Using Written Language to Improve Spoken Language (and Vocabulary!)

Thursday, February 20, 2020
Sometimes speech therapy can get monotonous. Working on the same sounds, using the same games... it can get a little boring. Which is probably why we find ourselves constantly perusing the Dollar Spot at Target and searching Pinterest on a regular basis. We are always looking for new, engaging activities. Sometimes the things we think are boring old activities, are actually something new and fun to another therapist. So today, I want to share with you an activity I've been using for years to teach and engage my articulation students. 
If you have worked in an elementary school setting, you have probably heard the term, "rainbow writing." If you're unfamiliar with it, rainbow writing is having a student write a word multiple times, in different colors. It gives great opportunities for lots of repetition and their papers just look so colorful. Typically this was done with sight words, but I started using this technique with articulation words in my speech sessions. When I was in the schools, I had a rainbow writing center that I used with my groups. (If you're interested in using centers in your speech sessions, here is a blog post I did on the (informal) research project I did on speech centers back in 2013.)

To make this activity as easy and low-prep as possible, I created a "Rainbow Doodles" printable packet. In this packet, each sound is listed in words in the initial, medial, and final positions. Have your students rainbow write these words as they practice them. Multisensory learning (seeing, hearing, saying, etc) can enhance learning and help with processing the information. When the child hears his/her therapist say the word, reads the word, copies the word (multiple times), and says it out loud, they are engaging all their senses. 

A 2019 study posted by the ASHA Wire looked at how written form during instruction aids vocabulary learning. The results of the study showed "strong evidence that the presence of a word's written form leads to improved learning of its spelling and spoken form. There is also some evidence that it may lead to better learning of a words meaning." 

When I read this study, it made me think of using the Rainbow Doodles activity in therapy. Instead of just repeating words produced by the therapist, seeing the words can help the child with spelling. Seeing the letters in the word and associating letter names and sounds is directly related to articulation skills. The article written on the study also mentioned that "a small number of studies have also shown that the presence of a word's written form benefits vocabulary learning in children with developmental language disorder, autism, down syndrome, and reading difficulties." Vocabulary is the foundation of language and comprehension. It's directly associated with listening comprehension, reading, writing.... all the skills we work on as speech therapists! 

You can download a copy of my Rainbow Doodles packet by clicking on the image below. (This is actually a very old activity I have had on TpT for years. I recently gave it a facelift and added some more sounds to it. If you already own it, go re-download it!)
Happy writing!!


Mommy Mondays: More Dinner Table Conversations

Monday, February 17, 2020
Family dinners are completely different in each house. The "picture perfect" scenario, as often depicted on television, is everyone home by 6:00pm with a freshly prepared, healthy meal ready to be served. Smiling faces around the table. Everyone sharing highlights of their day. But in today's reality, the typical family is so busy. We are rushing to make dinner (or pick something up) so we can quickly get the kids to soccer practice or a PTA meeting. The close togetherness of a family dinner has gotten lost in the shuffle. I am guilty of neglecting the special time at the dinner table. My husband doesn't get home til about 8:00 each night, so I typically feed the kids much earlier. I used to sit with them as they chatted, but instead of engaging with them I took those 20 minutes to answer emails or sneak a peek at the news. The end result was Kenzie asking to use the iPad at the table or requesting a show to watch as she ate dinner.  I didn't realize how much quality time we were missing out on as I was trying to multitask!

As hard as it is with busy lives, try to schedule in some time each day or even a few times a week to have some serious quality time with your kids. It doesn't have to be at the dinner table. It can be the few minutes before bed or in the car on the way to soccer practice. Turn off the radio and just talk. Ask them questions, play games, be silly! Trust me, these are the memories they will always remember.

This is also a fantastic way to spend some extra time working on language skills.  Start talking about books you read, asking & answering questions about their day (and yours!), labeling things we see. These are all great opportunities to enhance everyday language skills!

To help with this, I created some cards with questions, little games, and conversation starters to get you started. Some of these are really silly so I think your kids will enjoy this! I printed them off, cut them up, and added them to a ring for storage. Keep one copy at the dinner table, maybe one in the car, or even in your child's night stand to use a few minutes before bed. Of course, don't read these while driving but they are perfect while waiting in car circle or if you have an older child that can read them aloud while you are heading off to dance class.

There are 4 pages of questions included in the deck. The first page includes 12 "Would You Rather?" questions. Take turns asking your children which scenario they would rather have happen and have them explain why they chose that answer.  You answer, too! Kids love hearing our responses to silly questions. If you're on Instagram, I have a highlight reel called "Car Line Would You Rather?" My son loves posting 'Would You Rather" videos and having you all vote with your answer. We started this last year when he would sit in carline with me each day waiting to pick Kenzie up. So silly and so dang fun. 

Next are 12 conversation starters. I love learning what my little guys are thinking. What do they want to be when they grow up? What would they wish for if they had 3 wishes? Their answers will probably surprise you! And the fun part is that these answers may very well change by next week,  so keep asking!

On the third page is 12 social skills scenarios. Read them aloud and have your kids answer if the person was using good or bad table manners. If it was bad table manners, have your child respond with what he/she would have done differently in that situation.

Last but not least 12 more cards for a little extra fun! These cards include some quick little games, challenges or silly things to do. After all, we all just want to have fun.

Engage and embrace these moments before they are too old and don't want to hang out with us anymore. The Family Dinner Game Cards are free in my TpT store. Click the image below to download your copy!

Dear Students... a letter from your therapist

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Dear students,

I want to let you in on a little secret. You have a huge part of my heart. I don't only think about you during those 30 minutes when we are together twice a week.

I think about you in the middle of the night when I can't sleep because you haven't reached that goal yet.

I think of you when I read hours of evidence based research studies on the perfect way to help you learn new vocabulary words.

I think of you while I am at the store and see a toy you would like.

I think of you when I get up early to print and laminate activities for us to do that day.

And when I am up late searching Pinterest for new ideas.

When we have a great session, I leave feeling on top of the world. When the session doesn't go so well, I leave feeling defeated. Like I let you down.

I think of you on the weekends when I am attending conferences and workshops.

I say a prayer for you when you're out sick. Or when your family is going through some tough stuff.

I feel so lucky to be a part of your journey. To be a counselor to your parents and a place of comfort for you.

You are very special. You are so loved. And you are a huge part of my life.

With lots of love,
Mrs. Kristin

2 Goals, 1 Therapist......Working on Articulation& Pronouns in the Same Session!

Thursday, January 30, 2020
Over the past 11 years as an SLP I have seen so many students qualify for speech, but not language therapy. Either their scores aren't low enough to qualify in their school setting or their language difficulties don't show up on the test they are given at that time. But, after working with them on their articulation skills and having conversations with the child, you can hear that many of them also need some help with grammar. I have found pronouns to be a big part of that.

A research study done in 2013 showed that "a difficulty in the acquisition of grammar can interfere with the ability to communicate successfully and may flow into other grammar and language-based tasks." As SLP's we want our students to communicate at the best of their abilities. In the study, children were provided play-based grammar instruction that was made up of teaching, modeling, prompting, recasting, and then given feedback on their productions. The children in the study made great progress, however, they did find that children were less likely to make progress when they had articulation errors that affected the sound or sound pattern needed to produce the targets.

I have been trying to incorporate grammar instruction into my articulation therapy sessions, without taking away the from the actual articulation therapy. I have done this through reading books, modeling through play, and structured activities that can target both goals at once. Because so many of my students needed pronoun practice in addition to articulation, I created an interactive activity that can work on both goals at the same time.
 The activity includes mats for speech sounds in the initial, medial, final, and combination positions. There is a mat for each of these sounds to use in a sentence with the he, she, him, her, they, or them pronouns.
 The mats are left open ended enough that you can use these in many different ways to meet your student's individual needs. Since making this, I have laminated them and used them as smash mats (smashing a ball of PlayDoh on the target as they are practiced), stacking mini erasers on the words as they practice, I've stamped dot markers on them, kept this file on my iPad as a no-print activity, and even taped them to the wall and shot nerf gun targets at the words! Whatever gets your students motivated, do it!
I am a private therapist and see all my students one on one, but these mats would be great for mixed groups since you can print one for each child and their individual need during a group lesson. 

I have this entire packet available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. 
Click on the image below to check it out. 

Resource: Smith-Lock, K. M., Leitao, S., Lambert, L. & Nickels, L. (2013). Effective intervention for expressive grammar in children with specific language impairment. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 48(3), 265–282. 

Mommy Mondays: Reading to Your Child

Monday, January 20, 2020
Reading books is a staple in our nightly routine. It's just something we have always done and always loved. In fact, reading for 20 minutes each night is the only homework assignment my kids receive on a regular basis. Research has shown that kids that read 20 minutes each day score higher on tests and are exposed to more vocabulary than those who don't. Children learn almost half of the words they are exposed to during shared book reading. A study in 2017 showed that children learn just as much from books read to them by their parents as they do from books read to them by a teacher.

As a therapist, when parents ask me what they can do at home to improve their child's language, I always say to play and to read. Reading exposes children to language rich experiences. Lots of new vocabulary, dialogue, social skills, letter names, letter sounds, and problem solving situations.... just to name a few. 
To some of us, reading a book to our kids is something that comes easy. Our kids love reading and snuggling up with a good book. But for others, it's a battle. Either the child doesn't want to sit still long enough to read or the parent is a little intimidated about how to read to their child. But here is a little secret... to start your child's love for books, you don't have to always read the book. Simply let them hold the book, flip through the pages, look at the pictures, and talk about what you see. Eventually your child will have the attention span to enjoy an entire story, but if he or she is not there yet, it's ok!

I created a cheat sheet that will hopefully give you some useful tips and tricks to use while reading with your little ones! Included in the handout is information on book orientation, vocabulary, ideas to make reading fun, as well as information on asking and answering questions (with age appropriate suggestions). I hope you find this helpful. Happy Reading!!

You can download a copy of this FREE handout, here!

Why You Should be Crossing Midline in Speech

Wednesday, January 8, 2020
One of the things I love about our field, is the ability to work so closely with other professionals. Over the past 10 years I have worked very closely with occupational therapists and the children we share. I have learned SO much from them and love watching them work. It's always fun to me when I am co-treating with another OT, seeing one of the activities they do with a student and thinking AH HA! I will add that in with (insert speech activity here) next week! I feel like I am always learning and growing from our OT's!

One of the things I learned from occupational therapists (and those fabulous COTA's) is how important crossing midline is to development. If "midline" isn't a term that's familiar to you, it's basically an imaginary line from your head to your toes, right down the middle of your body. Kids who avoid crossing midline often have learning and motor difficulties because of the lack of integration between both sides of the brain. This is a really great blog post from the OT Butterfly about how midline develops, why it's important, and how to tell if your child isn't crossing midline.

Adding activities that allow kids to cross midline during speech therapy isn't hard. In fact, it gets them moving and adds a lot of fun to therapy sessions while encouraging integration of both sides of the brain. Here are a few ideas to add this skill to your bag of SLP ticks!

  • If you're using articulation cards in therapy, put them on the left side of the child but have them reach for each card using his or her right hand. The same concept can be used with blocks or toys. Purposeful placement of items that will get their trunk rotating is key.

  • Exercises! Incorporate exercises into your therapy sessions that cross midline (side bends, windmills, etc.) Do these as a fun warm up before each session or get creative and incorporate some speech activities with these exercises.

  • When I searched Pinterest for some inspiration for activities, many came up that incorporated a figure 8 shape. Whether it's tracing the shape or driving cars on a track that's shaped like an 8, it gives great opportunities to cross midline. Place some articulation cards, vocabulary words, or wh-questions on the track, and work on the goals as you add this important motor skill.

  • When doing cut and paste activities or sorting activities, put the items they need on both sides of their body. Encourage them to cross midline as they reach for the items they need to complete the activity.

  • If you're working in a group, put two students back to back and have them pass a ball (or any object) back and forth. You could easily incorporate speech and language skills into this activity. As the child passes the ball, have them describe the object being passed, name a synonym/antonym for a word given, name items in a category, practice articulation words... there are so many things you could do here!

One important tip I like to give to my interns and SLP's-to-be is to take advantage of the professionals you work with. There will never be a point in your career where you know everything. Stay humble. Learn something new everyday. Take advantage of asking good questions. Use  opportunities to observe. And take what you have learned and incorporate it into your sessions. I know I have said this before, but it takes a village to raise successful kids. Let's use that village to help them reach their goals!!

2019 Our Year in Review

Wednesday, December 18, 2019
I know we say it every year, but I cannot believe another year has come and gone. We just got our family pictures back so I thought this would be a good time to reflect on the past year.
January started out a little scary. Kenzie had been bruising a lot. Large, dark bruises. And we didn't know where they were coming from. We ended up taking her to the pediatrician to get her checked out. They sent us to the local children's hospital for some tests. Scary tests. Thankfully I am close friends with our pediatrician and she didn't tell me all of the tests they were going to run. When all of the the results came back negative (cue the tears of joy) we came to the conclusion that Kenzie had something called childhood idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (or low platelet count). She had to have regular tests done and be followed by the oncology center at All Children's Hospital, but everything was going to be ok. The doctors guessed that a bad virus she had in December attacked her platelets and left her with this condition that caused her to bruise and bleed easily. 
Thankfully the year was looking up after January. In February, Kameron had his ear tubes removed (if any parent is on the fence about getting tubes, do it. It helped Kameron so much with ear infections, balance, and communication!) Kenzie went to two daddy daughter dances, one with Kevin and one with grandpa & pop pop. And my incredible grandpa turned 90 years young!
In March, Kevin and I were baptized. 
In April, Kenzie turned 7. 
In May, she lost her first tooth!

In June Kameron turned 4, both kids performed in the dance recital this year (gracing the same stage I had years ago), and we visited Cincinnati for our God daughter's high school graduation. She is now living here and is a USF Bull!! 

In September, Kenzie finally mustered up the courage to get her ears pierced! But of course, in true Kenzie fashion, it came with a huge audience and lots of tears. 

In October I turned 35. This year I have learned a lot about myself. I finally feel comfortable in my own skin and have more confidence now than I ever have. I learned that's its okay to ask for help and it's okay to not be okay. After a retinoid toxicity in April, I have tried really hard to detox our home and our lifestyle (not counting the wine and white claw, of course!)  For me, 2019 has been a lot about essential oils, yoga, reading (I actually accomplished my goal of reading a book a month!), and learning how to say the word, "No." 

Kevin is killing it at work. His radio show consistently comes in rated at first or second place. He also does a hysterical YouTube channel and radio show called Three Dads & a Minivan. Kenzie had so much fun this year with Girl Scouts and dance. She was chosen to be in a dance calendar for a local dance wear company. Kameron participated in both t-ball and soccer. 
This year we have been blessed, to say the least. I cannot wait to see what 2020 has in store for us. Thanks for being a part of our journey! Happy Holidays from my family to yours.... see you in the new year!!

Photography credit: Photos by Erika Johnson
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