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Let's Play: the speech and language way

Speech and language therapy ideas for playing at home

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letsplaythespeechandlanguageway

Toys That Do Nothing

Have you ever been shopping for toys and picked up various boxes wondering “What does this toy do?”  Well, if you want a toy that will truly encourage interaction and communication then I hope the answer is nothing.

If the toy does nothing then the child gets to do everything.  He can make whatever noises he wants, organize it according to whatever concept makes sense to him, put the parts in various places, stack it up or knock it down.  He could even just push it around in his toy shopping cart.  The toy does nothing without the child.  No batteries, no second languages, no flashing lights, no automated directions to follow, no lengthy songs that play without rhyme or reason.  Instead of asking “what does this toy do?” ask yourself “what can my child do with this toy?”

The “do nothing” toy will allow the child to Create, be Active, and/or Pretend (CAP).  If you’ve already read Best toys and gifts: a speech therapist’s list then you are familiar with CAP!  IMG_20171105_201853

(Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This means I may earn a small percentage of qualifying sales.)

Here is a small sample of what I mean by a “do nothing” toy:

Stacking Blocks Set Learning Toy

The best part of stacking is often knocking it all down!  If your little one is not yet able to stack, then let them be involved by counting down the “kaboom” or “crash” or completing the ready, set… “GO”!  Stack it up again by saying “up”, “on top” and naming the colors.  This particular toy also serves as a shape sorter which is perfect for practicing words like “yes”, “no”, “in”, “push” in addition to naming the shapes.   However, my favorite part of this toy is what I call the Mystery Box that serves as the base of the tower.  The yellow cube has an opening with a flap – that’s the “mystery” part and you can use it for anything that fits inside!  Use it as intended – to pull out the shapes that come with the toy – but then use it apart from the tower as a box to hold your favorite  puzzle pieces!  This adds an element of surprise to basic puzzle play.  Practice guessing “what’s next?”  Then excitedly name the piece that you find!  Practice taking turns “my turn” and “your turn”.  For more “mystery box” ideas click here.

Farm Magnets

Get your animal sounds ready!  Animal sounds and other meaningful sounds such as “uh-oh”, “brrrr”, “aha” and “hmmm” are super important to speech development.  With farm magnets, you get to practice “neigh,” “moo,” “oink” and tractor sounds “chug chug chug.”  If your refrigerator holds magnets then these toys can give your little one a kitchen task while you are busy with meal prep or cleaning.  Get out that “mystery box” from the stacking toy and put the magnets inside.  She can take each piece out and stick it to the fridge.   Then take each one off the fridge, put them back in the box and say “bye bye” to each animal. However, some refrigerators are not made for magnets.  In that case, cookie sheets are perfect!  Use a small cookie sheet in the car with your toddler or preschooler for magnet play on the go.

Go beyond animal sounds and use the magnets to set up scenes or trace each animal then use the outlines on a piece of paper as a puzzle.  Pretend to feed each animal with play food or put each animal to sleep “sssshhhh, night night” by turning them over.  Hide the animals around a darkened room and then use a flashlight to find them “cow, where are you?”  Drop the magnets into a dry sensory bin of uncooked pasta, rice, leaves, feathers, etc.  Then announce each one by name or sound as you dig them out and stick them to that cookie sheet.  To practice concepts like above, below, top, middle, and bottom, draw lines on a piece of paper and tape the paper to a magnetic surface.  Then organize the magnets by saying “put the cow above the tractor” or “the horse goes on the top line”.

Service Station Parking Garage

Your little car lover will get good use out of this garage!  The cars go “up” and “down” in the elevator, park “stop” in the numbered spots, slide “whee” or “go” fast down the ramp, fill up with gas “guhguhguh” and get clean in the car wash “scrub scrub” and “ssshhhh” for water spraying sounds.  Finally, the cars can go into the garage when broken “uh-oh” to get fixed or to sleep for the night “ssshh, night night car”.  Little ones may need some help moving the elevator or using the car wash so that’s a wonderful opportunity for you to teach them how to the use the word “help”.

Here are some more of my favorite do nothing toys:

Remember that when playing with your little one, you should use sounds and words which are at, or just above, your child’s expressive ability if you want them to try to imitate what you are saying.  If your child hasn’t yet said a true word then you can use single words or meaningful sounds rather than long sentences.  If your child is using some words then you can use two-three word phrases in play.  Reduce the questions you ask and just give them the words they might want to say.  Follow your child’s lead in play and who knows where their imagination will lead you!


Be sure to “like” and follow my Facebook page for all the latest play ideas.


Related: Why does speech therapy for little ones look like it’s just play?  Click on Where’s the speech in speech therapy?

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Practice speech when you speak

Your child needs to practice a few specific sounds at home in between speech therapy sessions.  How do you do that?  First, you ask your speech therapist for ideas based on your child’s specific goals and skills.  Then, you consider what your real life is like at home with other children who need your attention, work responsibilities, etc. etc.  You may not realistically be able to set up a mini speech therapy session on a daily basis giving undivided attention to your child for at least 30 minutes.  If you can, great!  No need to read much further.

Carving out “practice time” or “speech time” may also impact your child’s ability to carryover these speech skills into real life use.  So, if sitting at a table to practice “s” with flashcards at home feels awkward and forced for you, it will also feel awkward and forced for your child.  Finding real life words and activities to practice sounds will help those skills generalize much quicker!

Let’s assume your child CAN make the target sound at least occasionally and so home practice will be mostly reminding your child to use the sound:

  1.  Write a list of your child’s favorite foods, games, people, pets, activities, TV show characters with that sound in the word.
  2.  Write a list of possible target words your child uses frequently that you can NOT easily make into flash cards (come here, give me, something, look!)
  3. Choose a word of the day – or week – and write it on a paper attached to the fridge (or some other place where everyone looks every day).
  4. Make those moments count!  Each time your child says asks for “something” make sure they are using the best “S” sound.  If they need to try again in order to get “sssomething” then they may be more motivated to try!

Using puzzles, legos and other building activities for speech practice_

Here are some other ideas for simple (mostly one syllable), common words to practice every day…

Target sound “g”

  • puzzle play or legos or sorting: “where does it GO?”  “It GOES here”.  “It doesn’t GO here”
  • asking for anything, commands: “GIVE me… (please).”  “GET it.” “GO GET it”.
  • asking for more: “aGAIN”

Target sound “f”

  • puzzle play, hide ‘n’ seek, hidden pictures, matching: “Let’s FIND…”.  “I FOUND it!”
  • counting anything up to 5: “one, two, three, FOUR, FIVE”
  • giving things to others: “it’s FOR you, this is FOR me”

Target sound “l”

  • starting any activity: “LET’S (play!)” “LET’S (go)”
  • when your child wants to you notice something “mom, LOOK!”
  • hidden pictures, hide ‘n’ seek, finding missing socks, etc… “LET’S LOOK in here”
  • when you only give your child a small amount of something but they want “a LOT”
  • talking about what foods, activities, TV shows you “LIKE” and “don’t LIKE”

Target sound “s”

  • hidden pictures, matching, looking for items in the pantry or at the grocery store “I SEE it”.
  • answering basic questions “YESSSSSSSSSS”.
  • counting anything up to 7: “one, two, three, four, five, SIX, SEVEN”
  • “I’m SO hungry/thirsty/bored.” “I need SOMETHING”.
  • Any time you start a sentence with “It’s…” or “That’s…”

(The “s” sound is so common it easily and naturally comes up multiple times per day in conversation so look for it in play with a “SUperhero” or “prinCESS”, when getting “dreSSed” with “SockS”, going “outSIDE”, riding a “buS to School”, etc. etc.)


This is in no way an exhaustive list of practice ideas.  It’s just to get you thinking about words and contexts in which your child might already actually say these target sounds multiple times per day WITHOUT needing to find flashcards or games or pictures books that have these sounds in them.  Practicing speech when you’re already speaking will help meet goals faster and be more meaningful to your child.

Other related posts you may be interested in:

POWER words

Magical Moments

Toddler Speech: unraveling the mystery

 

 

Some books are better left unread

Some books are funny, some books teach important social skills, some books are perfect for helping with early literacy skills, some books are more like songs when you read them… there are many reasons to read a book to a child.  However, there are some books that don’t need to be read at all!

Hidden picture books or “Look and Find” or “I spy” books are some of my favorite non-reading books for little ones.  Yes, there are often a few sentences written on the top of the page but who cares!?  Picture books are great for learning language and INTERACTING – so, if you have a little one who doesn’t sit long for books then skip the passive listening expectation and go straight to the fun!

(Disclosure: This article contains Amazon affiliate links which means I may receive a small portion of earnings from qualifying sales.)

Sure, you can ask your little ones to find all of the pictures listed, but that only requires them to point.  How do we get them to talk?

Here are some ideas for using hidden picture books to encourage talking:

  • Pretend to not be able to find the picture.  Yes, the large red apple may be front and center on the page but if you pretend you can’t see it, then your child has the opportunity to help you!  “Apple?  apple? hmmmm…I can’t find it.”  You may want to ask “Is this it?” as you point to a banana.  Your child may want to tell you “no” or say “banana” or just look at you like your crazy, but either way, at least you have his attention.
  • Wave to all of the people in the pictures.  Of course, you are supposed to go through the given list of pictures to find, but maybe it’s fun to just wave to Elmo!  Find Elmo on every page (even if he isn’t listed as a picture to find) and just enthusiastically wave “Hiiiii”.  Maybe even blow him a kiss if you haven’t seen him in a long time.  Blowing kisses is great for imitation and silly mouth play “mmmwah”.
  • Use playdough.  What?  In a book?  Yes.  Many times these “Look and Find” books for toddlers and preschoolers have wipeable pages.  Use playdough to cover the entire picture list and then just peel a section away to reveal the next picture to find.  OR, allow the child to cover the hidden picture with playdough once it’s found.
  • Describe the picture instead of naming it.  “Ok, next let’s find something that you eat and it’s red.”  You can even think aloud… “No, not a banana because that’s yellow.  No, not a car because I don’t eat that….” Give your little one time to figure out you’re talking about the apple!  If they just point to it, you can start the sentence but let her finish “yes, we can find the …. (apple)… next!”
  • Help your little one find the hidden picture with location clues.  It’s under the rock, it’s on top of the boat, it’s next to the tree, it’s at the top of the page… Once it’s been found you can announce “Hooray!” or “Tada!” or “Woot woot!” or whatever other excited sound you prefer.  Exclaim it 2 or 3 times then give your child an open-eyed expectant look and see if they shout “Yippee” also!
  • Make it active.  Take a photo of the list of pictures to find.  Print it out and cut it into cards.  Place the cards on the opposite side of the room or in a Mystery Box and then he has to go to one location to find the picture of what he is supposed to search for and then run to the other side of the room to find that picture in the scene.  Repeat.
  • Ask “wh” questions.  Just because there is a picture list, you don’t have to be limited to finding hidden pictures.  I like to ask about the larger scene: “where is this?”  Help your child see the whole picture and figure out if it’s in a kitchen or at a playground or at a school, etc.  Offering choices might be helpful.  “Maybe it’s a park or a bedroom”… hmmm.  I also ask “Who wants to turn the page?”  They can decide if the answer will be “me” or “you”.
  • Sound play.   If you have a little one, use the sound that a car or animal or person might make instead of asking questions or using long sentences.  Want to find the dog?  Just point to it and bark!  Then think loudly while looking “hmmmmm”.  When you find it, just bark again!  Your little one might do the same.  If you have a preschooler, think about the first letter sound of the pictures you want to find.  “Let’s find something that starts with the sound “d”.

One of the most important things to remember when interacting with books is to follow your child’s interests.  This may mean sitting across from her so that you can watch her eyes and only comment on the pictures that SHE is interested in.  When you make a noise for the dog that she is looking at, there is a better chance she will associate the barking with the dog.  She may even think it’s funny and try it herself.  Even if you are making the most amazing train noises, but she is looking at the person in the car, your efforts may not fully be appreciated or replicated.

The good news is that these books come in various levels of difficulty so your toddler through school-age kids (and even adults) can join in the search.  You can also find books with just about any princess, superhero, or TV show theme!

Here are some of my favorite books for finding things:

Another type of book to NOT read would be books without words (or just a few words).  You get to create your own story for your child’s interest and level of understanding, use your own meaningful sounds, or let your child make up their own ideas and tell YOU…

For a book that will help you learn how to make books fun and silly and NOT read to your little one…but really help your little one with noise making and talking… I highly recommend this book:


Be sure to follow me on Facebook for all of my play and language learning ideas.  Thanks for sharing!

Other posts you may be interested in:

Where’s the speech in speech therapy?

Playing with…BOOKS!

Top 5 NON-toy Toys

 

Where’s the speech in speech therapy?

“It looks like they are just playing.  Is that all they do?”

If you’ve ever watched a speech therapy session with a one- or two- year old, you may have asked yourself this question.  What looks like “just play” actually has a whole bunch of strategy and purpose that goes with it.

How do little ones typically learn to walk?  They explore.  They play.

How do little ones typically learn to talk?  They listen.  They watch.  They play.

Just as we don’t usually pick up a child’s foot and move it into position to teach walking, we also don’t take a child’s mouth and move it into position while simultaneously vibrating her vocal cords to create sound.  That just isn’t possible.

Children learn best through PLAY.  They are interested in play.  Play is motivating.  Play is fun.  They want to play… again and again and again.  Sometimes speech therapy starts with play and sometimes speech therapy starts before play.

I often wish that it was called “communication therapy” and that I was considered a “communication coach” but speech (and language) therapy is the name.  So, we have to explain.

In order to really play with others, the child first must be interested in others.  They have to learn the skills of making eye contact, imitating movements and sounds, taking turns, anticipating actions, smiling when things are funny, checking in with caregivers when things are scary, using gestures like pointing, and understanding that words and sounds have meaning.  When I say “uh-oh”, a child needs to know that something bad or messy just happened.  When I say “get your shoes on”, a child needs to anticipate that we may be leaving the house.  All of these things need to happen BEFORE speech and, sometimes, that’s where speech therapy has to start.  To figure out why a child isn’t yet using words we sometimes need to explore their PLAY skills.

“But my child plays just fine.  When do you teach him to talk?”

Great question!  If all of your child’s “pre-verbal”/play skills are developing on track then a speech therapist uses play to continue to engage your child on their level with a whole bunch of strategies to try and help little ones learn to use their voice.  Strategies might include offering choices, simplifying words, increasing meaningful sounds, reducing commands and questions, increasing visual attention to the speaker’s mouth, playing forgetful games, placing items just slightly out of reach, etc. etc. etc  (that’s a topic for entire textbook or two  – too much for one blog post!)  The point is, yes, we play.  However, we aren’t there to entertain a child.  We expect play to be a two-way street with communication as the ultimate goal.

So, the next time you watch a speech therapy session, look for the strategy behind the fun.  That’s the magic.

Need some ideas of WHAT to play with and HOW to play using speech and language strategies?  Check out:

Top 5 NON-toy Toys

Best toys and gifts: a speech therapist’s list!

POWER words

Toddler Speech: unraveling the mystery

 

POWER words

BAM!  POW!  ZOOM!  If you were a superhero, those might be your “power words”.  When you’re a toddler, your “power words” are the ones that are:

FAVORITES and FREQUENT

When thinking about words that might be highly motivating for your little one to learn, stick with what their interests are and what they may need to say frequently or what they see frequently.  For many families, teaching their child academic words like letters and colors and shapes and numbers is a high priority.  If your child is interested in these concepts and you teach them to use them functionally “the red car, the ball is a circle, you have two crackers”, etc… then that’s great!  However, when you’re thinking about helping a little one learn to communicate who has no words or very few words, think POWER WORDS.  When you use the right power word at the right moment, you may hear your child attempt to imitate you – and then you know you chose the right word!  It’s a Magical Moment.

  • Start by making a list of your child’s favorite/frequent foods, toys, people, activities.
  • Add some functional/frequent words like “more, no, yes, hi, bye, all done, mine, go, stop, uh-oh (yep, that’s a word)”
  • Make a purposeful effort to use these words throughout the day

Seems simple, right?

When your child is playing with cars, say “car” many ways and many times – not in long, complicated sentences but just the single word.  Make car noises, wave hi/bye to the cars, and when the car successfully makes the jump you celebrate with “YESSSSS!”

When your child is eating, say “eat” many ways and many times.  Personally, I sing songs about eating, but that’s just me.  Give them only a small portion of what you think they will want and give them the opportunity to request “more” or respond “yes” when you ask if they want more.  Purposefully give them the wrong food or utensil and YOU say “oops, NO” (in a playful, mommy made a mistake kind of way).  Teach them words, feed them words.

When you are looking at a book, pick a power word and stick with it.  If you want to practice the word “hi” then just say “hi” to every person or animal on every page.  No need to read all the text.  If “ball” is a power word and it’s in the book somewhere then search each page for it asking “baaaalll?”  When you find it, say “BALL”.  That’s it.  No need for long sentences.  Focus on the power word.

In each example above, I wrote what YOU the adult should say.  Speech therapists like to call that “modeling” words.  YOU are saying words, your child is listening.  They are listening to words that are favorites and frequent.  There’s a much better chance they will try to imitate these words.

The same concept applies when working with preschoolers who might be working on saying specific sounds.

Recently I was looking for some words that have the “sh” sound and most of the pre-made materials included words like “sheriff, ocean, chef” – not exactly things this preschooler is going to talk about on a regular basis.  So, we had to make our own pictures for POWER words like “show” (to request a TV show), “shoe” (because he puts them on and takes them off at least 2-3 times per day), “sure” (because that’s how he likes to agree), and “push” (because he frequently needed his mother’s help to push something closed or to connect train tracks/race track pieces).  These words were motivating, interesting, useful, and highly repetitive throughout the day.  No need to carve out artificial “speech” time.  Just work on the words as you go through your daily activities.  The power words will give you plenty of opportunity to practice without needing to have 30 minutes of “speech” time.

What are your child’s power words?


Other posts you may like:

Toddler Speech: unraveling the mystery

Playing with…BOOKS!

Where are the WORDS?

Top 10 ways to practice speech and language skills OUTDOORS

Communication happens everywhere!  If you follow my blog you’ll know that while I love using toys to help little ones learn to talk, I’m equally a fan of using NO toys and taking the strategies (modeling, sound play, offering choices, etc.) you use in play to whatever location or activity is interesting to your child.

Here are 10 ideas for playing OUTDOORS…

  1. Tap two sticks together: “tap, tap, tap”, take turns to practice imitation, play “guess that tune”
  2. Stack rocks into a tower or pile: “big, small, flat, bumpy, round”, “up, up, up” and “uh-oh!”
  3. Throw rocks into a creek: change your voice to reflect BIG splashes “BOOM” and little splashes “plop”
  4. Doodle in the dirt or gravel: grab a stick and make a long line then pick a sound “whee, sssss (snake), weeooooweeeooo (firetruck)”; practice shapes, letters, or “X” marks the spot for treasure hunting
  5. Treasure hunting: fill a bag or container with various nuts, rocks, sticks, petals, leaves, etc. Name what you find and try to find “more”.
  6. Line up rocks/sticks:  make a “roadblock” or a “parade” of rocks – or just call it a line.  Name each rock with a different word or syllable and say it as you touch the rock “ba, ma, da, ga” or “ba, be, bi, bo, bu”.  Then throw them one by one into the creek using their syllable names: “bye bye da, bye bye ga”.
  7. Build a fairy house (or any tiny, imaginary figure house):  collect the sticks then prop them up and count how many you need.  Name your “fairy” and pretend to say “hi, bye, night night” to her/him.
  8. Throw sticks into the creek:  watch them float away and narrate their journey –  “ooo” on the smooth and peaceful stretches and “bump” or “bang” when it runs into a rock.
  9. Stepping stones: whether there are tree stumps or rocks in the water or logs across the pathway, sing a familiar song and step to the beat.  Take the tune of Row, Row, Row your boat and sing “step, step, step on it; careful as you go; step, step, step on it; don’t step on your toe” – or some other award-winning-made-up-on-the-spot kind of song!
  10. Freeze game: If your little one prefers to run instead of take a stroll through the woods, and the word “stop” is not working so well – try “freeze” instead.  When you yell “freeze” he needs to strike a pose or turn into ice or become his favorite superhero or whatever seems fun/meaningful.  The freeze game has been a huge help recently with my own two runners – one freezes into superhero poses and the other freezes into princess poses.  Then I have to guess who they are… endlessly going through my list of possible answers.

 

Here are some other outdoor play-related posts: Playing…outside!, Talking… at the Playground!, After the rain…PUDDLES!

Looking for strategies to use?  Read Where are the WORDS?, Two little words to encourage communication, Magical Moments

You  may also be interested in: Top 5 NON-toy Toys, Playing with…NO toys

 

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So much to talk about when things are THIS interesting!

 

 

Top 5 NON-toy Toys

Children love toys.  Don’t they?  We give them so many colorful, musical, pretty toys… then our toddlers completely ignore those and play with diaper wipes, dog toys and empty shoe boxes.

Sometimes the best toys are not toys at all.  They did not come from a toy store, did not come wrapped in pretty packaging, and did not promise any kind of “educational” benefit to your toddler.  These “non-toys” are sometimes what your child will play with for a much longer period of time, use in more creative ways, and cost you much less money!  These are the toys that allow your child to explore and be curious.  (Read: Toys that do nothing)

Engaging your child using their interests is the best way to teach early communication skills.  The “toy” in the play can be anything – including YOU!  Your child may be interested in blocks, cars, dolls, the ceiling fan, food, sticks, or empty boxes.  Those interests are the objects or activities that we can use to teach things like problem solving, turn taking, imitation, sharing enjoyment with others, watching how others react, requesting objects and actions, learning to communicate…. THOSE ARE THE GOALS of play.

The toy is not the goal.  It’s just the tool we use to teach.

Since the toy can be anything, here is my TOP 5 LIST OF NON-TOY TOYS (in no particular order):

(Disclosure: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)

*Plastic cups:  20180412_170439Stack it, decorate it, use it for target practice with bean bags, or wear it as a hat… the plastic cup could be your favorite non-toy toy.

  • Use it as a pull toy – Punch a hole in the bottom, pull a string through that hold and tie it up in a big knot so it doesn’t come back out.  For extra noise making fun, fasten a small bell to the knot inside the cup and you have instant pull toy your little one can create noise with all over your house!  Ready, set, GO!
  • Hearing your own voice as an echo is pretty fun and can be motivating for little ones to practice lots of sounds when they hear their own voice – amplified!  Sure, you can buy a microphone, but a plastic cup gives you the same effect and you just had to grab one out of your pantry that was leftover from a birthday party or cookout or your every day casual dining – ha!

*Empty boxes and containers of all sorts:  lp-containersFavorite toys for one and two year olds?  Anything you can push, pull, fill and dump.   Empty boxes and containers fulfill ALL of these requirements.  Think food storage containers, diaper boxes, wipes boxes, tissue boxes, parmesan cheese containers, zippered bags, water bottles and plastic bins of any sort.  If you shop on Amazon you get a box delivered straight to your house every time – BONUS!  What to put in the boxes? Your little one will figure that out!  Try puzzle pieces, toy cars, play food, shoes, socks…the possibilities are endless.  For more ideas go to Playing with…containersPurposeful Packaging, and Mystery Boxes and Sensory Bins.lp-boxes

*Paper towel, toilet paper, and gift wrap tubes:  20180415_135643What might just be items for the recycling bin can FIRST be: binoculars, a megaphone, logs for a campfire, ramps and tunnels for small balls and cars, AND tapping sticks for a marching band.  Attach a few paper towel rolls together for golf clubs, baseball bats, and sticks to knock over the plastic cup towers.  Use them as oars in your empty box boats or attach them to the back of the “boat” and make a sail or flagpole.

*Colorful foam mat: Ok, so this one may not be an everyday kind of item, but it is just SO much more than a mat!  Of course the colored squares are perfect for learning colors but take the mat apart for:

  • Stepping Stones for “hot lava” games
  • Helping little ones follow the path of an obstacle course
  • Sitting spots for a pretend picnic
  • Matching same colored objects
  • Jumping targets
  • Bean bag toss targets
  • Smacking the squares together like cymbals in a marching band
  • Line up matching colors so you can walk down the “red path” and the “blue path” to see what treasure awaits

If you get the colored square mat pictured above and resist the temptation to get the alphabet mats and the mats with edge pieces then you can construct small houses, stack them up and knock them down, build “chairs” for stuffed animals, and have longer trails to walk on!

*Flashlights: 20180412_170505 Turn the lights off, or just dim them, and get out a flashlight!  Make shadow puppets if you are so talented or just shine the light around the room and let your child see their toys and familiar surroundings in a whole new way!  Name what you find and wonder aloud what you might find next.  Tape pictures or flash cards on the wall and play seek-n-find games.  Put the light on the floor and have your toddler try to “stomp” on it or give it a “high five” before the light moves away.


HONORABLE MENTIONS: There are so many non-toys that could have made this list, but here are a few more that are not only interesting to many toddlers, but also allow plenty of opportunities for practicing communication skills:

  1. Bucket with a handle – for collecting stuff (any stuff) while you’re at a park or playground and hauling around treasures at a beach or just to the next room.
  2. Couch cushions and pillows – for soft landing zones when your toddler needs to run and jump or for obstacle courses or for fort building.
  3. Blankets, towels – endless hours of Peekaboo or pretend play with stuffed animals.
  4. Junk mail – cut out pictures of interest, cover with contact paper if it is especially interesting, then use as decoration or practice delivering mail or use as flash cards.20180412_170239
  5. Laundry baskets – This may seem like a repeat of the empty boxes and containers, but a laundry basket (or plastic bin) may also serve as a sled!  Wheeee!

DSC03081


Whatever object or “toy” is the interest, keep your child engaged and learning by:

  1. Imitate what THEY do with it
  2. After you imitate their idea, try something a little different to see if they will imitate your idea
  3. Add a sound (or word or short phrase) to what you are doing (read: Where are the WORDS?)
  4. Offer help, but then wait – don’t actually help unless they truly want it (read: Help!)
  5. Take turns with it
  6. Pretend that your object doesn’t quite work like theirs and act confused
  7. Hide it or pretend you can’t find it – then call out to it while searching
  8. Pretend that a stuffed animal or puppet is doing the same thing with the object

Complete the following sentence in the picture below and you’ll find what your child truly wants to play with (and talk about!)

nontoys

Remember when it comes to early communication – YOU are the best toy above all!

Thank you for reading and sharing!


Final note:  While non-toys may be awesome for your own children, others might not think it’s neat to receive paper towel tubes as a gift!  If you need to give a gift to a young child, here are some ideas…Best toys and gifts: a speech therapist’s list!

Traveling with kids: the speech and language way

Road trips and plane rides… with little ones.  It’s a whole new world of travel.  Remember being a child and not having electronics when going on vacation?  What did we do…?

We played car games:  The Alphabet Game, The License Plate Game, I Spy, Auto Bingo, Rhyme Time…and a word spelling game called “ghost” – that I’m not sure if my Grandma made up.

What else?  We sang songs, we created stories out of what the clouds looked like, we ate snacks, we read books, we pretended our siblings were robots and positioned their arms and legs in awkward poses, we got on each other’s nerves, we asked “are we there yet?”… but we TALKED to each other.

Now, I’m no expert on parenting or traveling with little ones but I do know that a travel bag for little ones doesn’t need to require batteries or recharging – especially if the trip isn’t too long.  So, what do you put in a travel bag to help pass the travel time?  This, of course, depends on the ages of your children but here are some non-electronic travel bag ideas: 20180401_131550.jpg

(Disclosure: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)

When my kids were younger, the travel bag was mostly books, snacks, magnetic doodle boards, a few toy cars and stuffed animals.  One of my favorite stuffed animals was the turtle with a bunch of buckles on it!  This was great on the airplane (not as much in a car) as it did require frequent help to unlatch the buckles.  More opportunities to ask for help = more opportunities to practice communication.

Dropping the toys with no way to retrieve them while driving was definitely an issue so we did LOTS and LOTS of music – music, not videos.  Keeping the playlist familiar but with a few new songs helped tremendously.

Now that my kids can do activities with less adult help, stickers are a huge favorite!  We go through SHEETS and SHEETS of stickers on trips.  Alphabet stickers are great!  I write a list of their favorite words and they cover up the letters with the matching letter sticker.  They will use the letter sticker to write out their names, things they see outside, the first letter of whatever word I call out… or just put the whole alphabet on the piece of paper.  Reusable stickers scenes are great too.

Folders with activities such as mazes, connect the dots, and scavenger hunt type activities (I just printed out a grid of cars and trucks then colored them red, blue, black, gray, green, etc to make car bingo a little easier and not require such a long attention span when you JUST can’t find that railroad crossing sign that is in so many pre-made auto bingo cards – ha!)  One side of my folder has activities for my older son and the other side has mostly blank paper for my younger daughter.

It’s not all about coloring and books.  Remember to sing lots of songs!  Play those interactive car games from your childhood, and of course, snack away as needed.  Those are all great opportunities to practice sounds and words!  Think about how many opportunities there are to point out passing cars or airplanes overhead, request help, request more, request pit stops, request a break, request food and activities and objects… Remember to offer choices to help with speech and also reduce frustration.  When you arrive at your destination “Hooray!”

Here is a visual list of ideas (although your local Dollar Store is also a great option):
    

 

Traveling with little ones isn’t easy, I get it, but it can also be an opportunity to teach them how to travel and not just how to survive it.  Lots of concepts to think about with traveling – independent play, imagination, maps/directions, the concept of “one minute”, and patience.  Yes, lots of patience!

What’s in your travel bag?

Thank you for reading and sharing!  I’d love to hear what works for you.


Other articles you may be interested in:

Toddler Speech: unraveling the mystery

Playing with…BOOKS!

Where are the WORDS?

 

 

 

Empower older siblings to teach

Your toddler doesn’t use many words.  If he has an older, very talkative sibling in the house you may have been told that this could be the problem…she is doing all of the talking for him.  So, you try to tell her to please let her brother have a turn to say a word.  She can’t seem to do that.  She wants to help.  She wants him to talk.  She wants to give him what she knows he needs and wants.  She’s his lifeline to the world of communication!

I love that.  Let’s use that.  She just needs some tools, some strategies…a game plan.

I often ask older siblings for their ideas about how to help their little brother say stuff or even just make sounds.  Their little brothers love to watch them, imitate them, be like them.  That’s hugely motivating!

In my experience, I’ve seen older siblings help little ones learn to use sign language, make meaningful sounds, say names of TV show characters that I never would’ve even known to try, produce new sounds accurately, and can sometimes even get their younger sibling to say a new word just by saying “say ______“.  This never works for anyone else.  Ever.

Older siblings who are learning about letter sounds or are beginning to read are even great helpers when it comes to identifying the sounds that the little one might be leaving out or saying incorrectly.  Encouraging the older sibling to identify and emphasize those sounds can help BOTH siblings learn.  Example:  Did you hear how your little brother said “doh” instead of “go”?  What sound do you think he needs to change?  Right.  The “g”.  That’s the sound that G makes.  

Rather than telling an older sibling to stop talking and give the little one a chance, empower that older sibling to help.  ASK THEM what they think might work to help their little brother make more noise or say more words.  They might tell you that their little brother always makes farting noises whenever they do!  Well, it’s a start.

Recently I had the opportunity to work with an older brother, let’s call him Jack.  He was his little brother’s favorite playmate.  Let’s call the little brother Max.  During the session I spent a lot of time with Jack talking about how he could simplify words into sounds so that Max might be able to say things just like him.  Jack was able to figure out that instead of saying train he could say “choo choo” and instead of saying dinosaur he could  “ROAR!”  Then we spent time chasing Max around with his shopping cart and saying “ready, set….” Jack easily figured out that he should let Max finish the phrase with “GO!”  Jack was so on board with everything that we were doing he even took the lead for the next 5-10 minutes.  Mom and I were an afterthought at best.  Speech “therapy” was happening without the therapist.  Yes!

Near the end of my time at their house, I asked Jack what he thought worked well and what he would like to keep doing with Max in order to help him talk more.  I was expecting him to say “use sounds” or “let Max finish phrases we say all the time”.  Instead, here was his response:

“Magic tricks”

Yep.  That’s what he said.  I was slightly confused and a little disappointed that my strategies weren’t immediately embraced.

I responded, “You want to practice magic tricks to help Max talk more?”

Jack:  “Yep, it’s just like magic.

Me:  “What do you mean?”

Jack:  “Well, when we were running around with the shopping cart we were like saying the things he should find.  Then I kind of took things away, hid them again, and he had to say something if he wanted it back.  Like magic.”

I started to get it.

Me:  “I think I understand.  You want to make things disappear and Max can make them reappear when he uses a sound or a word?”

Jack:  “Yep.  Like magic.”

Makes perfect sense.  Why didn’t I describe it this way to begin with?  Jack loved magic.  He made sense of what I was trying to help him learn by associating it with his favorite hobby!  When they were searching for objects to put in the shopping cart Jack would call out (in a sing song voice) “ba-aall” and “do-ggy”.  Max would imitate, not with an exact word, but definitely using that same sing song voice.  He was trying.  That’s what was important.  He wanted to be like his brother.  He wanted to make that object appear.  He wanted to see the magic trick!  Give an older sibling the right tools and they can be a powerful and motivating teacher for the younger sibling.

Sure, it might start with just imitation of farting noises or dinosaur roars, but older siblings understand silly.  Sometimes silly is what gets the magic started.

IMG_20160919_095549

Tips for empowering the older sibling who wants to help:

  1. Ask what she does that the little one always try to do just like her
  2. Ask what she does that make the little one laugh
  3. Ask if she knows what some of the little one’s sounds or gestures mean
  4. Show her how to use a single word to confirm the meaning of that sound or gesture
  5. Encourage her to sing and teach her little sibling the songs she knows
  6. Praise her efforts to encourage imitation and not just provide interpretation

Want to know more about a toddler’s speech?

Toddler Speech: unraveling the mystery

Looking for strategies to use at home?

Two little words to encourage communication

Where are the WORDS?

Toy recommendations?

Best toys and gifts: a speech therapist’s list!

Toys that do nothing


Be sure to follow my blog or “like” my page on Facebook for all of my play and language learning tips!

Thank you for reading and sharing.

 

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