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Bring Children's Lit into Speech and Language Therapy with "Dear Zoo"

I love using books in therapy.  Reading books and using them in therapy helps develop important pre-reading skills. Books can be highly engaging and most children like to listen to an adult reading them a story. Books can also get children get excited about the activities they are about do in therapy.  Rod Campbell's Dear Zoo is one of my favourites and just as important (or more so), it's one of the children's favourites too.  It has a very simple and predictable pattern which makes it easy for children with poor receptive language skills to understand.  The pictures are simple and engaging and, hey, what kid does not like to lift up the flaps in the book. 

Dear Zoo is great for teaching vocabulary.  This book is not only great for teaching the names of different zoo animals but it also uses describing words such as jumpy, fierce, grumpy and naughty which might be new to the children. Children love to act out the different descriptions.  It also makes a great movement break for those children who need to get the wiggles out. 

Dear Zoo is also an excellent way to teach personal pronouns. The book naturally uses "I" and "they" in the story but I'll often switch out those words for "we," "he" and "she." I'll write out the words on post-it notes and put them over the words in the story. 

Children also like to tell me about their pets.  For those children who don't have pets (and for some who do), I like them to tell me about the pet they would most

like to have. For some of the older children I will have them draw out their dream pet. This is great for expanding their sentence length or the amount of information they provide in conversation.

I also have a book companion in my store that I frequently use.  It works on a number of skills including answering questions, understanding prepositions, following directions, associations, rhyming and identifying the initial sounds.

I will also use Dear Zoo to work on articulation.  It is great for targeting "S" initial.  I'll have the children say "sent" while reading the story and we will sometimes send things to the post office.  It is also great for working on "K" final (back) and frequently I'll use Dear Zoo to target "me" with many children diagnosed with a severe speech sound disorder.

Dear Zoo has been a great tool when working with little ones and is definitely one of my favourites.  Do you use Dear Zoo with your students/clients?

10 Articulation Activities for the Gym or Outside

I love getting out of the classroom/therapy room to work on speech and language skills.  Two of my favourite places are the gym or outside on the playground.  You would think that the children would go "crazy" and not listen (it does happen on occasion) but for the most part it is a big treat.  The kids also know that if they don't listen then no more gym time.  With kids at school expected to be quiet, sit and pay attention, it is a nice break to be active. If you would like to learn more about the benefits of being active in therapy check out this post.

Here are some of my favourite artic activities to do in the gym or outside:

1.  Run a relay race.  This is a great activity if you are running a group.  At the starting line, the child practices their sounds an X number of times (I usually choose 10) then they run the the cone and back and tag the next person.  I usually do time trials and see which run was the fastest.  I don't pit the racers against each other because I work with children with coordination or mobility difficulties and that would not be fair for those children.

2. Use scooter boards or skateboards.  Have the children lay on their stomachs on the scooter boards/skateboards and have them use their arms to push them along a course.  I will put groups of cards along the way and they have to stop and say the words before they move on.  Occupational therapists like this because it works on upper body strength and if the scooter is small enough it can work on the child's core. 

3. Play HORSE. This is great for older children.  Have the child shoot the basketball.  If they get a basket then they say their words X number of times. If they don't get a basket then they get a letter and have to say their words Y times.

4. Set up an obstacle course.  Set up a course and have the children run through it.  Have words ready at certain points and they have say their words before moving on.  This is also great for following directions.

5. Hide cards in a ballpit.  If you have a ball pit, this is a favourite activity. It works the same way as if you were hiding cards in a rice or macaroni bin, except the kids get in the ball pit to find the cards.  I will often bundle the cards so that they have more opportunities to practice.  This activity can be very hard on artic cards so  I will use my old, ready to be thrown out cards. If working in groups, I will use a timer so that each child has the same time in the ball pit.

6. Run lines.  Running lines was not my favourite activity when I was in gym class or during my very brief stint as a high school basketball player.  Elementary school children, boys in particular, on the other had seem to really like it. It works like this, a child runs to the first set of lines on a gym floor then runs back, says words and then runs to the next set of lines.  They keep at it until they have run to all the lines on the floor. 

 7. Scavenger Hunt.  Hide cards around the gym and have the children run around and pick them up.  Sometimes I have added clues to the cards to tell them where to go next. 

8.  Roll and do. A child will roll  two dice. One will have the activity on it (run in place, jump, etc...) and the other will be numbered from one to six.  They then have to do the activity and say the number of words that they rolled.  An alternative is to use cards that they have draw to pick the activity. 

9. Animal walks.  Put two pylons out (one for the start and one for the finish line). Call out different animal walks (e.g. crab, bear, snake).  The child then walks like that animal to the finish line and says his words X number of times. An alternative to this is have the children pair up and do wheelbarrow walks to the finish line then both children say practice their words. Another version is to have a sack race to the finish line.

10. Throw balls back and forth.  Have children say their words while they are throwing and a ball back and forth.  They say a word as they are catching the ball and another word as they are throwing the ball. 

Eight Ways to Work on Language Skills by Setting the Table


1.  Following Directions:  Help your child by telling him/her the steps to set the table. E.g. “take out the blue placemats then get out the big plates.”  Mix it up and have them set the table in different ways. Change the position of the fork, spoon etc.. or make it a more formal setting or less (different arrangements are included on the following page).

2. Sequencing:  Talk about the steps of setting the table and do it with your child a few times.   Then mix up the sequence and see if your child recognizes that you did it out of sequence. Talk about or have your child talk about why it was out of sequence and what step should happen next. Take pictures of the steps and have them out to help your child. Once they are more comfortable, mix up the pictures and then have him/her put them in the right order.  To help their expressive language skills have them tell you back the steps.

3. Big & Little: Tell your child to take out the big and little plates, bowls, cutlery.  If (s)he gets it wrong then pull out both (e.g. big and little plate) and show them the difference then have them try again.  

4. Beside, Next to, Between, Top, Above, Below:  Use these words when telling your child where to put the different items when setting the table. E.g. Put the spoon beside the knife or put the fork below the glass.

5. Left & Right: more location words to use when helping your child set the table.

6. Counting one to one correspondence: a saying cropped up at work that every is math.  Math and language skills are closely tied together.  Helping your child get out four forks, knives etc.. then putting one at each placemat is  important  for math and for developing language skills.

7. Planning and problem solving:  show your child a picture of how you want the table set and then let them figure out how to do it.    Provide help (if needed) but be careful not to tell them what to do.  Ask questions like what do you think you need to do first or next? Remember: how you would do it may be in a very different order than your child may do it.  As long as the end product matches the goal and no dishes have been damaged then it has been successful.

8. Further expand their vocabulary: use words such as cutlery, mugs, cups, glasses, and fragile. When using these words add in the words that they may already know the meaning.  E.g. Be careful, those plates are fragile, they might break or get out the cutlery, those are the knives, forks and spoons.

For a handout version of this post click here.