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5 Reasons Why Reading Books to Your Child is Important

When parents ask me "What can I do to help my child's language improve?"  One of my first recommendations is to read to their child.  I'm not alone. Many SLPs that work with preschoolers and even early elementary SLPs recommend reading as a great way to help with language skills.  So why are books so beneficial?

1. Books, for this age, contain lots of pictures.  These work as great visuals to help children understand what is being read to them.  You can also just look at the pictures and talk about what you see.  This allows you to expand how you use each book.

2. Books are a great way to build vocabulary.  Books will use vocabulary that we don't use  as often in everyday speech.  While these words are not as frequently use as other words, they are important for children to be exposed to and to learn.  Typically children with large vocabularies do better in school than children with smaller vocabularies.

3. You can read books over and over again.  It is important to read books more than once.  Children will gain a better understanding of the story and learn new vocabulary terms. Children will often have a favourite story and beg you to read it over and over and over again. You will be bored of a book way before your child becomes bored.

4. Books can help with learning grammar.  You can find books that have a range of sentence lengths and are, with some exceptions, grammatically correct. Books that are repetitive such as "Dear Zoo" by Rod Campbell help strengthen weak grammar skills or can help introduce parts of grammar that the child is missing. Some books will intentionally use grammatically incorrect sentences such as "Me Hungry!" by Jeremy Tankard. I usually use these books very strategically.

5. Books can help with higher level language skills.  As children get older, the books they read become a little more sophisticated and you can start working on higher language skills such a predicting and problem solving.  Books by Leo Lionni are great for asking questions like, "What do think is going to happen?,""Why do you think he did that?" or What would you do if..?" These are skills that are needed to help with academic success.

Happy reading! 

Cyber Monday Deals on Teachers Pay Teachers

It's that time of year, where my friends in the United States are celebrating Thanksgiving and my friends in Canada are just trying to get all their shopping done for the holiday season. For SLPs and teachers, it means the annual cyber sale on Teachers Pay Teachers. Here you can save as much as 28% off products bought there!  Today I thought I would share some resources in my store and some from some of my fellow sellers stores.  

 First we will start with some products from my store.

1.  Story Mapping and Sequencing using Folk Tales.  This low prep product helps introduce/reinforce story structure using familiar stories. It also works on sequencing skills. There are two versions of this product: with and without the stories. 

2. Food: Building and Extending Vocabulary.  This is a product that you can use with a variety of students working from very basic sorting skills to working on more sophisticated skills such as comparing and contrasting between two objects.

3.  Hop on Pronoun Train.  This is especially fun for preschool boys and works on so much more than pronouns.  You can work on expanding sentences, following directions, asking and answering questions as well as working on building pretend play.  

Now for some products my fellow sellers recommend:

1. If you are looking for social skills materials then Linda at Looks like Language has a bundle that is great for building conversation skills. 

2. If you are looking for  ACC materials, Susan Berkowitz has a product to help with building sentences. 

3. Here is another great product for working on pronouns with younger children by Lisette from Speech Sprouts.

4. Tamatha from TLC Talk Shop has a great craft to work on a wide range of language skills.  They are perfect for home practice.  

5. Ashley Rossi has some fantastic no prep worksheets  for both speech and language skills in her store.  Here is one just in time for winter.  

6.  If you are looking for materials to use on your tablet then Speech Therapy Fun with Jennifer has one just in time for Christmas!  

Happy shopping and don't forget to use the code: CYBER216!

The Long and Winding Road to Becoming an SLP: My SLP Story

First I would like to thank the Frenzied SLPs for this linky where people can read our journeys into becoming SLPs.  My journey was a long one and spanned many years.  

My journey started when I was 18 and I worked at an Easter Seal Summer Camp for children, teens and adults with intellectual difficulties.  It was my first real experience working with people with all sorts of challenges. I loved working with the campers and was excited to go back the next year.   

My second year there, we had a camper who was Deaf (along with cognitive disabilities).  He used ASL (American Sign Language) to communicate and, oh course, we only knew the very basics.  Naturally his behaviours were off the charts because he could not communicate.  We all frantically learnt as many signs as we could to help him.  The next year, he came back and this time he had a worker who could communicate with him.  He was a different child.  This was my first big lesson in how important communication is to a person's well being. It also got me very interested in ASL.  

After camp was over, I started taking night sign classes.  Later, I looked to increase my knowledge and ended up in an 10 month ASL immersion program. This was  (and still is) a fantastic program. I even started to pursue a career as an ASL interpreter but this was not for me and worked in group homes/day programs with Deaf and Deaf-Blind Adults with intellectual disorders.  I loved working with the residents and ended up spending lots of time working on building communication skills.  I loved making schedules and communication boards.  I loved watching these adults slowly improve their abilities to communicate but the government was cutting funding and there were rumours of layoffs.  
Being at the bottom of the seniority list, I knew my job was on the chopping block.  I had been tossing the idea of going back to school and the possibility of being jobless was the push I needed.  I went back and got my pre-requisites and ended up being one of the lucky ones who were accepted into the Masters program at the University of Alberta. I never looked back.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my journey!

5 Reason Why I Limit Screen Time in Preschool Therapy

Everyday there seems to be new apps or no print activities released on iTunes or Teachers Pay Teachers that work on speech and language skills.   These activities can be great.  They are interactive and you don't have to do a lot of prep plus most children love to play them.  They make taking data easy. When I first got my iPad a few years ago, I used it frequently in preschool therapy.  As the years have gone by, I have found that I am using my iPad less and less.  For the last year or so, I bring it out rarely and when I do, it is only for very special occasions. 

I count screen time as using an iPad/tablet, smartphone, TV, Smartboard (or like products), or  a computer.  I don't consider dedicated speech generating devices (SGD) as a screen because SGDs are an essential tool to help children gain their independence and communicate. 

Here is why I limit screen time in therapy:

1. The Canadian Paediatric Society and its American counterpart have set some strict guidelines about the amount of screen time children should be exposed to.  For children between the ages of 2 and 4, they recommend no more than an hour a day.  Talking with parents, it is not uncommon for preschoolers to spend anywhere from three to six hours a day in front of a screen.  I do not need to add to their screen time.  

2. Many children I work with have weak play skills.  Play skills are very important for preschoolers.  It helps them learn how to interact with their world and it teaches them about how to get along with others. It helps develop a child's imagination. There are not many games/apps on a screen where a child can pretend play and use their imagination (Toca Boca has some good apps for pretending). Many apps that I have come across are either test type activities or sequential type activities (i.e. I go through the steps and something happens at the end). These apps have their place but I believe that playing with toys/their environment is a better way to develop play skills.

3. When children play with objects, they learn a variety of different problem-solving skills and are experiencing hands on learning. For example, what happens if my toys don't all fit into the pretend fridge or what do I do if part of my fort collapses? Play can also help with generalization.  When using objects means that  the activity can be easily altered or the outcome will be different each time.  While improving, many games have a finite set of questions/activities and they some don't shuffle the activities.  This does not help with generalization. I have worked with children (often with an Autism Spectrum diagnosis) who can demonstrate a skill on the tablet but can't do it in any other situation with any other tools.

4. Sometimes the tablet is too engaging and it's difficult to add the therapy piece to the activity. The children would "zone out" or try to move their bodies around so that they were the only ones engaging in the activity. It is then not an appropriate therapy tool. 

5. In a classroom setting, I would have children arguing or having temper tantrums because they wanted a turn or a longer turn.  As well, I would often have four or five other children hanging around watching. I was then limiting the play opportunities for more than just the student(s) who were using the tablet. 

Screens have their place in therapy but for the stated reason above, I have chosen to limit the amount of games, apps, no print activities, and videos that preschoolers are exposed to in therapy.

Getting Messy in Speech Therapy

 So I was sitting at home and getting ready for the preschool classroom and thought that others might be interested in the sensory bin I'll be bringing in.  I love to use sensory bins.  There are so many opportunities to comment, describe, request and build vocabulary. I have used it to expand sentences and following directions.  Seen as Halloween is right around the corner, it's a great activity to do with your students.

The basics for this bin are water beads and shaving cream.  You can add other objects if you like. In the past, I've added some objects to help with artic. During Halloween, we have added bats, spiders and pumpkins.  This time we'll have kitchen utensils out to help make potions.

I usually soak the water beads over night in water. They normally take about an hour to fully absorb the water.  I then drain the excess water.

After this I get the kids to help make the "potion." I have the children take turns squirting out the shaving cream then pour the water beads into the pot or vice versa.  The children then mix up the potion and it is ready.  This is great for helping children follow directions. I usually make a couple of bowls so that more children can play at once.

This sensory bin is great for describing.  You can talk about 
  • the feeling of the mixture (slimy or sticky), 
  • their hands/objects being clean or dirty, 
  • if they like the feel, 
  • if they like the smell of the shaving cream
  • what they made with the potion.
  • how they are making the potion.

This is always a hit.  This is a messy activity and should be closely supervised by an adult.  I also keep a towel close by to help clean the children off when they are done.  

How do SLPs play? Toy Selection

Last week, I talked about "Why SLPs play?"  This week I'm going to describe a little about how SLPs play, specifically how do we choose what toys/materials to use. I work with preschoolers so this post will have a bit of focus on younger children but the same principles apply to older children as well. 

It may seem that the SLP comes in and they start to play.  It usually looks easy.  SLPs don't just pick any old toy and then magic suddenly happens.  There are many variables to consider when picking toys to use in therapy. 

1. Where developmentally is the child?  An SLP is not going to expect a child to play with boardgames, if the child is developmentally at the stage for people games such as "peek a boo." The same goes that they are not going to play "peek a boo" when the child could play boardgames.

2. Where developmentally is their play?  Does the child like to play by themselves?  Will the child allow people to play beside them but not yet ready to play with others?  Do they play with others?  Do they have pretend play skills? This will help the SLP to narrow down appropriate choices in toys.

3. What are their goals?  The types of goals the child is working on can really determine the kinds of toys an SLP will bring into the therapy room.  They might bring in barns and farm animals if the child is working on prepositions.  They may bring in wind up toys if a child is working on requesting objects.

4. What are the child's favourite toys?  Part of therapy is that it should be fun.  SLPs consider what kinds of toys the child likes to play with.  Sometimes they will use their favourite toys and other times they may intentionally choose different toys.

5. What is the child's attention span?  Can a child focus on an activity for 10 minutes or more?  Can the child only focus on an activity for a minute or more.  This will determine how many toys to bring to therapy and helps determine the kinds of possible toys available.  If a child has a short attention span, then a toy that takes time to set up would not be appropriate.

6. What are the themes at school or occur naturally at different times of the year?  Does the child go to school?  What are they learning about?  What is a natural theme that would occur at the time of the year?  If it is October, then talking about fall or Halloween would be appropriate.  This allows the SLP to use vocabulary that the child will hear in other context and this helps the child in other settings and with generalization. 

7. What are the philosophies of the parents/school?  Some people might no think about it but this is an important piece of the decision making process. I used to work at a more fundamentalist Christian school.  Bringing in toys about ghosts or Halloween would not have been appropriate.  Incorporating yoga into my sessions would also not have been appropriate. Working at a school that has a more artistic focus might mean that the children there do more crafts.

8. Does the SLP travel?  If an SLP is moving from location to location then that can determine the types of materials (aka toys) they can carry/transport.

9. Is it going to be one-on-one therapy or a group session?  If it is a group, then you have to think about all of the above criteria for each child then come up with common toys to use with the group.

These are just some of the decisions SLPs make multiple times a day when choosing appropriate materials to use in therapy.

Why do SLPs play?

I had an interesting question the other day from a friend of mine,  "Why do SLPs play?" She is not an SLP and heard me talking with another friend of mine who is an SLP.  My friend doesn't really understand how we do what we do.  What followed was an hour long conversation and this is a synopsis of that conversation. By the way my friend knows about this post and has okayed me writing about it.

Great communication occurs when playing.  An important job for an SLP is make people communicate better. A great way to work on communication is during natural situations. For children, especially young children, this means during play. If you want to know how a child can truly (functionally) communicate, then play with them.

When you have fun you learn more. I was first introduced to this concept when I was in high school.  I had two teachers that marched to their own beat.  I would both anticipate and dread going to their classes.  I never knew when I would have to sing some song in a Shakespeare play or be re-enacting battle scenes.  One day another student asked, "Why do you make us do this stuff?"  The teacher answered, "You learn more when I make it fun and interesting." He was right.  We were more attentive and we all knew the information cold, even the students who struggled in school. This is the same idea.  Kids having fun will learn what we are working on faster. They have longer attention spans and will work hard, even when what they are working on is difficult for them. 

Kids' job is to play and explore.  We, as a society, are moving more away from this concept but I truly believe that a child's job is to interact and explore their environment.  That means play.  Kids learn how to cook by playing with spatulas, bowls, toy food etc...  SLPs use that curiosity to build skills that are weak and/or missing.  Playing is a great way to build all sorts of skills including building vocabulary, helping children make longer sentences and following directions. It can help with sequencing activities, problem solving and using their imaginations to create stories. It is even great for improving a child's pronunciation. Some children don't know how to play and then miss all those amazing opportunities to do "hands on" learning.  So yes, we even teach some children how to play.

We help children with social skills.  This has been a big push in the last few years.  You don't get very far in life if you don't have people skills.  Children learn and start developing these skills when they are playing with other children.  It is not uncommon for children with speech and language delays to need help with their social skills.  Some of the best ways to do this is when they are playing.  Having an SLP coach a child to negotiate during play can help that child learn what to do when that situation occurs again.

It helps with generalizing skills.  SLPs talk lots about "generalization." This is where a child uses a skill across multiple settings and situations.  When a child is exposed to a skill in different contexts where the situation is slightly different each time makes generalization easier than doing the same activity the exact same way every time. It is really hard to make play the exact same routine every time. In fact, we work with children to expand their play if they want to do the same thing, the same way every time.

There are other reasons why SLPs play but you don't need or want to read a 50 page report, these are just my top reasons.  So next time you see an SLP playing, know that it is not just for fun, there is a reason why we play.  Next week I'll talk a little about how we choose the toys/games to use.

5 Reasons I Like to Change it Up and Use Flubber

There are lots of posts about using play dough in therapy so I thought I would write about using flubber instead.  You can use flubber for many of the same functions as play dough such as using them for smash mats.  Here are some reasons I like to change it up and use flubber every once in a while.

1. It is a nice change from using play dough.  I love play dough but using it all the time  can make it feel stale (I work with 2-4 year olds, so I use play dough/flubber a lot). Keeping the same toys but changing the medium from play dough to flubber often changes how the children interact with the toys.

2. Flubber has a different texture than play dough and allows people to talk about it being "cold,""slimy," and "slippery" to name a few. It is also a great way to use a variety of verbs including: "rip", "squish", "growing", "sink" and "pull."

3. If you have children who are sensitive to textures this is a great way to incorporate some OT therapy goals into yours.  As well it is great for cutting, another way of incorporating OT goals into therapy.

4. Kids who like to explore play dough by eating it or licking it, tend to do that a lot less with flubber.

5. Before last year, I would have said that it was easier to clean up than play dough.  It generally is.  Flubber tends not to get ground into shoes, carpet etc...  It is also a bit easier to pull out of toys, when a child has stuffed it into a hole.  Last year, a group of children liked to "shred" it and the little balls were found all over the floor. You could not really sweep them up so I was on my hands and knees picking up little bits of flubber.

Here is the recipe I use to make flubber. There are other recipes that use liquid starch.  I haven't tried them as you can't get liquid starch easily in Canada.

Do you use flubber in therapy?  

Bring Children's Lit into the Therapy Room with Books by Nicholas Oldland

As you know, I'm a big fan of using books in therapy.  This week I thought I would bring you a series of books.  Nicholas Oldland's books are great for building vocabulary and working on social language goals. They are also great for working on story grammar and comprehension goals. They are well written and the kids enjoy listening to them.  They are great for children from grade one through grade three.  

1.  Big Bear Hug This is story about a bear who loved to hug, especially trees. He spots a logger has to figure out what to do when the logger starts to chop down a tree.  This is great for problem solving, talking about feelings and the story talks about different types of trees which is great for building vocabulary.  

2. Making the Moose out of Life  This is a story about a moose who always has an excuse about why he couldn't join his friends fun.  Then he goes on an unplanned grand adventure. This shows that trying new things can be scary but life will be so much better when you try.  It again is good for working on building vocabulary.  It contains a variety of verbs, adjectives and words describing weather. 

3. The Busy Beaver  This is a story about a beaver who is unaware of his surroundings and  is careless.  He gets into an accident and realizes he needs to change his ways.  This is a great story to talk about why the beaver was not a good friend in the beginning and how to apologize to friends.  It is also great for talking about why you need to be aware of what is going on around.

4. Walk on the Wild Side  In this story, the beaver, moose and bear let their competitive nature get them into trouble.  This is another good story to talk about solving problems (e.g. "what would you do?") I also like it because it talks about the different strengths of the animals.  A great extension activity is to have the group talk about their strengths.

5. Up the Creek  This is a story about the beaver, moose and bear going on a canoe trip and all the trouble that ensues. This is a great story to talk about team work and negotiating with friends and solving problems.  This story also uses lots of boating vocabulary such stern and portage.  

If you are looking for some different books to bring into your social groups, these might be just the ticket. 

Why I like to use cooperative games in therapy

I frequently use cooperative games when working with 4, 5, 6 and 7 year olds. Here is why I find them valuable.

They reduce the stress some children feel when they are losing. We have all had those children where the game becomes more important than the therapy because they are sooo concerned about losing. Most co-operative games (at least the ones I've played) still have winners and losers but you win or lose as a group.  This group mentality seems to ease the fear that children have about losing. 

They help teach children how to behave when they lose.  There seems to be less temper tantrums and bursts of anger when you lose as a group. I think it has something to do with  working as a group. Losing provides an opportunity to talk about how you don't always win, what could you do differently next time, and did you try your hardest? If they lost, I will almost always have them play that game again the next time I see them and talk about what they would try differently this time.

They are good for teaching children how to behave when they win. We probably have all had a child who goes over the top when they win and makes the other students feel bad (e.g. "Oh yeah! I'm a winner and you're a loser!")  Winning as a team eliminates the taunting. When they win, I talk about and show what winning should look like (e.g. high fives, talking about good teamwork). If a child is learning about how to win gracefully then they play these games before they play more traditional one player wins type games.

They "force" children to work together.  For the most part, you can't win without working together.  Children are motivated by winning and with some guidance they start working together.  If they lose and did not work together then odds are they will try to work together next time.

They help with problem solving. Most of the games I have played have a strong strategy component to them.  Which character are you going to move on the game board? Which road piece are you going to put down? Are you going to give a card to another player?  It also fosters communication between the players.  They will often come up with plans (e.g. "If this happens we should do this...") and negotiate what they should do. It is also a great teaching moment to help children realize that no everyone is going to follow their plan.

They are great for teaching social skills.  These games are great for helping children learn taking turns, negotiating which strategy they should use at a turn, when should they suggest a strategy, how to give compliments, and how not to hurt a team members feelings. These are just a few skills targeted with co-operative games.

They have some games geared more towards girls' interests. Now I don't believe in "girl" toys and "boy" toys.  The girls I work with don't mind the games that are a little more geared towards boys but their faces light up with utter  joy when I pull out a game about mermaids or fairies. Funny side note: The biggest argument I had last school year was when I brought in a mermaid game for the girls in the class. The boys were all up in arms that they couldn't play it first.  The game ended up in the classroom for a week and was played multiple times a day.

I have found that using co-operative games to be invaluable in therapy.  They are fun, the children really really like to play them and they are learning how to become better friends.

Tips on How to Get Into a Canadian SLP Program

Quite often I will get questions about how to get into a SLP program.  I thought I would share my tips with you.   Let's face it, it is hard to get in and any little edge you get, the better. Will these tips guarantee that you will get in? No but they might help. I'm not that familiar with the French programs so this may have an English bias. Click on the university and it will direct you to their SLP program. 

There are six English Programs

There are five French programs


1. While many admission requirements are similar, there are enough differences that you need to target which school(s) you want to apply.  Ensure you meet ALL requirements for that school.  I also recommend that you apply to more than one program.

2. Take more than the minimum required courses.  Try to get as many courses you can on language, development, anatomy and physiology, research methods and linguistics.

3.  You need a high GPA.  Most schools set a minimum GPA around 3.3-3.5.  Realistically you need it to be much much higher.  Think 3.7 and above.

4. Research experience.  Many SLPs I know have pretty extensive research experience.  Universities seem to favour applicants with more extensive research experience. Try and find work as a research assistant.  Do independent studies (if available).  If you have an opportunity to be an author on a published paper, do it.

5. Volunteer Hours.  Most universities require some amount of volunteer hours.  Again, you need more hours than the minimum.  Many places and programs will take volunteers. Look at your local health units and different university departments for volunteer opportunities. Make sure you check and see if there are  any specific requirements for their volunteer hours.

6.  Ensure that your CV  and letter of professional interest are strong and well put together.  Ensure you highlight your work experience related to working with children, vulnerable populations and the elderly.  Highlight any areas that are related to the field of Speech Language Pathology.  Take advantages of university programs that are designed to help with resume writing.  Have them go over your CV and letter of professional interest. Check, check and double check that there are no grammar or spelling errors.

7. Choose your reference letter writers carefully.  Pick people who know you well and can talk about your experience and work ethic.  Ask people who have careers/experience that is related to the field of Speech-Language Pathology or working with vulnerable populations. 

8.  Some programs require that you take the GRE.  This tends to make people anxious.  It is the last thing that universities look at.  While it is important and you should study, focus more on the above strategies.

9. Lastly, if you have questions, do not hesitate to contact the school.  They are very helpful and they will give you the correct information.

For those who are applying or are thinking of applying, good luck!  It is one of the best careers around!

"What's in your cart?" Teachers Pay Teachers Site Wide Sale

Well summer is starting to wind down and school is just around the corner.  That means Teachers Pay Teachers is having a site wide sale. It also means that Speech News Room is hosting a "What's in Your Cart?" links party.  Thanks Jenna!

Here are three products that I think you will find helpful for the start of school:

1.  Story Mapping and Sequencing: Folk Tales (Stories Included).  Here is my newest product.  I have discounted it 50% for the sale plus using the TpT 10% off code (BestYear) makes it a great deal. This one is great year round to work in small groups or one-on-one. Use familiar stories to work on story comprehension, sequencing, story retelling & answering questions.  Stories included are "Three Billy Goats Gruff," "The Enormous Turnip," "The Little Red Hen," "The Three Little Pigs," & "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."

2.  Apples: Original Story, Phonological Awareness & Language Pack. Read an engaging story about a little girl sharing apples.  Does she share an apple with a bear? A Shark?  Then use different cards, activities & worksheets to address answering a variety questions, sorting by syllables, identifying initial sounds & more. 

3. Kindergarten: Speech and Language Screen.  This was designed for teachers, aids or SLPA's to complete.  It can be used throughout the year as a screen or as an observation form for SLPs.  It looks at classroom functioning, language skills & speech intelligibility. It typically takes approximately 10 minutes to complete.

Now the following are products that I have been eyeing to put into my cart:

1. Language Builders School Activity Scenes by Tech 'n Talk SLPs.  I'm always looking for different ways to build student's vocabulary.  This looks like a very comprehensive product.

2. 10 Weeks to Communicating with 40 Core Words for beginning AAC users by Susan Berkowitz. I'm always looking for good AAC products. This looks like it fits the bill & it will be great for the beginning of the school year.

3.  Dandelion Q-tip Painting.  This looks great for getting lots of artic practice plus so many of the students I work with love to paint! 

Happy Shopping!