice cubes or just try to say a word on every turn), turn-taking, and target accuracy.
  • Pictureka: this game is an object-finding game with a timer and some silly items. Older kids will love this game that has them searching for wacky pictures. Skills targeted: turn-taking, visual scanning, categories, decoding.

We get a lot of questions about apps that would be helpful for speech, language, and OT. Here are a few suggestions of some apps that our therapists love!

  • Starfall ABC: lots of schools actually use this computer game to work on sound-letter correspondence. What’s good about this game is that it has all the letters of the alphabet, reinforces their sounds, has entertaining objects that start with those sounds/letters, and has engaging games at the end of some of the levels. It’s great to give your child some extra practice on their pre-reading skills. They’ll never know they’re learning!
  • I Spy with Lola: A great app for visual-motor skills, such as visual scanning and eye-hand coordination needed to manipulate the visuals on the screen and search for hidden items in the game. It also targets the use of visual perceptual skills, particularly figure ground, visual discrimination and form constancy, needed to identify items within a child’s environment and complete writing/drawing tasks. It’s a fun, interactive and skill-driven app with which many children have a good time engaging.
  • Toca Boca Tea Party: this app can be used to target a variety of speech and language goals. Most commonly: turn-taking and pretend play question formulation. For example, the child can ask: “What do you want?” “Do you want more?” or “How does it taste?” Kids who are working on using longer phrases will also benefit from use of this app: it allows modeling of phrases of varying lengths and repetition of those phrases on their next turn. *All the Toca Boca apps are a favorite around Skill Builders. They are also great reinforcer games. Check out: Toca House, Toca Doctor, and Toca Hair Salon.
  • Charades Articulation: this app is great for sound practice. You can set it by sound/position (ie. initial, medial, final), which is great to practice one position at a time. Use this app to act out a word or describe the word for your child and have them guess. It’s good for competition as you can get many words (10+) each round, which lasts 60 seconds.
  • My Play Home: this is an app that is good for following directions (Close the curtains and then turn on the radio), as well as vocabulary around the house. Kids love playing this game as they get to “pretend” they are mom or dad – great for imaginative play. This can also be used for narration and sequence – “What are you doing?” “First, I’m getting the cereal, next I’m pouring it into the bowl.” “What do you need next?” etc, etc. This app can also help with finger isolation, as you need to move objects across the screen to get them to where you want them.

We know buying a ton of apps can get expensive. That’s why we like “Free the Apps.” This app will list apps that have gone free for the day or week. It’s an informational app, but it’s a good one that helps out your wallet and can give you ideas. Who knows what you’ll stumble upon! If you’re interested in additional apps or games, consult with your therapist. In the meantime: enjoy the snow!

Picky Eaters


Many children go through phases of “picky eating” at some point in their lives. For some, this is a short-lived phase and for others, it can be a life-long struggle. There are many factors that contribute to picky eating, including oral motor development, sensory processing, behavioral issues, social anxiety, gastrointestinal problems, and more! A speech-language pathologist or occupational therapist who specializes in feeding therapy can help address picky eating in a therapy setting, but there are many things parents and caregivers can do at home to encourage the child to expand his food repertoire. Here are nine ideas to get you started:

  1. Make it a game!5132157

Using fun games can be a great motivator for trying new foods. Roll a dice or spin a spinner to determine what to take a bite of next! You can also check out some cool plates, like this one from Fred and Friends, that encourage exciting eating at every turn.

  1. Explore foods without pressure.

There are lots of ways to explore new foods beyond taste- look, smell, touch, poke, pinch, stir… Instead of telling your child to “eat this,” encourage them to “check it out.” Build a tower out of fruit or skewer veggies on a wooden stick or paint a picture using different kinds of yogurt. Make a funny face out of some favorite foods and some new ones! Get creative and have fun, and your little one might just decide to take a taste!

  1. Take them shopping.

Taking your young child grocery shopping might sound like more work for you, but the supermarket is a fabulous place for your kiddo to see all different kinds of foods! Who knows what color or texture will grab his attention! Send him on a mission to pick out something fun to try this week. Getting to pick something out himself might be more motivating.

  1. Make a bite chart.try_something_new_chart_-_image

For many kids, having a visual system can be very motivating. It sets the expectation without engaging in back and forth negotiation. Aviva Allen, kids’ nutritionist, has a great deal of resources on her site, including the bite chart pictured here. Bite charts are also great because they give the child something to work towards, decreasing the feeling of this being “work” and increasing “fun.”

  1. Don’t “eat” it- “try” it.

Avoid saying things like “Just eat it” or “Take a few bites.” Instead, talk about new foods in terms of “trying it.” You can say “Give it a try and then you can decide whether or not you want to eat it today.” You can also offer choices of different ways to try (ex: “Do you want to lick it or tap it on your teeth?”).

  1. food-pyramidTalk about the food groups.

Regularly discuss the different food groups with your child, as well as how different kinds of food benefit our bodies. Talk about how grains give us energy to run faster and milk helps our bones stay strong. Guide your child to associate healthy eating with a body that feels good.

  1. Get in the kitchen!

Hire yourself a mini-sous chef! Have your child help you stir, add, chop and sprinkle. Smelling, touching and looking at the food will expose them to new flavors and textures without any pressure to eat it. Allow your little one to help you make decisions as you prepare the meal- should we cut the tomato in little pieces or big pieces? Which should we add first- the corn or the peppers? Should we use long noodles or bowtie pasta? This gives a sense of control, and provides an awesome avenue for exploration!

  1. Dip it!

Dips can be a great catalyst for trying new foods. Find a dip that your child loves- peanut butter, hummus, Nutella, sour cream, ketchup….anything! Dip some preferred and some non-preferred foods and let your child tell you which tastes best.

  1. Make it a family affair!

Picky eaters are famously good at isolating themselves from family meal. Create a culture of adventurous eating by instituting at least one family meal a day. Encourage all family members (siblings included!) to participate in the above-mentioned strategies. This not only takes the pressure off of your picky-eater, it also creates a positive meal time experience for everyone.

It is important to keep in mind that we ALL have preferences when it comes to our diets. Think about which foods you love most, and what foods send you running for the hills.  For many of us, we have acquired tastes for certain foods over time. Remember the first time you tried coffee? Your child is no different. This is why continued exposure to a wide variety of foods is crucial to expand their repertoire. He might reject a food 19 times, and then decide to give it a whirl the 20th time he encounters it. By creating a comfortable, fun, safe environment for your child to explore foods, you are putting your child in the driver’s seat of his own diet and sending him on his way to better eating habits. Bon Appetit!


-Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP

Back to School… Back to School

back to schoolCan you believe summer is over already?? Some of you may be excited; some of you may be nervous; others may be sad. But no matter how you feel, you are likely to get overwhelmed at some point. There are lots of transitions that occur with the start of a new school year: new faces, new curriculum, new schedule, new everything. Don’t worry, though, because we’ve got you covered on approaching the school year headfirst, especially when it comes to working with your team.

  1. TEAMWORK. Working together is such an important factor in your child’s success. And it starts with you. Parents are most definitely part of the TEAM. Get to know your child’s team as soon as you can. Though you may already know a few familiar faces (oftentimes, SLPs and OTs remain constant across ages), be sure to send a friendly email or even drop by the office just to say “Hi” and “Welcome back!” It’s always better to approach someone (especially if you don’t know them that well) when things are good, rather than having to introduce yourself if and when a problem or concern arises. This way, you’ve made yourself a familiar face.
  2. PREPARATION. If your child has a difficult time with transitions, you know that prepping them is probably a good idea. Use visuals like a poster-type schedule that you can put up in a regular location to remind them what will be coming up that day. There are some schedule apps available as well if that might be more motivating to your child. Check out: Choiceworks Calendar, First & Then, and iPrompts.
  3. MEETING. If anything has changed over the summer that you think your child’s team should know and should be formally discussed, contact the school for an IEP meeting. Anyone from the team can call one at anytime (remember, you are an important part of the team). This will give you the opportunity to adjust any goal areas or accommodations as needed. If your child does not have a current IEP but you would like to explore the option of them having one, raise the concern and get the ball rolling. It can take quite a bit of time for your child to get the services they need as usually 2-3 meetings will need to happen before your child can receive services. This varies by state and county but check in with your school or your district’s website for additional information.
  4. POSITIVITY. You’d be surprised what kids can pick up, given the energy around them. No matter what age, it’s pretty interesting that a child’s current behavior may be affected by the attitude of those around them. Encourage your child, send positive thoughts their way, and work on “I can” statements. You’d be surprised just how motivating these last few suggestions can be. And motivation is the catalyst to success.
  5. HAVE FUN! This one goes along with the last tip. Your child may be growing up, but this is a good thing! Take pictures, make videos, write a journal (can be challenging and successful moments), cherish each moment, and try not to sweat the small stuff. Easier said than done – but it’s great to see how your child grows over the course of time. Growing pains are natural so it won’t always be rainbows and sunshine but just trust that it’s all happening in a way that will work out in the end!

Have a great school year!!

Summer Therapy Home Practice

cartoon sunLast week marked the first day of summer and since school’s out for summer, there’s no better time than to capitalize on all that extra time you’re sure to have in between beach trips, cannonballs at the pool, and all that comes with the carefree laissez-faire days of summer.

Nowadays, it seems like the most natural thing to have the kiddos in front of is some kind of “screen” – a TV, a computer, an iPad, an iPhone (which can be great tools as well) – but there are lots of other fun activities that can help your kiddos stay entertained, while garnering some great skills (without them even knowing it’s work). Here are 5 Non-Screen Summer Activities:

1. Go to the zoo. In my work with kids, especially those that are speech delayed, I have seen many begin to talk a lot more around animals, including sounds and names. Giving your child the chance to experience this firsthand is a great way to get them talking some more. Narrate your visit at the zoo by naming the animals, making the sounds they make, and throwing some action words in there, ie. Go lion; Lion sleep; Elephant eat. Or you can also use a carrier phrase, such as “I see lion!” Check out the National Zoo or the Reston Zoo, for starters.

2. Hang out at the park. Your neighborhood jungle gym might be just the ticket, especially when you’re not up for a more crowded location like the zoo. The park is a great place to visit because it is helpful to have kids interact with each other in a social manner. Here, they can learn the skills of turn-taking, requesting, compromise, and general communication with peers. And don’t forget about those gross motor skills! Kids will learn a lot about their bodies as they move about the playground.

3. Create a summer soundtrack. Summertime may be just the right moment to break out the drums (yep, I said it) and jam out with your kids to harness their creative side. Musical toys tend to be a real hit with kiddos. Additionally, introducing a new playlist for your next road trip might be just the ticket to increasing expressive communication. Research has shown that music helps awaken the opposite side of the brain and can often open up a world of possibilities for attention and development.

4. Get moving with yoga. Rainy days are no fun, but we all know when a summer storm is brewing. When you need to bring the kids in from the pool (or maybe just for a deep morning stretch), try playing some silly movement games to get the energy out and get them moving. Yoga is great for this and lots of our occupational therapists use some of these moves in therapy. This is a great strategy to help decrease stress and anxiety, improve self-regulation abilities, and improve overall motor skills. Get those frog, warrior, and tree poses ready!

5. Play ‘I Spy…” This game is great for improving expressive language. I often work with kids who use “thing” and “stuff” to refer to objects. I’m constantly trying to break them of this habit and get them to use more appropriate specific language. When you play “I Spy” or any other clue-giving game (hey there, Jeepers Peepers and HedBanz), your kids will need to picture your words to guess (receptive language) or will need to give you a specific description to have you guess (expressive language). I always try to get at least 3 clues before the other person can guess. “I spy with my little eye, something that is a red food that is juicy and comes from a tree…”

This is just a taste of some screen-free summer activities. Your therapist can always give you additional suggestions. Happy Summer!

Group Therapy

summerThe word group may lead you to think about the opposite of individual. Why pay for therapy that is not personally suited to your child’s needs? However, group therapy makes me think functional and practical.

There is only so much that can be taught to a child when interacting with an adult alone. In fact, many kids in therapy can interact with an adult but when put with a group of their peers, they are challenged and cannot appropriately participate. This is where groups come in, especially in the case of pragmatic language kiddos.

What is pragmatic language? Pragmatic language is thought of as social language – how we interact and communicate with other people. The necessary skills to participate successfully within a conversation include inferencing (making a “smart guess”), auditory processing (being able to comprehend and respond to what you’ve heard someone else say), interpreting language (think idioms and figurative language), understanding word meanings (two/to/too), and much more. Additionally, in the therapeutic setting, speech pathologists can teach individual concepts, such as those put forth in Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking principles. However, a group allows the child to apply what they’ve learned and directly understand “expected” vs “unexpected” behaviors in the moment. Not to mention that groups tend to be less of a burden financially, given the amount of kids in a group.

Summer is the perfect time to participate in group language therapy, given the decreased pressures of academics and the carefree living of the season.

If you’re in the Northern Virginia area, Skill Builders has many language groups, articulation groups, and sensory groups available this summer. Check ’em out!