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]

The Teenage Blame Contortionist

It’s ALL Mom’s Fault

My thirteen year old, Gannan, is a blame contortionist. Lately when something isn’t right, no matter his actions, no matter his mistakes, he very adeptly twists, turns and wrings it into something that I did wrong. Take last night for instance, he was hungry. (Not an unusual occurrence. Teenage boys’ stomachs are colossal chasms.)

Gannan: What can I eat mom?

Me: Well there’s goulash left over. There’s potato salad, pasta salad, chips, strawberries….

My voice trails off as Gannan’s entire being begins to protest my food list. He begins with a gigantic eye roll. This is followed by a body wave meant to indicate his disgust. It starts at his knees. They contort into crooked angles and knock together in a haphazard way. He then bends at the waist and pitches his arms out in front of him. It ends as he stands up straight and places his hands in his long shaggy hair, tugging a little.

Gannan: UUHH! There is NEVER anything in this house to eat. Why don’t you shop better? (Mom’s fault- number one for those keeping score.)

Me: Gannan I won’t be insulted. Please go and quietly get your food or go to your room. Your choice.

I listen intently as his feet pad down the hall. I hear the clanking of jars as the refrigerator door opens. Heavy sighs permeate the silence as he makes the all important what-to-eat-decision. All of a sudden fast feet pad back down the hall.

Gannan: There are Pizza Hut bread sticks in there!

Me: Yes. What’s the matter with that?

Gannan: NOTHING! I love those. Why didn’t you TELL me we had bread sticks??? (Mom’s fault-number two. Put it on your score card.)

This time he happily rushes down the hall. Jars in the refrigerator clang louder as the door is opened with great gusto. I hear the whisper of the miniature pizza box that holds the breadsticks as it slides off of the fridge’s shelf. A pause in the sound….and then….an exasperated “You’ve GOT to be kidding me!

Feet pound down the hall back towards me.

Gannan: Where’s the little cup of sauce?

Me: There wasn’t any left to take home.

Gannan: (Another body wave of disgust…see above, and then cue the whining.) Why does this always happen to me? Why didn’t you ask the waitress for more? (Mom’s fault-number three. Oh but there’s more!)

His feet pummel the hall floor. A plate is yanked from its comfortable spot in the cupboard and the microwave door slams. I get more comfortable in my chair, hoping that the sustenance scene has played itself out.

Losing my vigilance too soon, a hungry, ornery Gannan somehow shows up in the doorway; plate in hand, bottom lip drooping, eyes squished to slits, clearly out of his mind.

Gannan: Why did you tell me to put blue cheese on these? They’re RUINED! (Mom’s fault-number four!)

Me: (Stifling a snort.) What are you talking about Gannan? I never told you to…

Not wanting to hear what I have to say lest it proves his ranting wrong, Gannan cuts me off.

Gannan: This is just a waste of food. I’m not eating this. I’m going to my room where I’ll starve to death and THEN you’ll be sorry! (Mom’s fault-number five!)

Me: I might not be sorry Gan….

Gannan: Ha ha! Funny mom. This wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for you. It’s ALL YOUR FAULT!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Logan Fisher

Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed.

Communicating with Teen Boys in the Age of Technology

Snakes and Snails: Teenage Boys Tales by Hilltown Families Contributing Writer, Logan Fisher

When in Rome …

At 9:00 in the morning in the middle of teaching my fifth graders a spelling lesson, I had a revelation that would change the way I parented forever. As with many discoveries that are eye-opening and cataclysmic, this one started from a seemingly banal conversation about the frustrations of parenting. It was on this very morning that my colleague burst into my classroom and announced, “Great news! Timmy has decided that he isn’t going to go to Alfred University in the fall!” Although I definitely detected the droll of sarcasm hanging off each word, I wasn’t quite sure how she wanted me to respond. After all, it had been just an hour before, over our morning cup of coffee, that she had shared the story of her son’s wonderful weekend visit to the college and the excitement Timmy felt over being accepted. How quickly things had changed!

I asked, “How did you find this out?”

“The same way I always find things out,” she quipped, “with a text message.” And to punctuate this fact she flung out her right arm, snapped opened her hand and allowed me to read the brief statement from her son:

“Ma. I don’t think I want 2 go 2 L fred.”

I could truly sympathize with my colleague. We had much in common. Both mothers of 2 teen boys, we often lamented about how we had no idea how to communicate with them effectively. Sometimes I felt that the boys and I were two different species living in completely separate habitats. When it came to communicating with them, I was an elephant, slow, gray and wrinkly, trumpeting my trunk, laboring each day. My boys were penguins, sleek and slippery, able to navigate two worlds, not cold seas and polar ice, but in this case, home and school with a technological ease that far surpassed this elephant’s ability. How could an elephant ever begin to comprehend the world of a penguin? How also could an Antarctic penguin ever fathom communicating with an African elephant?

I empathized with her by saying, “At least your son told you. I am not so sure my teen would have told me at all!” This statement, however, did nothing to assuage her distress. Looking like all mothers do when they are disappointed and frustrated, she threw up her hands and stomped out of my room, but not before leaving me with just one tidbit…a tidbit that would change my parenting life as I knew it.

“Well, just get him a cell phone with texting!” She said. “Teenage boys are better at faceless communication. Timmy proved that today!”

And there it was, “faceless communication.” Maybe she had something there. Perhaps this was the answer to my communication problem with my sons. Were they more apt to talk to me if it was through an email or in a text? I decided to test my theory.

At the end of the school day, I picked up my cell and text this message to my 16 year old:

Me: How was school today?

Much to my delight and surprise this is what I got back:

Aidan: Gr8. I got 2 dance w/ Jane in gym. (The girl’s name has been changed to protect Aidan’s ego.)

After deciphering the mystery language, I grinned from ear to ear. This was HUGE. His answer not only wasn’t the word “fine,” which seemed to be the only word in his dictionary lately, but I ACTUALLY got two details (a gold mine!) into his life. With his answer I now knew:

  1. He was dancing in gym. (But more importantly)
  2. He liked a girl.

Those details felt so good, I was greedy for more. Treading lightly, not wanting to scare away the sleek penguin standing in front of me, I decided that there should be no sudden movements. So I texted back a question trying to sound as uninterested as I possibly could.

    Me: Oh. Is that good?

I immediately received this response.

    Aidan: Yeah. But I have to see her n Spanish cls 2moro. How should I act?

I have to admit, with this response I felt like I won the lottery. I mean, here I was meandering in the corridors of Aidan’s maze-like mind, AND the maze keeper himself was asking my opinion. I was giddy. The rest of the conversation went something like this:

    Me: If I remember correctly, high school girls don’t like it if boys try too hard. Just give her a casual “Hey.” (Alright, alright, I use proper grammar even when texting. I mean I AM a teacher.)
    Aidan: K. Thx. ttyl. (For those of you who aren’t fluent in text abbreviations that means “Okay. Thanks. Talk to you later.” Now you don’t have to look it up like I did!)

Since this enlightening conversation was longer than any other conversation that we’d had in months, I decided to become a student of the technology that my boys use on a daily basis. For each fad or gadget I studied I’d find a way to use it to connect with my oh-so-elusive boys. I now have my own Facebook page that allows me to “message” them or chat in an instant way. I use their email accounts to send them lists or information that they may need to keep for the long run–like the high school final exam schedule I just sent off to Aidan. I have even learned about some of their favorite video games so that we have things to chat about. (You’d be amazed how many life lessons I can wring out of “Call of Duty!”) By understanding the boys’ techno-world a little better, I am able to use it to my advantage when it comes to communicating with them. To think-an elephant communicating effectively with two penguins! Someone call the San Diego Zoo!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Logan Fisher

Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed.

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