Language Play: Learning to Play an Instrument Support Language Skills

Hearing, Language, Learning and Music

Wondering how to help encourage kids to practice their musical instruments? See what works for other parents in western MA and suggestions working musicians offer too in Hilltown Families post, “Getting Kids to Practice Their Musical Instruments.” (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

The last two weeks, I participated in an online continuing education training concerning language listening skills. I came away in awe of the new research being done on something that we don’t really think of as necessary to learn. We think of it as something optional to learn or even optional to have available at our schools. All the latest research shows us that learning to play an instrument helps us to listen to language and improves learning and cognitive function throughout our lives! But it’s especially a benefit for kids with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder (listening and understanding language at the level of the brain), specific language impairment, autism, and stroke recovery.

In a three year assessment of kids who had music training vs. those who didn’t, the kids with training did better at reading, speech in noise, and had stronger brain responses to sounds including language. Their brains changed! Of course, the longer the training, the better the cognitive changes, but scientists now know that the effect usually requires at least two years of music training. These results appear to be long term, too. Musicians have much fewer problems when older with hearing in noise, even if they’ve stopped their training at some point. We’re not talking about listening to music; we’re talking about active engagement in learning music. Current research studies are focusing on the effects of singing and drumming on understanding language…

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Language Play: Winter Activities & Talking with Your Kids Encourages Language Development

How to Get Through the Winter: Talk to Our Children

Spread the word about the importance of talking and reading to our children, and stay active in the winter! Peruse Hilltown Families List of Weekly Suggested Events for opportunities that get you out and engaged in your community… especially in the when it’s cold outside! (Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield)

A long time ago, when I worked as a receptionist, I noticed that during a New England winter, people either looked energized or run down. Since I totally knew why people looked tired after colds, flu, freezing temperatures, and never-ending snow removal, I decided to focus on the ones who were energized, as a kind of sociological study. I simple asked them how their winter was going, and their answers explained it all. They stayed active. They skied, ice-skated, snowshoed, made snowmen, and took trips to local events. They worked with the weather, not against it, and they loved to talk about what they were doing.

When I work with children, the ones who tell me they did nothing over the weekend are the ones I worry about. They’re not going to talk much, and that’s what my job is all about. Once I get kids talking, I see where gaps are in their abilities and figure out how I can help them express better. I prefer this natural method of probing their vocabulary, grammar, and narrative skills.

When kids are active, they come in with enthusiasm and lots of stories. It is natural to want to share a fun experience using language. I work with some kids with limited or no language, but when they’re happy and thinking about their good experiences, they find an icon to show me the topic. They just need to share… Read the rest of this entry »

Language Play: Memory, Language and Learning

Language and Memory

We think about memory as we and our relatives age. It seems like it gets harder and harder to remember people’s names or the places we did things or what was said. We know that a lot of this is the normal aging process or too much on our plate at once. Unfortunately, people are much less aware of childhood memory problems. We expect our children to never experience memory gaps because they are young with fresh absorbent brains, but it turns out that many children struggle to remember things…   Read the rest of this entry »

Language Play: Caroling and Language Learning

Christmas Singing for Language Skills

Singing together with family, neighbors and friends is one way of enhancing children’s language learning…

Although Christmas is not part of my cultural heritage, I have always loved Christmas caroling. I like it for the joy of singing in a group to cheer listeners. What a great non-commercial way to give! If I’m outside I like to breathe all that wonderful fresh air, blending my voice with others to make chords. I like the way the words fit the rhythm of the music and that the vocabulary is specific to Christmas. I like learning more obscure gems and music in other languages. About 2 weeks before the holidays, I start wanting music around me while I do chores. This seems to escalate as Christmas draws nearer… Read the rest of this entry »

Language Play: Add Structure and Language to Your Thanksgiving Menu

Add Structure and Language to Your Thanksgiving Menu

Board games help to bring structure and can be a great intergenerational activity during your Thanksgiving celebration. Have a favorite ready to share together, allowing children to practice language skills and concepts.

Thanksgiving is my favorite American holiday.  It is not about any one religious belief; you don’t have to buy presents; it is optional if you cook or bring food; people offer hospitality to others who have nowhere else to go; and, of course, parades, food, and football!

Children may be fine with herds of people, meals at different times of the day, free play with friends and relatives, with their parents’ attention on others and away from them; but many can become stressed with so many changes in their routine all at once. If you have a child like this, make sure you plan more than the meal… Read the rest of this entry »

Language Play: Growing Independent Children

Working Towards Independence

This week I have been thinking about independence. As a parent, grandparent, and a professional who works primarily with children, I know how difficult it is to protect our children and at the same time 
foster their independence. I have seen children who have a nurturing paraprofessional who inadvertently makes the child dependent on them. I have seen older children who are not at all prepared for their futures because everything was done for them. I have seen parents who 
choose not to discipline because they are afraid to lose their children’s love. They won’t ask the child to do something because it is so much easier to do it themselves. We all have done these things, but if we have our children’s best interests in mind, we know that we should help them to feel capable of accomplishments as a priority.

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Language Play: Learning How to Learn

Learning How to Learn

Since it’s the first month of school, I was talking to a parent about a flash card app called Quizard and the benefits of repetition in learning academic content. Children’s job is to go to school and learn as much as possible while there. In elementary grades, they get the skills necessary to read and write, and essential math concepts and facts. In fifth and sixth grades and beyond, they apply their skills to learn content.

I was teaching in a high school when I found an online flash card site called Studystack. Most of my kids struggled with biology, math concepts, and vocabulary. I showed the site to the biology teachers. The teachers or I made online flash cards on the website. In one class, using them was part of the homework assignments. In another, they were used in class during down time between units or during review time before tests, for instance. Eventually, some students learning office skills volunteered to enter the MCAS math vocabulary for a school-wide resource. By the way, the Quizard app can download vocabulary from the Studystack site; and you can add photos and use it on mobile devices.

But my biggest revelation came when I used this resource with my language-learning disabled students…

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Language Play: Fair Season Language Games

Fair Season Language Games

I’ve never lived in a place so rich with fairs! We’re lucky to be able to go to so many. For my family, it has become a New England summer/fall ritual that harkens back to a simpler time when people got together to play and eat with their neighbors. Enjoying life together in this way, creates a sense of community so naturally. It combines the cycle of the yearly harvest with pride in our achievements in art, craft, food, animal-raising and gardening. It gives us a solid sense of identity and camaraderie. The thrill of the rides, the lights against a dark sky, the people of all generations surrounding food stands, eating at picnic tables, strolling, and running in the delight of being alive. All in all, a country fair is a great human experience. It slows us down so we can experience who we are again.

I remember the drive home from the Cummington Fair one year with my grandson. It was the first fair where he was self-conscious, even though he had been there before as a baby. Even though it was late, he hated to leave. On the way home, he tried to console himself in the back seat: “We can come back tomorrow night.” We explained that the fair was a special, once a year event, BUT we could prolong our pleasure by talking about what we saw and did until we got home. And so a new set of language games were born for the trip home…

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Language Play: Strategies for Encouraging Independent Play in Summer Months

Independent Play

Fostering independent play this summer with icon or photo schedules for the day.  Show “alone” activities as well as activities children will do with others. Add a clock icon for each activity that shows the time these things will occur. You can designate an “alone” activity with a star or use color coding…

Independent play is a topic that had come up twice this month. Both a parent and a pre-school teacher asked me for ideas for children who couldn’t play independently. These children were only able to play if an adult was involved. Unfortunately, these adults were either dealing with other children or having to get things accomplished, like making dinner. Sound familiar? Dependent kids are especially a problem when they are home for the summer. A parent can only set up so many activities each day!

Of course, folks of a certain age, like me, remember our summers as total freedom. No one worried about our independent play; we were quite capable of playing alone or with friends, and no adults ever knew where we were except during mealtimes. We were busy all the time and we learned how to solve our own problems in a messy kid way. It was an adult-based world and we all tried to survive to become grown-ups. I remember seeing a parade. The next day, I organized all the kids on the block to take rhythm instruments from my toy rhythm set and march up and down the block. I carried the flag and led the parade. I felt like anything an adult could do, my friends and I could do. Here is an interesting article on the subject of freedom to ponder:  Freedom to Learn: The roles of play and curiosity as foundations for learning.

Now back to 2013, and the problem of helping parents and teachers to foster independent play…

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Language Play: Transitions in the Summer

The Bridge to Summer

Don’t assume that kids know that camp is fun. You may have to explain what people will be doing at camp so they can be excited about their experience. If they have trouble talking about their feelings, give them two choices to express themselves (“Are you feeling excited or worried?”) and listen well.

None of us are great with change. The beginning of summer is a transition time for our kids and it helps to acknowledge that moving from the routines of the fall, winter, and spring to summer is a time of change. Going on trips, visiting relatives, going to camp or taking swimming lessons are very different from school.

To really understand how our kids may feel, I immediately think of one of my students. She has trouble with even small changes: moving from one room to another in the school. She is an extreme, but clear example of how many children feel about change, without necessarily being able to express it. Change for her means the feeling of losing control and fear of not being able to cope with what’s next; and that is not okay for her or anyone. This past year, I often saw her lie down on the various floors of school complaining that some part of her body hurt, and that she couldn’t move. Many adults had to coax and escort her from place to place. At the beginning of the year, when she came to me, she refused to go back to her class, so I had to deliver her language services in a corner of her classroom most of the year. When I had to evaluate her language skills later in the school year, I took her out to my room and figured out a way to get her to go back to class. We would use a fun app and show it to her teacher when we got back. This made me think about all transitions a bit differently.

When we are happy and secure about what is happening, we don’t want it to end. Going back to class and showing something she liked from her speech session acted as a bridge and a way to prolong the activity she liked into a new setting. We all need to understand our future activities and have something good to look forward to in them, and we all need to have choices. Maybe only two choices, but some sense of a choice. A good teacher uses bridging at school by asking kids to share their favorite things from home during meeting time and sending school projects home so parents can ask their children what they are doing that’s fun at school…

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Language Play: Learning Communication with Silent Films

Silence is Golden

I have always loved silent movies. My dad was a Charlie Chaplin fan and we would often go into the city to see Chaplin’s full length movies on the big screen. When I was a student in graduate school, I worked with stroke groups, many of whom depended on understanding and using gestures to communicate. I heard that other clinicians were training better communication to this population by watching sit-coms with the volume off, but I immediately thought of silent movies and jumped at the chance of using them for therapy.

Later, with better access to films, I discovered silent movies from all over the world. I had always watched comedies, but I now located silent movies that were profound with serious content. The acting was subtle, but conveyed such humanity. They were filled with rich communication. After watching them exclusively for months, I watched a contemporary movie and felt disappointed with the stiff bodies and unending dialogue of the actors (blah, blah, blah). What a loss for the world when silent movies were scrapped for “talkies.”

Then I worked with another population that needed to learn to attend and use facial expressions and body language. Since facial expressions and body language are 55% of communication, my children on the autism spectrum needed to be able to read people’s faces and gestures in order to navigate their social worlds. I told them that people can say anything but their faces and bodies are more reliable information. Out came the silent movies…

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Language Play: Supporting the Creativity of Writing

Writing Skills: Putting Language Down on Paper

home work routineI’m not an expert on writing skills, but I often find myself working with children who have difficulty getting ideas on paper. I start by reviewing the variety of skills and processes involved in writing. First, a writer must gather ideas, take notes from readings, and make choices about which ideas are important enough to include in the writing. Then they need to organize these ideas into a hierarchy of main ideas and details. Next, each main idea must be formulated into a topic sentence. The details also need to be written as sentences within the same paragraph to support the topic sentence. In order to make choices on how to formulate sentences, the writer needs to be aware of who their audience is and how best to communicate to that audience.

An essay should include an introduction, a body of supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion. So the writer needs to understand what these elements are and what is expected to be included for each of them. How much to explain to the reader (not too much or too little), is also important to consider. And then they need to connect one idea to another idea, or one paragraph to another paragraph, so that the ideas flow. After all that, there’s editing for punctuation, spelling, and clarity of ideas. It’s easy to see that writing is an exercise in multi-tasking. And, of course, many of us are not very good at multi-tasking!

If a child is having trouble getting ideas on paper, it could be because of a breakdown in any of these steps and processes. Often several processes are a problem. I first try to see what is easy for them and what is hard. To figure this out, I always try to help them separate these tasks into discrete steps. In this way, I can discover where the writing process breaks down. For some students, this helps immediately. If students attend to one process at a time, it really simplifies things! Lots of students try to edit while they write, and may get so lost thinking about spelling, that they lose their ideas. I try to discourage multi-tasking. I use checklists, visual organizers, and programs and apps that encourage brainstorming their ideas. This is the creative part of writing!

One program I’ve used for years (now an iPad app) is Inspiration Maps by Inspiration Software, Inc. It helps kids brainstorm ideas first as a visual map, then lets them organize their ideas into a hierarchy of main-idea bubbles and supporting-idea bubbles (by the connection arrows). I always check if they have an introduction bubble and a conclusion bubble. After the map is complete, with a press of a button, it changes into an outline. From the outline, it is easy to see the topics for paragraphs and the supporting details for each topic. You can tweak the order of the outline if you need to. Now to expand the outline into sentences! And voilà! An essay!

Most kids just want to get the assignment done. They need to be taught that writing involves drafts and revisions; it’s usually not a one shot deal. The sooner they understand this, the better. I tell them that the authors never get their book published after only one draft. Good writers need editors to suggest improvements. Eventually, a writer internalizes good editing skills and can read their work aloud to edit it, but it never hurts to find another pair of eyes after they’ve done their own revisions. I often ask students to read their work aloud so they get used to editing their own work. Then they can ask someone to edit.

Some kids can get lost in the minutiae of the editing. That’s why I don’t let them derail into editing till the bitter end. For these kids, it’s essential to separate each process. If they get lost, I ask them general questions such as, “Would a reader understand the writing?”‘ If so, then they are probably done with the draft. If the child repeatedly erases their writing, I may limit the number of times they can erase in order to move the process forward.

I recently found two great apps that teach kids all of this as sequential pre-writing lessons. They teach writing vocabulary and include many quizzes, word puzzles, flash cards, and graphic organizers. Most of all, they show that writing is complex, and that we need all the help we can get to become good writers. Check them out!

I think they are set up to be used as lessons in the classroom. So let your kid’s teachers know about these apps and those Hilltown Families’ events you’ve gone to, in case they want to use this for teaching writing!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com

[Photo credit: (ccl) woodleywonderworks]

Language Play: 22 Apps that Increase Children’s Vocabulary

Apps that Increase Children’s Vocabulary

I once had a teen client who had the most amazing ideas and insights. He was one of those kids who really cared about people and thought about things deeply. I always considered it a gift to work with him. So why did he need speech and language services? Unfortunately, he had a very small repertoire of vocabulary words and he couldn’t access the very reading material that he would have loved to think about. What we did in each session was read poetry together. He had to identify and ask for definitions of the words he didn’t know, look them up, and tell me what the poem meant. For most kids, the meaning of a poem would be the most difficult, but this young man immediately understood the significance of the poem once he understood the words that blocked him from the ideas. My goal was to get him to a point of independence where he routinely looked up the words he didn’t know. I’m not sure if he is doing that in his adult life, but I do know that he owns that poetry book, a present from his mother, which he treasured and carried in his backpack throughout his senior year. He also took a poetry class and started to write poems that year.

Now that I have an iPad, I wish I could go back and show him how to integrate several apps. There’s a poetry app called Poetry by the Poetry Foundation, there’s a Dictionary.com app for definitions, and there’s an app for creating vocabulary flash cards for extra repetition and practice called Quizard by GabySoft. This flashcard program not only allows you to make your own flashcards but also includes lots of shared vocabulary lists for different ages, including Dolch lists, Latin roots and prefixes, and standardized tests such as Advanced Placement tests, College Admissions tests, and Drivers Tests.

Maybe we should start way back in Pre-K and kindergarten. Kids need to learn vocabulary for time (days, minutes, hours, morning, night, today, yesterday, tomorrow), weather words, animal names, vehicles, clothing, food, colors, days of the week, counting and numbers, the alphabet, verbs, etc. There are apps for all of these categories if you search the App Store. I believe I mentioned in a past article that it’s a good idea to make labels for objects in the house even before kids are readers. Kids learn vocabulary first through routines and personal experiences. Exposure is the key. One of my favorite kindergarten teachers believes in teaching kids advanced vocabulary and concepts during her reading lessons. All the kids of her class can answer the question, “What is the recurring motif in this Eric Carle book?”

Some of my favorite apps for the younger set are:

For older students, I use:

Back to learning through family routines. I remember how that idea gelled for me when my toddler grandson saw a bird fly into one of our rosebushes to its nest and I told him the bird was going to sit on eggs in its nest. The next time he came over, he pulled my arm and said, “Nest, grandma.” Or the time I was playing cards with my grandson and he delighted me by repeated an expression I’d been using , ”I’m on a roll, grandma!” So next time you’re at an event you found out about here on Hilltown Families, be conscious of teaching vocabulary when you explain things to your children. You’ll be enriching their vocabulary skills while you have fun!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com

Language Play: What Can a Parent Do to Encourage Good Narrative Skills?

Narratives: What did you do today?

Have you ever tried to find out about your children’s daily experiences? Well, of course, teenagers rarely want to share their day with an adult, but younger children do. For some kids this is one of the hardest things to do. Why is that? It seems like such a simple thing to do!

Well, let’s think about it. Telling a story pulls all kinds of language skills together. First, you have to remember (and you have to think it’s important enough to attend in order to store the memory). Then, you have to organize how to explain it. This includes understanding the main idea of the event, the important characters involved, the setting, the steps and sequence in which it happened, the outcome, the emotions involved. This is all before you say anything; this is the planning stage. Then, there’s choosing the vocabulary and remembering the words you need, deciding what’s most important, telling the steps in the right sequence, giving just the right amount of information for the person in front of you (what do they know and not know? How long will they listen to me? What will they be most interested in?), and describing and explaining clearly, and expressing emotions for the reactions to the event and to the ending.

Holy cow! No wonder speech language pathologists often use a story retelling task as a way to check functional language skills. Some kids have a glitch along the way and it’s our job to figure out where the gaps may be and teach kids explicitly how to fix or compensate for the skill that’s hard. Of course, there are also developmental stages involved. A preschool child is not going to sound much like a teenager telling a story!

So what can a parent do to encourage good narrative skills?

First of all, read stories to your kids. And tell your kids stories about what your day was like!

Start with specific prompts. “Tell me 2 things you did today.” Or “tell me something you liked or didn’t like today.” Or “what’s something you learned today?”

Eventually, you want them to not need prompts. So you can teach them how a story goes. After I read a picture book to a child, I often copy or take photos of three or four of the illustrations. I show them out of order and let the child sequence them. Then I start with “First________, then________, next________, last________.” and wait for the child to finish each sentence using the pictures. I do this with many stories until they do this on their own. You may need to write the words “First, Then, Next, Last” on a card to support them visually even if they aren’t yet reading (they may notice the first letter sounds to remember the words). Or you may need to use the card when you tell a story to your child, to model how to tell stories.

Lately, I’ve been using an app called Making Sequences by Zorten Software, LLC. This app allows me to make custom stories by taking pictures on my iPad to use for sequencing, typing in a sentence for each picture that the child dictates, recording the child saying the sentence, and playing back the whole story in the child’s voice. The kids love it!

Older children may need manipulatives or graphic organizers to remember what to put in and in what order. Many speech therapists use Story Grammar Marker.

Some older children may need practice with main ideas and summaries. They can tell lots of details but you don’t know the topic. I tell them to start with the big idea of the story or ask them to tell me about the story in one or two sentences. Then I ask for more details.

Just a few ideas to help your children be good communicators!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com

Language Play: Stages of Language and Resources for Practice

Grammarsizes

When kids are little, we enjoy the quirky ways they express their ideas. We hear them say funny, ungrammatical things, and it delights us to hear them grapple with the English language. These errors show a developing repertoire of grammatical forms. When they say “mans” and “falled,” they show an understanding of the underlying rules of English grammar. They’ve listened to language around them enough to simplify and use morphological rules (for example, plurals are the noun plus an “s” sound at the end of the noun; past tense is the verb plus “t” and “d” sounds at the end of the verb). This shows a pretty sophisticated understanding! If we look carefully, we see that children learn the basic rules or patterns first, then generalize them (like “goed” for “went”). And then they notice the exceptions; those pesky details that break the rules. Of course, English is a hybrid language, so there are MANY exceptions. Eventually they create models in their minds of what “sounds” right as a guide.

Some children, for several potential reasons, may have trouble noticing or hearing the exceptions to the basic rules in the adult language around them. It could be caused by many things including different brain wiring, lack of attention to detail, difficulty organizing speech into patterns. Or it could be living in a stressful environment, emotional issues, or having recurring ear infections that make listening difficult at a critical period for learning. For these children, grammatical development appears stalled, and their expression sounds “young” to us. Many of these children need clear instructions and lots of practice to acquire adult grammar. They need to learn the underlying rules and they need to establish their own models in order to hear and decide what sounds correct. For parents, it’s difficult to tell if there’s a problem, because if you’ve ever spent time in a kindergarten classroom, you know that all kids are developing at different rates in different areas. Their language skills are so diverse that listening to different children speak, it’s very hard to tell what is expected! That’s where language screenings by speech language pathologists are helpful to identify if there are any gaps.

There have been many studies of morphological development that guide therapists and teachers. I use one by Brown (1973) which is the basis of many standardized language tests:

1-Screen shot 2013-01-28 at 11.49.37 AM

Other grammatical formations develop over time , such as negation (“No” changes to “I don’t want to”), and question formation (“Can I?” changes to wh-questions) (“Where it is?” changes to “Where is it?”).

For more information on Brown’s Stages of Language and time frames for them, check out Brown’s Stages of Language Development.

The good news for parents is that there are apps for extra practice that an SLP may suggest for home practice. Here are a few I suggest from Superduper, Inc. for practice after explicit instruction in speech sessions:

  • Regular Past Tense Verbs
  • Irregular Past Tense Verbs
  • Plurals Fun Deck
  • Using “I and Me” Fun Deck
  • “WH” Question cards
  • “WH” Questions at School

I also use the Question Sleuth by Zorten for practice using questions “Where” and “Is.” Before each turn the child must say “Where is the star? Is it under the _____?”

Remember to never directly correct a child’s grammar. Rather, repeat what they say “your” way (model) and then quickly respond to what they are trying to tell you. If you spend too much time on correction, they will feel like you aren’t listening to them. Reinforce correct productions when you notice them, “I heard you use ‘the.’ Nice job!”

As a parent, supporting your child’s language development is complex. You can seek advice and use guidelines. Most of all, don’t forget to relax and enjoy being with your family!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com

[Image credit: (ccl) Tom Magliery]

Language Play: Speech Articulation

Speech Articulation

If your child is not understood by teachers, peers or relatives, they may have multiple speech errors. To help your child speak with confidence, take time to support their expression by listening to them.

It’s holiday vacation time and family time! Hooray! This is a good time to check out our children’s communication skills. But how is a parent to know what is typical?

Children go through steps to learn to articulate speech sounds just like the steps children take to develop motor skills for learning to walk (crawling, standing, walking while holding on to furniture, taking steps independently) or learning to write cursive (practice, practice, practice). But some parents are unaware of the steps to expect with speech and the developmental time frames to see them emerge. In order to communicate with words, children start by listening. That’s why the first thing to check if you can’t understand a child is their hearing. It is especially important that children hear well in the first few years of life when they are listening to language so intensely. It is critical for children to not miss these listening opportunities in order to prevent speech and language delays.

If given good listening opportunities, our children go through a developmental process of learning placement and movements of the articulators (tongue, jaw, teeth, lips and palate) that take the air stream coming from the vocal folds and alter it to mimic the sounds they hear. — Monolingual babies at six months of age can differentiate the speech sounds of all languages but at a year old they can only discriminate the sounds that they hear in the environment of their families. Here is an interesting article about bilingual speech perception: “Hearing Bilingual: How Babies Sort Out Language.”

Most children begin speech using the sounds they can easily see on the lips of their family members such as “m” (mama), “p”(papa), “b” (baba), “w” (wawa). Other sounds may not be mastered until as late as age eight, such as “s” and “r.” Baby talk is fine for babies, but when English speech sound errors continue past age eight, it can affect both academics (speech productions are the basis for reading and writing words) and social interactions (peers may avoid children they don’t understand). If a child is aware that others can’t understand them, they may shut down and stop trying to express their ideas. Children who have these problems may not know that teachers can help them communicate and may feel helpless. Most articulation errors are not due to physical disabilities, but result from not learning correct production of speech sounds. These children benefit from explicit instruction on how to produce correct sounds; lots of practice of speech sounds in isolation, different positions in words, and phrases or sentences; and compensation strategies to increase listeners’ understanding.

Some suggestions to parents: Read the rest of this entry »

Language Play: Scripts for Kids to Express Feelings & Desires

The Language of Emotion

Having a visual representation of the degree of emotions can free children to explain how they feel throughout their day.

I work with children who can’t communicate their feelings easily. Some children who can’t speak at all give up on using subtle behaviors because they’re ignored or misunderstood by others. They may use extreme behaviors to get others’ attention. If these children are taught effective ways to express their feelings, negative behaviors often diminish or even disappear. Our feelings always come out, one way or another!

As a speech-language pathologist, it’s my job to notice children’s’ communication skills. Do they have ways to express themselves when they feel things? Do they have the vocabulary to express their emotions? Do they have scripts to express their emotions?

Recently, a mother asked me to work with her child to help him express his feelings. First we made sure he had the basic vocabulary of emotions such as happy, sad, angry, proud, etc. We looked at the facial expressions that go with these words (With older children, we look up the basic words in a thesaurus to discover the many words that can be used).  Sometimes we played games with emotional faces and decided which emotions they represented. We chose from lists of emotions and acted them out in pantomime for the other person to guess. We talked about what makes people feel these emotions. Did he ever feel them and when?

Still, this child almost always told me he was happy and stayed away from those other scary emotions. But the biggest improvement came when I made two yellow triangles to represent the degrees of emotional feelings: BIG (bottom portion of the triangle), MEDIUM (center portion), or LITTLE (up at the top). We used one in his speech language sessions and one went on his home refrigerator. Having a visual representation of the degree of his emotions apparently freed him to explain how he felt throughout his day. “It was a big sad,” he told me when his grandmother’s dog died.

If your children have trouble expressing their feelings, another thing you can do to help them is to model your thinking process aloud for them. Just say what you’re thinking out loud, such as: “Sometimes when people promise things and don’t do what they promise, it makes me feel very disappointed.” Children are often relieved to discover that adults feel the same ways they do. Just make sure you express yourself in a quiet, factual way; that way it’s not scary and it shows it’s okay for your children to express their own feelings. Your goal is to make it feel safe for them to talk to you about their feelings anytime.

Give your child “scripts” to express feelings and desires that are hard for them. Think about what you would say if you felt like they do and give them two choices for expressing it effectively. For example, when a child pushed my arm away from his blocks, I told him to tell me either that he doesn’t want me to help right now or that he wants to do it himself this time. He immediately  repeated, “I want to do this myself this time.” We both felt better about the interchange.

And don’t forget to ask about their feelings after you’ve ventured out for a Hilltown Families event, the upcoming Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Night! Was it a big, medium, or a little feeling? For me, going to a Hilltown Families event is always a Big Happy!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com

Language Play: Get Social to Support Language Development

Social Skills: Time to Share!

Halloween is a great opportunity to have your children share their excitement socially! Kids love to have conversations about their costumes, where they got the idea, what they’re doing today, their all-time favorite Halloween, the scariest thing that happened….Don’t forget to encourage them to ask questions back to their listeners to make it a true conversation.

There’s a buzz about social skills these days. There’s such a tendency for all of us to be so involved with technology that we have less time for face-to-face social experiences. A few years ago, I read all of my grandfather’s diaries, from the turn of the century until the 1970s. I was amazed at his social life as a teacher in New York City! Every night after work and before dinner, my grandparents went to the park across the street where they met their neighbors. After dinner, they had people over to play bridge, canasta, and Scrabble, to listen to concerts or baseball games on the radio, or to watch the latest invention (television) together. Every day of the week! It was a golden age of social interaction!

If you’re at all concerned about promoting social skills for your children, you’ve come to the right place! Hilltown Families is the perfect answer. Start picking those events to go to! Every one of them is a social experience! That’s why I choose to write here. This website fosters what I care about: Social skills and language development.

After you’ve attended a Hilltown Families event, a great idea is to encourage your children to tell others who weren’t there about what you did. Perhaps they could call their grandparents, or write them a letter. If they need help to organize their ideas, use “what, who, where, when, how, and why questions” as a starting point.

Another place that fosters social skills is Michelle Garcia-Winner’s breakthrough website www.socialthinking.com. Garcia-Winner has revolutionized the way we (especially speech- language pathologists and educators) help people who have social interaction deficits. She believes learning new ways to think socially will help people to navigate the world of dynamic social relationships. She gives us a framework and vocabulary, as well as books and games to support these skills.

I’ve also been thinking about dinner times in a new light lately. I always advised parents who have children who stutter to use dinnertime sharing so that every family member could have a turn to share at their own pace and with little pressure (you are always allowed to pass if you have nothing to share). I know it might be difficult for families to eat together every day; but when you do, remember what a great opportunity to model social behavior and language it truly is! Parents can model many skills until children learn and participate. Skills such as listening and expressing, asking clarification questions, learning how to engage in verbal routines, thinking about main ideas and big picture thinking (“What are two things that happened that you want to share tonight?”), organizing your thoughts, perspective-taking, explaining, describing, processing events, narrating, using emotional vocabulary, using turn-taking skills and politeness scripts in conversation! Holy cow! It’s a true feast of language skills!

Halloween is today! It’s another great opportunity to share the excitement socially! Kids love to have conversations about their costumes, where they got the idea, what they’re doing today, their all-time favorite Halloween, the scariest thing that happened….Don’t forget to encourage them to ask questions back to their listeners to make it a true conversation.

So in or out of the house, share and have a great time!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com

[Photo credit: (ccl) Jonas Seaman]

Language Play: 5 Useful Apps That Help to Promote Speech & Language Skills

Apps for Back-to-School

Now that we are all back to school, I thought it would be fun to talk about educational activities on the iPad or iPhone to support children’s learning at school. This year, I have switched my speech and language materials from books and software programs to apps for my iPad, in order to be more mobile and spontaneous with my therapies (Of course, I love that the kids are begging to come to “speech!”). Several parents and colleagues have asked for a list of useful apps to promote speech and language skills, so I thought I would share them with Hilltown Families. Here are 5 of my students’ favorite apps for elementary school. It is very hard to limit this to 5 since there are many great apps that I keep adding to my repertoire! In the future, I will write about favorite older student apps, and apps for other platforms.

  • Starfall All About Me by Starfall Education is a great app for friends to get to know one another. And who doesn’t want to talk about oneself? Children identify what they look like by making an animated version of themselves, their pets (children can use fantasy pets, too), their toys, and places/items in their houses. Then they give a new friend a turn! Great for social skills including turn-taking and problem solving with a partner. Also great for vocabulary skills. Cost: $1.99
  • Speech with Milo: Sequencing by Doonan Speech Therapy. Children sequence three pictures with an option to watch a movie afterwards. Ask what happened with cues to use “first,” “then,” and “last.” Milo the mouse is loveable and gentle with a child’s voice. Promotes sequencing, narrative skills, time concepts, expressive language, and grammar skills. Cost: $2.99
  • For Articulation Practice, I use two apps the most: Articulate It by Smarty Ears LLC is a professional app but it also allows you to do a home program based on the recommendations of your speech-language pathologist. Custom choices of specific sounds in specific positions of words using photo cards. Statistics give percentage correct. Cost: $38.99 – Speech Pairs by Synapse Apps LLC  has lots of great parent information! Two photos are shown that contrast sounds in words to increase a child’s ability to hear subtle differences (“gas”/”glass”). Sometimes the child is asked to listen to the sounds and sometimes to produce the sounds. Very customizable! Cost: $6.99.
  • Sid’s Science Fair by PBS Kids. Visit three different science/math activities. Love these activities! Sorting/categorization/charting, identifying details/matching/patterns using a magnifying glass, and flexible thinking. Ask your child what they did after each activity for narrative, descriptive, and explaining skills. Cost: $2.99.
  • Toca Hair Salon by Toca Boca. A favorite of all children and parents, too! Children love to choose a character to comb, cut, shave, lengthen, shampoo, spray colors, and their favorite, blow dry! their character’s hair and facial hair. Afterwards, they describe what they did to me or to someone who has not seen what they did. Great for sequencing, describing, narratives, and memory skills. Cost: $1.99.

Wow! It’s hard to stop at 5 (I think I actually snuck in 6) but I’ll be back in a month with more ideas! Welcome to the brave new world of educational apps!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com

Language Play: 6 Pre-Reading Activities

Pre-Reading Activities

Expose your child to the alphabet. Start with capital letters, then lower case. Pick a letter of the week and put it on the refrigerator. Be creative and have fun with craft projects such as using different materials to paste the letter on construction paper (yarn, ribbon, pasta).

One of my favorite milestones I witness is a child’s first experience reading! I’m not sure it is an official milestone, since it is not hard-wired like walking or talking. It involves learning. But nonetheless, as one of the first people to see this break-through moment, I consider it a special privilege for a speech language pathologist to witness!

I remember when my kids started reading and it seemed like magic. What I never knew as a new parent was that pre-reading skills are necessary to begin reading. There are small understandings that occur before we can read. These involve metalinguistics (THINKING about words). Here are some pre-reading activities I often recommend. When you use them, always make your child feel successful. And only jump in to help, after they have had time to try by themselves.

  1. COVER:  Look at the book’s cover together. Look at the picture. Ask, “What’s this book about?” If they don’t know, tell them while pointing to the picture. Show that the pages are turned left to right.
  2. TEXT:  Read books together with the child in your lap or right next to you. As you read each word, slide your finger below each word as you read. The child sees that you are reading chunks of letters as you say a word and that you are reading them left to right. Ask that they turn pages for you. Read favorite books over and over this way, until they have them memorized.  This develops sight word memory, auditory memory, and increases vocabulary. Eventually, leave out a simple word like “cat” with your finger below it and wait a few seconds to see if the child fills it in for you. If they fill it in, pause at each iteration of the word “cat” and praise them for their reading!! If not, fill it in for them and continue reading.
  3. LETTERS:  Expose your child to the alphabet. Start with capital letters, then lower case. Pick a letter of the week and put it on the refrigerator. Be creative and have fun with craft projects such as using different materials to paste the letter on construction paper (yarn, ribbon, pasta). When I was little, I used to spend hours with my dad’s folding ruler, forming the letters I knew. Show them where you start on the page when writing a letter (top to bottom, left to right). — Use product labels on cans and cereal boxes and help your child to identify the word for the product’s name. For example, Cheerios. This activity boosts confidence for an emerging reader.
  4. SOUNDS AND PHONOLOGICAL AWARENESS: Phonological awareness means knowing that the letter symbols have distinct sounds (and some have more than one sound like c = s, k sounds). It also includes other awarenesses I will mention shortly. Find objects in the house that start with the letter of the week and label these object with their names in print. After they know a few sounds, ask them to think of names of things that start with that sound. Give hints, if necessary. Avoid words with confusing spelling, stick to the basics. For children who are very good at this, you can ask for words that end in a sound for a more challenging activity. — For more advanced children, you can make a list of compound words. Ask your child to take away part of the word and tell what is left. For example, “Newspaper. If I take away ‘news,’ what is left?”
  5. RHYMING:  Teach rhyming words like “cat, sat, fat” and ask them for one more rhyme. Give hints, if necessary. Read them simple rhyming poems and point to the words that rhyme as you read them. It can become a family game to come up with rhymes. Silly, made-up words are fine, too. Be sure to write them down for them to see. You never know what kids will absorb! — A harder task would be to make a list of word pairs that start or end with two consonants. Present the word, then take one consonant sound away and it makes a second word. For example: “Slip” If I take away “sssss” what word is left?” Also you can help your child understand that words are made of syllables. You can tap or clap out syllables for longer words together, then ask the child to try it alone. For example: “How many beats are in “bicycle?”
  6. MODELING: Remember that some children don’t know how to “think” about sounds, words, and reading. For these children it will help to talk out loud about what YOU are thinking when you do these activities. This is called modeling. For example, you can say, “I know that all the names in the house this week start with ‘puh’! I bet I can think of another word that starts with ‘puh’ like . . . ‘pie!’”

Why is it so important for children to see themselves as good readers? Research has shown that many children in school are not good readers and avoid reading which sets them even further behind peers over time. Researchers found that students who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma when compared to proficient readers (The Annie E. Casey Foundation), and there is a distinct correlation between literacy levels and future participation in the workforce (Educational Testing Service). So let’s start early with pre-reading activities for all our children!

List of Weekly Suggested EventsIt’s always good for children to be read to. Most local libraries have Story Hours (Greenfield Library, Forbes Library in Northampton, Jones Library in Amherst, Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield, Chicopee Library, MN Spear Library in Shutesbury, Mason Library in Great Barrington… to name a few).  Check the Hilltown Families list of Weekly Suggested Events for weekly storyhours, some even involve singing, puppets and crafts.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com

[Photo credit: (ccl) Michael Verhoef]

Language Play: 5 Speech and Language Games for Travel

Five Speech and Language Games for Travel

In addition to these suggested language games, a sing along is great family fun too! Check out the post 8 Featured Music CDs for Your Summer Family Road Trip here on Hilltown Families for some suggestions.

Since it’s summer and lots of families are on the move, I wanted to suggest a few language games to parents that support the development of language and reading skills. Why language games? I think of children playing games like I think of baby animals playing. It all looks like lots of fun, but built into language play are skills for survival and success in school and life. As a speech-language pathologist, I see kids who didn’t get the language play they needed, and it puts them at a distinct disadvantage. To support language play this summer, instead of everyone doing their own thing while traveling, why not foster social skills that bring families closer together on vacations with language games? To follow are five such games you can play while driving to the beach (or the grocery store) or while waiting in the airport terminal with your kids to support speech and language:

  1. Twenty Questions — In this old favorite, the person thinks of an object and announces if it is animal, vegetable or mineral. The players get to ask twenty yes/no questions to figure out the object. A variation would be to give a clue for the first sound to make it easier. Good for categorizing, vocabulary, descriptive language, verbal problem solving, word finding.
  2. Moving Observations  The first person to read a sign for a new town gets a pretzel, etc. A variation: you can make a numbered list together the night before a trip of things you might observe (a railroad sign, a horse, etc.) and one child picks a number for everyone to find. First to observe the object gets a pretzel, etc. Good for reading, vocabulary, attention, awareness of environment, problem solving. Later have children review what they saw for verbal expression, and to reinforce memory.
  3. License Plate Game Name all the license plate states you see. They can be written down for later discussion or for looking at a map to identify where the states are. For non-readers, children can identify a letter or a number on the license plates. Good for vocabulary, reading skills, awareness of environment, perspective taking (“Those people came all the way from Florida!”).
  4. Interviews Bring a small tape recorder for interviews. One child gets to be the reporter and asks what, who, where, when, how, and why questions of another person. Take turns. They can also work as teams to decide what questions to ask. Good for perspective taking, “wh” questions, listening skills, and being curious about others.
  5. Story Chains Each person adds the next sentence to make a story. Silliness is a good thing. Good for receptive and expressive language, descriptive language, scaffolding narratives, verbal humor.

Remember if a child is bored, give them a responsibility or goal. Have a child be in charge of choosing the next game, handing out the pretzels, deciding if the answer was right, explaining the rules of the game to the others. Foster cooperation (teams, helpers) rather than competitiveness. If one child can’t do the task alone, have a competitive child help them or split everyone into teams at the beginning of the game.

I hope this gives you many more ideas for games. I bet the kids will have ideas. Whatever the game, keep it light (Hey, it’s the beginning of a great vacation!), so remember to have fun! And don’t forget music and lyrics! A sing along is great family fun! Check out the post 8 Featured Music CDs for Your Summer Family Road Trip here on Hilltown Families for some suggestions.

Do you have a favorite game that supports language and communication on the road to share with us?


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com

[Photo credit: (ccl) nikoretro]

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