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]

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