Time to Talk: 11 Apps to Support Children’s Language Skills

Summer School Vacation: Fostering Language Carryover with and without Apps

The activities we do when on vacation can be used to support vocabulary and language skills. When used together with your kids, apps can also be useful tools to stimulate communication and fostering language carryover.

Summer school vacation is finally here. Many parents have a lot of plans set up for their kids, but make sure to save some time for pure relaxation with each other. That’s where our memories of childhood are built.

Hopefully some educational activities will be shared by teachers, libraries and service providers for the summer. I can share apps but rather than let your children play on the iPad to keep them occupied, I suggest using apps together with your child during relaxing child/parent time, similar to book reading. I always suggest that parents play with an app before introducing it to their child. Apps are flexible tools. They can be purely entertainment or can teach a skill. It’s all up to how they are originally taught. Remember, even an electronic game can be a vehicle for narratives, explanations, and defining vocabulary if the parents ask for this. Read the rest of this entry »

Time to Talk: Helping Our Kids Explain

Helping Our Kids Explain

One of the classic cliches of the parent-child relationship is the question and answer, “What did you do today?” “Nothing.” Over the years, I have had so many parents ask if I could help them get some information from their children. I suggested that they think about the three types of questions (yes/no, wh-questions, and open-ended questions) and chose ones with easier answers. Open-ended answers are overly broad and require the most work. “What did you do today?” appears to be a wh-question (what, where, when, who, why, how), but it is actually an open-ended one. Asking what a child liked doing today and what they didn’t like doing today may create a structure that supports more conversation. So parents need choose their questions carefully.  Read the rest of this entry »

Time to Talk: Stress-Free Reading

Therapy Dogs and Reading

Often times our local libraries host a reading to dogs program where therapy dogs support literacy through companionship for young readers. Check Hilltown Families list of Weekly Suggested Events to find out about upcoming programs.

When I was in first grade, my family began to notice my lack of interest in reading. I spent most of my time building villages in my sandbox, drawing, and climbing trees, while they always carried a book everywhere they went. To me, reading was some magical thing they did that had nothing to do with me. Enter my grandmother, the elementary school teacher. She was enlisted to help me with reading. Now that I think of those torturous sessions, I realize that I was not the only one being tortured! My poor grandmother required incredible amounts of patience. Eventually, I learned to read, but never with the pleasure that my family experienced daily. I was slow and had to hear every word in my mind. I dreaded reading aloud in class. I would count the paragraphs other students before me would be reading and try to figure out and practice mine in advance. I never heard what anyone else read because of my state of terror. It was very easy for me to mix up words, making my peers laugh and horribly embarrassing myself. It was an ordeal. Read the rest of this entry »

Time to Talk: Understanding & Helping Children Who Stutter

Smooth Speech

When a child repeats a beginning sound of a word or a beginning syllable, or pauses for a long time before speaking, or says filler words like “um, um, um,” parents wonder if their child is a stutterer. As listeners, we feel the effort and anxiety the child is experiencing to get their words out. We feel helpless, uncomfortable, or mildly annoyed to have to slow down and wait to find out what the child is trying to express, especially when we are on tight time schedules. We finish sentences for them, ask more questions to find out what they want, or tell them to relax and slow down.  Read the rest of this entry »

Time to Talk: Mapping Out Childrens’ Behavior

Barriers to Learning: Part 2

Our behaviors are stitched together by a series of reactions…how we respond to things, how we process and then how we move on to another reaction. For children it is important to have some recognition of behavior and how reactions dovetail.

In my last article, I talked about how behaviors interfere with children’s learning and can impact their emotional, vocational, and economic futures. One important factor that positively impacts learning is the ability to think and reason. We can teach self-regulation of emotions. First, the child needs to understand that no one can think when they are emotional. I already explained using a 1-5 rating scale for “How big is my problem?” and “How big is my reaction?” The game “Should I or Shouldn’t I?” gives kids practice using a rating scale. Turning music on, then off for practice calming down was also mentioned in my previous article. Read the rest of this entry »

Time to Talk: The Importance of Applying Reason & Scaling Problems

Barriers to Learning: Part 1

LEGO exercises can be a path to reason. Certainly calming.

This week I’m thinking about my students and how they’ll function in the world. Will they have the social skills to keep a job? (Social skills are a stronger predictor of job success than the ability to do the job.) Will they have the skills to be available for learning while in school? Although I often feel overwhelmed and powerless about the state of the world, I am very thankful to have skills and materials that can address barriers to learning for my students. At least, in my little corner of the world, I can start them on the right path. One parent described my job as teaching her child how to think.

For many of my students, their behavior at school and home is their biggest barrier to learning and to having successful futures. Although this is partly the realm of a psychologist, or a trained ABA practitioner, as a speech-language pathologist (SLP), I am the expert for social communication. I am the teacher who helps them discover what is expected in a situation and what is unexpected and that there are consequences to the choices we make and the ways we communicate. Read the rest of this entry »

Time to Talk: Sounding out the New Year for Kids’ Development

New Year’s Resolutions: Articulation and Early Reading

Making New Year’s Resolutions? How about resolving to create a culture of reading in your family, supporting language development while connecting with your kids.

It’s hard to believe that yet another year is over and that a New Year is beginning. It’s time to make some resolutions for the future. My resolution is to spread clear and helpful information to parents. What are you resolved to do in the future?

Here’s some helpful information. As I’ve written in the past, young children mispronounce words in the cutest ways. At what point is it a problem that needs a speech-language pathologist? It usually becomes a problem for grandparents. They begin to admit that they need a parent’s interpretation to understand their grandkids. Then you may notice that their peers don’t understand. The child may start being aware that peers are reacting to their speech and begin to think that speaking is hard. If a child shows any frustration around communication, it’s time to seek help. Read the rest of this entry »

Time to Talk: How Listening Removes Pressure to Perform

The Power of Listening

Time pushes against our ability to listen, to absorb and to progress thoughtfully.

Sometimes I am trying to do therapy and the client balks. It is obvious they feel overwhelmed. I have to remember to put myself in their shoes, instead of pushing my agenda. There is so much pressure on people today. I know that I myself often just want to jump off the conveyor belt of life, and into a simpler time. I can actually remember times of little stress as a child growing up in the 1950s. I miss those unplanned moments of exploration and discovery. Just to be able to have time to read a book lately seems such a luxury!

When I work with kids, some can ignore the pressures on them while others can’t. I remember that my experience growing up was much freer, with more play time to develop. All one has to do is look at the current Core Curriculum for kindergarten to get a clue!

Doesn’t sound much like play time! Read the rest of this entry »

Time to Talk: Constructing The Two-Sided Conversation

Barriers to Communication: Conversation

A conversation is meant for two.

Every day I use my problem solving skills to figure out the barriers that people have when communicating. This week I looked more deeply at one of my students. Once again I remembered that understanding how someone thinks will help me to know the most effective way to teach. A parent once defined my job as teaching her child how to think. Here is a good example of how speech language pathologists figure out how to help students.

Having a conversation with my student is a difficult experience because she always tells you what is important to her, which is usually an emotionally charged detail she recalls. I wait to find out what we are talking about so I can participate in the conversation, but mostly I feel like am at the mercy of the twisting and turning details she drops like breadcrumbs in Hansel and Gretel. Read the rest of this entry »

Time to Talk: Practice & Monitoring is Key to Speech Development

Observing and Coaxing Your Child’s Speech Development is A Sensitive Art

If a child seems lost for words, let them work a little to find them.

So we all know that kids make cute speech errors when they are young. My son is almost 40 years old but I still think “hopicopter” when I see a helicopter. It seems like yesterday that he was saying that! One of the dilemmas for a new parent is when family members think something is wrong with a child’s speech. How do you know if they are correct?

First off, speech is developmental. We don’t learn how to use all the speech sounds at once; they come into our speech over years of practice speaking. The first big concern is making sure our children are speaking so they will achieve the motor maturity to practice the sounds they can say and attempt new sounds. So getting your toddler to talk is always good. Unfortunately, we as caretakers are enablers. And we are psychic! We fill in words or ask yes/no questions rather than make our kids work a little (After noticing the child reaching for the ball, we say, “did you want the ball?”). Acting dumb is often my first instruction for parents. Choice questions really work (“I don’t know what you want. Do you want the ball or the block?”). Read the rest of this entry »

Time to Talk: Putting Words on Feelings

Creating a Environment for Children to Understand & Articulate their Feelings

Our memories provide a way for us as parents and grandparents to start discussions about emotions and the vocabulary of emotions with our children, explaining that we often have many feelings when things are changing. These conflicting feelings are called “double dip feelings,” as written about in Double-Dip Feelings: Stories to Help Children Understand Emotions.

As an Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP,) I work with people of all ages on their communication skills. This includes how to express emotions appropriately. As we all transition our children and ourselves to new routines, I’m thinking about the emotions that these changes trigger. I remember as a child the excitement and dread of starting a new year at school. It was always great to see friends again- especially if I hadn’t seen them all summer. But the sense of losing freedom, being on someone else’s rigid schedule, having to learn the new teacher’s style of teaching, and all the demands of acting older were kind of terrifying. I remember checking out the text books as we covered them with brown paper bags. I could never imagine how I’d learn all the hard stuff between the covers. It sure would have helped to have had someone notice my trepidation and to reassure me. Hardly the culture of the 50s! Read the rest of this entry »

Time to Talk: Summer Language Stimulation

Midsummer Language Skills

The summer months are racing ahead. Many of our children are going to day camps or traveling with family. I know from my work schedule that families are shifting their plans daily, almost hourly in some cases. Spontaneity can be a double-edged sword for children. Too much can make them off balance but too much structure can stress them out. I see some children in my practice who lose ground with inconsistent speech therapy due to their looser schedules. But I also see others who gain skills over the summer, when the rigidity of schedules is relaxed.

I’m pondering today about this. So much seems to be determined by the personality of our children. For some, a loosening of structure takes away pressure, and they can learn and be creative at their own pace. Others depend on a schedule to be okay. As parents and teachers, we need to honor these learning/living styles in order to help kids be successful and happy. Of course, this applies to the style that works for their adults as well! What’s the style in your family? Does it work for all your children? Read the rest of this entry »

Time to Talk: Applying the Puppy Blueprint in a Toddler’s World

Puppy and Toddler: Nine Teaching Tips

The Puppy learns through play as it helps sharpen the senses and develop problem solving skills- just like toddlers.

I bought a 4 month old puppy last month. It’s been a lot of years since even my grandchildren have been “puppies” and I’m working to reacquaint myself with the motivations of my new dog, Cricket. Luckily, I’m also working with toddlers lately in my practice. I’m finding that I can use many of the same guidelines when teaching both.

Obviously, children have many more cognitive skills than dogs, but I’ve found that some general guidelines apply to both toddlers and puppies!

1. A puppy and a toddler learn through play. It’s their “job” to use all their senses to develop fine and gross motor skills, social skills, and problem solving skills. As disruptive as that can be for time schedules and efficiency, learning happens in play. Toddlers are experiencing most things for the first time. So allow time for these rich moments of exploration. (Last night, during potty time outside, Cricket discovered fireflies!) Also, all activities should be fun so they will want to do it again. Repetition is how they learn deeply. It’s up to the adults to keep activities safe and fun.

Read the rest of this entry »

Time to Talk: Consensus Building Equates Better Planning

Summer Planning with Children

Planning out the days of summer can be a challenge. But success in having these plans come to fruition comes by having buy-in from your stake-holders in the planning process.

It’s that time of year when summer plans must be considered and finalized. No getting around it. But should the responsibility of figuring out future plans rest on one person? From my experience, although easier, I’d advise against that.

This topic takes me back to a client of mine during graduate school. At the time, I went to the University of Arizona, where research was conducted on the viability of group therapy for people who had had strokes. Each person had different limitations that made it hard to communicate with the rest of the group. One man — I’ll call him John — only had a few words to express himself after his stroke. Since I also was responsible for his individual therapy, I decided to make a small book with topic pages and pictures he could point to, so others would know what he was thinking about during group therapy. I worked hard to make sure he knew where the pictures were located and knew how to use the book and we practiced in every session. I made one for our practice and his group sessions, and another identical one for home. At the end of the semester, John’s wife asked me over for supper. As we were eating, I noticed that John was completely unable to contribute to the conversation and I suggested that he get his book. Neither of them had a clue where it was. I realized that I had taken full responsibility for the vocabulary I decided would be helpful, and never asked for what they wanted or needed. So they were not at all invested in using it with each other all those months. It never became part of their lives. It was only my therapy tool, virtually useless without my guidance. Ouch!

Read the rest of this entry »

Language Play: Learning Isn’t Accomplished in a Straight Ascending Line

Carry Over Time

So it is finally spring in western Massachusetts. And for kids in school this is a time of field trips, assemblies, and visits to the next grade. The pleasures and fears of the future intensify during this time. Then school is over and they are free to enjoy a break, sleep in, and be outside in the sunshine.

This building of intense feelings may affect our children. It often makes it harder to reach them! The best thing we can do to ease the change is to keep things calm and light and help our children stay in the moment. When people are emotional, they can’t think or access their knowledge. I have often told my high schoolers that the best thing they can do before a test is to relax so their brains will work better. This is true because our emotions can block access to our memories. For younger children, it is up to us to control things since they haven’t yet developed the inner control to do this for themselves. Read the rest of this entry »

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…

Read the rest of this entry »

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.


Read the rest of this entry »

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…

Read the rest of this entry »

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…

Read the rest of this entry »

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…

Read the rest of this entry »

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…

Read the rest of this entry »

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…

Read the rest of this entry »

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!


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!


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!


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


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!


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]

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: