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Five Favourite SLP Preschool Circle Activities

Coming up with whole group/circle time activities can be challenging.  Here are five activities that children love, and you will be able to target a variety of language skills.  If you would like some tips to thrive during whole group activities, go here.

1.  “Where Did my Shoes Go?” 

Targets: Prepositions, Ask and Answer Where Questions
Materials Needed: Shoes, chair, “Where did my Shoes go” from Talk it Rock it (optional), Visuals

How to Play: Take off your shoes and place them under, beside, on, in front, or behind the chair (depending on the prepositions you are working on) and sit down. If you are using the song, “Where did my Shoes go?” play it first.  It is quite long so I usually on play part of it.  When the song is done, look down and pretend to be surprised/sad/confused and point out that your shoes are missing.  Ask the children for help.  The children will often point and say, “there.”  Point the visuals as you look around for your shoes.  When you find your shoes, reinforce where you found them. Have the children close their eyes and hide your shoes again. You can go through this a couple of rounds.

2. Introducing He and She pronouns

Targets: he, she, categorization of boys and girls
Materials needed: visuals of a boy and girl

Note: I realize that teaching male and female pronouns can be controversial.  I will honour a families wish not to work directly on this goal with their child. However, I also recognize that other children and adults can get offended if they are referred to by the wrong gender pronoun.

How to play:  I also introduce he and she in a preschool class by working on identifying if a child is a boy or a girl. I will have each child come up and say their name along with the close-ended phrase where the other children will identify the child as a boy or a girl. Then I will say, “name is a s/he.” The whole interaction goes like this. “Johnny, your turn.”  Johnny comes up.  I say to the rest of circle, “Johnny is a …” the class responds, “boy.”  I say, “Johnny is a he.”    

3. Feed the Puppets

Targets: he and she, categorization
Materials needed: a male and a female puppet, two categories of food.

How to play:  Put a puppet on each hand.  Have the food in a large basket or spread out over the floor.  Talk about how the puppets are hungry and need help to eat. Tell the children what food to pick up and which puppet to feed.  E.g., “She wants a fruit.”  The child would then pick up an apple and feed the female puppet.  Have the puppets pretend to eat the food if the child gives you the correct food.  Pretend that the puppet loves it and thank the child.  If the child picks food from the wrong category, have the puppet overreact that they don’t want to eat that food.  E.g., “No, No, No!  I don’t like …”  I will also have the puppet close its mouth and turn away from the child.  Encourage the child to pick food from the correct category.

4. Matman

Targets: identifying and naming body parts.
Materials needed: whiteboard, dry erase markers, eraser, visuals “Matman” song (optional)

How to play:  there are two basic games I will describe here.  For more ideas on how to use Matman go here.  Game 1: Draw a person on the whiteboard.  Have the children come up and tell them what body part to erase. When they wipe the body part, redraw that body part. Game 2: Have the children close their eyes. Erase a part of the body.  Have the children identify what body part you erased. For more ideas on how to use Matman in group therapy, go here

5. Action Spinner

Targets: Identifying and naming actions
Materials needed: Cards with different actions on it, “All Turn it Spinner” and a switch (optional), materials to help do the actions (e.g., if you have an open card, have a box with a lid).  

How to play: If you are using a spinner and a switch, place the cards around the spinner. Have the children come up one at a time and push the switch.  The child then names and/or acts out the action on the picture of the card. Depending on the actions chosen, I will have the children also act out the actions.  Alternatively, if you don’t have a spinner then have them pull some cards from your hand and then complete the activity as above.

Here are just five effective activities that you can do at circle. Click here for lesson plans. What are your favourite whole group activities?  

Six Tips to Thrive During Whole Group SLP Activities in SPED Preschool

Whole group activities can be very intimating especially in a preschool setting.  You have to keep the activities engaging, but not so appealing that you have difficulty maintaining order and the children learning. If the children are not interested, then chaos can ensue.  That being said, whole activities are a great way to target many goals at once.   To have an excellent whole group activity, you need to plan, plan, plan.  Click here for a form that I use to plan.  Here are six tips to help have fun and effective circle activities:

1. Keep activities short.  Preschoolers have short attention spans. Make sure that every activity or step has a purpose. The longer an activity goes on, the odds are you are going to have to spend more time on behaviour management. That is no fun for anyone.  

2. Keep the activities simple.  In my experience, the fewer steps that preschoolers or staff have to do, the more success the activity will be.  The activity will move quickly. The children will understand and be able to complete the activity more independently.

3. Have a plan on how to manage the group. Are they going to take turns? How are the children going to take their turns? This is where knowing your group will come in handy.  Will the size of your group allow for children to take individual turns?  How are you going to handle the child(ren) who just has to go first? How are you going to decide the order of children’s turns?  I tend to choose the order of children.  The children who are able to complete the activity more independently tend to be first.  The children who benefit from lots of models went later in the order.  

If you are not giving turns, but they are going to do an activity all at once, what will that look like?  In the past, I have had children shout out answers, do actions altogether or stand up if they agree with my statement (e.g., “My favourite pet is a dog.”)  I have also used two choice cards that the children hold up to answer my questions or respond to my statements.  These choice cards are an excellent way for non-verbal/low verbal children to also participate in activities.

4. Use visuals!  If you have read any of my other posts, you will know how much I love visuals.  What visuals will you need for the activity?  These are usually tied to the concept/skills you are targeting in the activity or activities.  For example, I will have a picture of a boy, a girl, and a group of children when working on he, she, and they.  Make sure they are large enough that everyone in the group can easily see them.  If you have a child with vision difficulties, then give that child his/her own visuals and ensure they are adapted to his/her needs.  If you don’t have time to make “pretty” visuals, then quickly draw them out.  Drawn visuals are waaaay more effective than no visuals at all.  

5. Adapt the activity so everyone can participate. Odds are many children in your group will need the activity changed in some way in order to participate.  If a child is using some form of AAC, is that word or words available for them to use?  Is this activity above the language skill of a child/group of children?  Do any of your children have physical concerns that may make so that it is difficult to do that activity as is?  If you have a child with anxiety, what are you going to do if they are unable to participate independently?  These are some questions that I try to answer when planning an activity.

6. Have fun!  The more you are enthusiastic in an activity, the more the children will be interested and engaged.  Modulate your voice.  Be silly.  Exaggerate your body movements. It allows children to attend to an activity longer and be more excited to learn. At the beginning of my career, this was way out of my comfort zone, but the more I did it, the more comfortable I became. 

Whole group activities are lots of fun to do, and they are most successful when they are well thought out. Also know this, that not every whole group activity will be successful.  Don't be afraid to end an activity early and I usually have a plan B activity in my back pocket. Reflect on what went well and what you need to change.   

More Tips for a New Pushed In Preschool SLP: Part Two

The last post, I posted tips for a new pushed in preschool SLP.  While I was writing it, I realized that it was becoming too big and decided to split it into two posts.  To get the first half, go here.  This post have six more tips that can help you to start preschool on the right foot.

1. Concepts of the Week.   This is a vocabulary word, grammatical form, sound, or language skill that will be emphasized during the week (or two weeks).  As children often have weak verb, preposition, and pronoun use, these were my "go to" concepts.  I tend work on the earlier developing "concepts" at the begining of the year and then depending on the student's work on later developing towards the end of the year.  Do not be afraid to recycle concepts.  Your students will need the review.

2. Many students with language delays will have weak verb and preposition knowledge and use.  When assessing for goals, make sure that these are on the top of the list of skills to assess.  As well, when planning activities in the classroom, ensure you are including activities that work on this vocabulary.  Pronoun use, sequencing, categorization, social language skills, and labeling emotions are other areas that I often target.  

3. Use songs and books.  Preschoolers respond well to songs and books. If you are doing large group activities, make sure that you incorporate songs and books. Use books and songs even if you are working with a child one-on-one. There are many great songs and song publishers out there from Super Simple Songs and Talk It Rock It, to name a few.  As well, there are so many books around to help with a wide variety of skills and topics.

4. Differentiation.  All SLPs do this but due to the wide range of skills you may be working on or time constraints, you may need to differentiate more than you have in previous positions. To make the most of your planning and therapy time make sure that you can work on a number of goals with the least amount of materials.  While I prefer to work with children that have similar goals at the same time, that is not always possible.  Being able to use an activity to work on artic skills and/or grammar skills and/or foundational language skills is very beneficial to you and your students.  

5. Many students you serve will have weak play and social language skills. In my experience, children with speech and/or language skills usually need help building these skills.  The role of each discipline regarding who is working on play and social language skills can become murky.  This is another topic that should be discussed at the beginning of the school year and in my opinion, everyone should be working on building these skills.  Play skills and social language skills are other important areas for you to observe, and if necessary treat throughout the year.  

6.  Sometimes a child emotional needs will be more important than a child's speech and language needs.  Now, this may be controversial for some but if you have a student who is too anxious, or in too much pain, or so distraught that they can not pay attention, then what you do in therapy is going to be ineffectual.   Your students are young and many of them will have gone through more in their little lives than you will.  As a result, it is doubly important to establish a strong relationship with your students. If your student is having a really bad day, it may be time to ditch your therapy plans and maybe play, or read a book, or give them a hug.  Please make sure that you know your classroom, school, district's policy on providing comfort to students and follow your policy.  

If you are new to pushed in preschool therapy, know that you can do this.  You have the skills and the knowledge to be successful.  Many of the skills in your previous positions will still be valuable, you just may have to tweak them a little.  Have fun and don't be afraid to laugh at the funny things your kids do or say.  Laugh at the weird things that you never thought you would do or say.  Embrace the mess, which may or may not be as easy as it sounds. Be flexible.  You may come into to class with the best therapy plans ever and either the students are not there or a proverbial bomb has dropped in your class and you have to completely change what you are doing.  You got this.