Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Tech Spin on A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words: Using Photo Books to Increase Vocabulary, Grammar, and Narrative Skills

I'm very excited to share this *awesome* guest post by Sean J. Sweeney. His tech spin on my photo book post is both inspiring and practical.

I recently read with great admiration Beccas post in which she described how to make and use photo books for language development.  It is true that children love bright, colorful photos, and they love to talk about them even more when they are personally relevant! Becca’s specific descriptions (and video demonstration) of language strategies to use in the context of creating and reviewing photobooks are definitely going to be helpful to many parents and SLPs.

However, if you know my work at all, you know that I am always asking how technology might assist in any learning and language process. I am also one of the least craftsy and most printer-hating and store-averse people on the planet. Therefore ordering photos, picking them up at CVS, decorating with stickers and other flair, laminating (*shiver*) and binding the books...not a list of verbs I personally relish.  Let’s not say it’s a guy thing, but maybe that’s just the elephant in the post.  So, if you want to hear about a few digital options for implementing Becca’s terrific methods, read on!

I first have to point out that creating all-digital (or mostly digital) versions of these activities is facilitated by the way that families often do photography these days.  Many families own and know how to use digital cameras (including the ones on their smartphones), and archive their photos in places such as Kodak Gallery, Picasa, iPhoto or even Facebook. So, whether photobooks as a language context are to be created by the families themselves, or a clinician is going to create the product while eliciting language from the child, the raw materials are often already digitized, easily downloadable and e-mailable! If actual prints are involved, it is no longer an arduous process to scan them, or it can often be easier to place them out of glare and just take a nice shot of the picture with a digital camera or smart phone.  Once you have digital photos to work with, there are a few options you might consider.

One of these is Little Bird Tales, a free online picture book creator.  Little Bird Tales has a simple, kid-and-family-friendly interface (and a great tutorial) and the added bonus of allowing you to add voice captions to each picture.  When the book is complete, it can remain “private” and password-protected, but you can also share it with others via email.  The book remains digital, however, and cannot be printed.  

The text and “Add Your Voice” features of Little Bird Tales are a great opportunity to develop vocabulary and sentence structure!

Another great option is Glogster, the online digital poster creator, also free except for certain premium features.  Glogster has an EDU version, and parents can also sign up at home through the regular portal.  Glogster also has a very kid-friendly interface, and allows you to create a poster of your event’s images, along with supplementary graphics and audio clips.  

Glogster’s Magnet tool is all you need to upload your images, add text, and record sound! As children choose “Frames” for pictures, additional descriptive language can be elicited.

Glogster creations can be printed for offline use, and can also be marked private and shared via email.  Glogster is a little more complicated to use than Little Bird Tales (but not much!), so you might want to check out the tutorials I posted on YouTube. Additionally, both Glogster and Little Bird Tales are Flash-based (and therefore will not work on iPad, until their apps are available?) so if you run into trouble, you may want to make sure you have the latest version of Flash and update your browser, steps that are important for keeping your Web workin’!

When I mentioned iPad, did that make your ears perk up? One of my favorite recent discoveries is Skrappy ($4.99), a robust iPad app that you can use to create a decorated and annotated scrapbook of your photos! Like many iPad creation tools, Skrappy has a built-in-tutorial (in the “Getting Started” Scrapbook, so you and the kiddos can be creating in no time!

Skrappy’s simple tap-based interface lets you add whatever you’d like to your photobook: images, video, audio captions, text, decorative shapes and graphics to associate with the pictures, even music!

For another iPad take on photobooking, check out Mobile Education Stores new app, Speech Journal (3.99), “a customizable voice recorder that you pair recorded messages with your own imported images and image sequences.”  Speech Journal is super-simple to use, contains its own video tutorial, and allows you to pair voice recordings with single images or continue recording across multiple images, resulting in a slideshow (and sequenced narrative)!  When complete, the journal can be emailed and played on a home computer in QuickTime player, a free download.

Finally, if you’d like a simple and quick (but perhaps a little more expensive) digital take on the photobook, iPhoto on Mac features a tool for you to create and order books to be delivered to you (for example, you can buy a 3-pack of one 20-page softcover book from Apple for about $11.00). Alternately, go to the Create menu on Picasa (on either platform) to create and email/print a photo collage (expensive in a toner cartridge sense, but easy to do)!

Hope you enjoyed this digital spin on photobooking; if you have any other tech tools you’d like to suggest for use with personally relevant photos in order to build language, please let us know in the comments!

Sean J. Sweeney, MS, MEd, CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist and instructional technology specialist working in the public school and in private practice at The Ely Center in Newton, Massachusetts. He consults on the topic of technology integration in speech and language and is the author of the blog SpeechTechie: Looking at Technology Through a Language Lens.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Childhood Apraxia of Speech: Through a Mother's Eyes

Today, I'm privileged to share this guest post from Leslie- devoted mom of two, one of whom happens to have a diagnosis of Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS). Leslie has a book on Childhood Apraxia of Speech coming out in early 2012...and after reading this post, I can't wait to read her book! Enjoy. 

Many thanks to Becca for allowing me to be a guest blogger on her site today.  It’s ironic how this world of apraxia works…there’s not much “out there” until you start looking.  I “found” Becca because she was a guest a blogger on PediaStaff.  Her article on “waiting to see” intrigued me.  I contacted her, and well…the rest is history.  But the point I am trying to make is: you just never know what stone you will upturn when you start picking them up. 

Everyone Has a (apraxia) Story…Here’s Ours

At two years old, Kate was a beautiful, energetic and happy toddler.  Amidst the hustle and bustle of a new sibling and a pending move, there were concerns.  With the exception of one word—hi—Kate was as quiet as a box of crayons.  It made us wonder if something was wrong.  Even as a baby, Kate rarely babbled and cried.  She was, in a word, “perfect.”  So why were we worried?  After all, she could understand everything we said, even the big words.  “Play classical music.  Dance with her.  Babies need that so their brains can develop,” I was told by others.   And so we did.  We talked to her like she was a little adult, making conversations even though we didn’t expect answers.  The books I read about late-talking children, didn’t seem to really apply to our little Kate.  “She’ll talk when she’s ready,” I was told by my mom-friends.  Only they bragged that their toddlers were saying words like “elephant” and when we met at the park.  I cringed and rolled my lips into a tight line, sucking in a deep breath.  Was she stressed because there were changes going on her world?  No, that isn’t it.  I shook my head, confused and frustrated.  We provided a loving, stable environment.  So, what was it?
          As first-time parents, we didn’t want to appear “delinquent,” so when Kate was 15 months old, exactly, we headed to the doctor (the same one who delivered her) for her scheduled well-child check-up. I say “we,” because both doting parents were off work for the occasion. It was as though it were a pre-kid business meeting marked well in advance in our planners. This time we came armed with our wiggly daughter; along with thoughts, questions and toddler antics to relate to our doctor.
  After Dr. Baumgartner whirled into the exam room, plopped down and smiled at us, she asked a series of questions . . . was Kate doing this, doing that? Yes, yes, and yes, we nodded and smiled proudly. “Is she saying ‘mama’ and ‘dada’ and a few other words?” Nope. We held our breath, awaiting her response.
As a first-timer, I didn’t want to jump the gun. Kate was only 15 months old after all. She still wore diapers, took a pacifier when distressed, and was rocked to sleep. In many ways she was still a baby, and babies don’t talk, do they?  Plus, I knew kids—through my teen years as baby-sitter and as a child psych nurse.
          We told our doctor that all Kate was saying was “hi,” and that she started saying that around 13 months. Wasn’t that good enough? Our caring doctor probed a little further and eventually she referred us to a local speech-language pathologist (SLP). “You can do it now, if you want to be aggressive, or wait until she is 18 months if you want to take a conservative approach,” she instructed us. 
          We took the conservative approach, finally making the call when Kate was 18 months. The impetus was easy:  Kate still wasn’t saying “momma” and I wanted to hear my little girl call for me by name, instead of grunting. 
          I’ll admit I was totally skeptical of the capabilities of a speech-language pathologist at first. What could she possibly do to get my kid to talk that I couldn’t?  And this SLP didn’t even have kids—what was I thinking? But we stayed the course—and learned that Kate has severe Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS).  She was diagnosed at 30 months (2.6 years)
            As bright, beautiful little girl preparing for her first day of first grade this week, we are pleased to share that Kate is no longer grunting and pointing to get our attention.  Was it magic?  No.  Was it something she needed to “grow out of?”  No, again.  It was the hard work and patience of a skilled pediatric speech-language pathologist (SLP); the determination and motivation of a child, and the tenacity of her parents.  It was the environment and nurturing curriculum of a hands-on, language-based preschool.  It was a village that helped our little girl speak at a level that was developmentally appropriate. 
          If you suspect your child of having a speech disorder like Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS), it is important that you make an appointment with a qualified SLP for a thorough assessment.  CAS, though fairly rare—about 1% of the pediatric population—is a serious speech disorder that requires intense and frequent intervention to overcome.  But it can be done!  If you are looking for more information on CAS, poke around on this site, ChildTalk www.talkingkids.org for related topics, my blog can be reached at www.leslie4kids.wordpress.com  (I devote Mondays to apraxia), and also the CASANA/Apraxia-KIDS website, www.apraxia-kids.org

Hi, I’m Leslie.  I am mostly a full-time mom, former R.N. and part-time writer.  My family and I live in the Chicagoland area and do all of the things regular families do.  With one exception:  we cope with our daughter’s Childhood Apraxia of Speech on a daily basis.  When I was first learning about  Kate’s diagnosis, I was stumped: we never learned about this in nursing school!   I was on a quest to help my daughter.  In early 2012, my book, Speaking of Apraxia: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding & Coping with Childhood Apraxia of Speech will be available from Woodbine House.  

More Information on Apraxia of Speech

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bilingual Children, Asperger's Syndrome, The Power of Stories, Boogers, Books, and Babies: It's the Fabulous Friday Round Up

 A few posts I think are great...

The Huffington Post reports on a study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. The study suggests that children who are raised in bilingual homes may have better cognitive skills, at least in some select areas of cognition-and that this shows up as early as two years of age. The authors of the article theorize that growing up with two languages requires children to develop flexible attention skills so that they can shift rapidly back and forth between two languages. This leads to better development of "executive functioning" skills-- the higher level thinking skills we all use to manage our attention, prioritize, hypothesize, and plan.

PsychCentral shares this thought-provoking post on The Power of Stories in Personality Psychology. As SpeechTechie wisely pointed out on Twitter earlier this week, this post is a great reminder of why it is so important to help our children develop good narrative skills. (Looking for ideas on how to do this? Check out this post on using photo books for narrative development).

In a turn toward the highly practical, ArticBrain posts on the use of boogers and dog food for helping your child improve his articulation and language skills.  Once I got past my initial repulsion, I greatly enjoyed the creativity of the idea.  (And yes, ArticBrain is written by a guy.)

In her post on The Surprising Things Babies Might Do (If Given The Chance), Janet Lansbury at Elevating Childcare reminds us that babies and toddlers often hold much more potential to be independent then we might think--if we only give them the chance to show us what they've got.

The Sixty Second Parent has some awesome suggestions for their top ten books that 2-year-olds will love (you'll find many of the same ones on my list of Repetitive Books for Language Learning!).

Finally,  Be Real PDD/NOS directs us over to this video where Arthur ( from the PBS show) explains Asperger's Syndrome. I think I like it.... what are your thoughts?

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Social-Emotional Awareness: What Is It and How Do I Help My Child Get It?

About this time last year, I was getting my son ready for his first day of kindergarten. Truth be told, I was also getting myself ready, and for good reason. I'll never forget embracing him one last time and then watching as he bravely walked into the classroom, calm and courageous despite the tears running slowly down his face.  It was a huge step toward independence. It was also a step that put his social-emotional skills to the test--he had to trust that he could feel his emotions, manage them, and take on the new experience that had been placed in front of him.

Indeed, successful navigation of the kindergarten world requires solid social-emotional awareness-- child's ability "to experience, regulate and express emotions, to form close and secure interpersonal relationships, and to explore his or her environment, and learn, all in the context of family, community, and culture" (SEFEL) Or, in the words of Robert Fulgham, All [you] really need to know, [you] learned in kindergarten:

"Share everything, play fair, don't hit people...don't take things that aren't yours...clean up your own mess...say you're sorry when you hurt somebody...live a balanced life--learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work some everyday...(and) when you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together." 

These lessons, learned in the early childhood and elementary years, are important parts of development. Knowing how to regulate emotions and interact well with others is a cornerstone of learning. Good social-emotional awareness is also one of the predictors of success in this great big world of ours.

How to work on social-emotional awareness?
  • Provide your child with a safe, loving, responsive environment in which he can grow and learn and play.  It is through caring relationships with parents that children begin to develop social emotional wellness. 
  • Get your child together to play with other peers. Allow him to practice skills such as turn-taking, resolving conflict, and sharing; support him as needed during the play-dates to help him be successful.
  • Help your child talk about his feelings. Work with him so that he learns to recognize them, name them, and manage them. One way to do this is to use books to help introduce and expand the topic of feelings.  For example, check out this post on using "I Was So Mad" to discuss feeling angry. Remind your child that feelings are always okay--acknowledge your child's feelings without trying to fix them. Then teach him what to do with those feelings.
  • Discuss your own feelings. Use yourself and situations that come up in your life to model the choices you make when you are angry/sad/frustrated/happy. Show your child how you pause and take breaths before reacting, or how you write in a journal when you are sad; how you list out options when you are frustrated by a problem, and how you hug and kiss those you love when you are happy to see them.
  • Practice dealing with intense emotions before the situation comes up. Teach your child, for example, to how to recognize when anger first starts and use strategies to stop before responding. Practice, practice, practice. You are your child's coach-- run drills over and over so that when game day arrives, he'll know exactly what to do. 
This is just the tip of the iceberg of social-emotional awareness- there is much to learn and many resources available to help you do so. A great starting point is by going to the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning website run by Vanderbilt University.  I was recently introduced to this website by an early childhood teacher in our Birth-to-Three program and I am stunned at what an amazing resource it truly is:

  • The practical strategies section has a wide variety of strategies for parents and teachers on promoting social-emotional awareness. There are free, printable scripted stories such as the one about Tucker Turtle and how he learns to control his feelings and calm down by "thinking like a turtle" (tuck inside your shell and take three breaths before responding--something we all need reminders to do every now and then!). The scripted stories are to be used with young children--they each explicity teach important strategies for different social-emotional skills. 
  • And then there's the Book Nook section, at the bottom of the page of practical strategies. It's chock full of books into which lessons of social-emotional can be woven.  Each book that is listed in this section has a PDF of accompanying lesson plans full of suggestions for expanding the social-emotional lessons of the book. My favorite? The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn: a beautiful story about a young raccoon who is afraid to leave his mother and go off into the world of school...until his mother teaches him that, by gently placing a kiss in the palm of his hand, she is sending her love out into the world with him.  And that story, my dear readers, is what got me through my son's first day of kindergarten.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Word-finding, Stress Management, Awesome Authors, and School Tips: A Fabulous Friday Round-up

A few posts that I think are great....

  • Ever have that "tip of the tongue" feeling, when you know you know a word but can't quite find it? Caroline Bowen posts on word-retrieval (word-finding) difficulties. She explains a bit about the problem, talks about how to assess it, and provides tons of practical tips and suggestions for helping children work on it.  She also directs readers over to two other super duper websites: Word Finding Difficulties and The Word Finding Lab. Awesome stuff.
  • Moving Smart Now discusses how stress can impact a child's ability to learn and how a parent's stress can impact a child's-- a powerful reminder that, in taking care of ourselves, we are taking care of our children.  She also gives some important suggestions for helping your little one deal with stress, which leads to better learning, growing, and loving for everyone involved.
  • No Time For Flashcards share Five Great Children's Book Authors. I love their choices! (And, for what it's worth, I adore the book I Love You Forever. Still can't read it without crying.)

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What Are Carrier Phrases and How Do I Use Them?

If you don’t live in the world of speech-therapy, you probably aren’t familiar with the term “carrier phrase.” Luckily, it’s very simple one to understand. When we speechies talk about carrier phrases, we are referring to phrases in which the first few words stay the same and only the last word changes. Some of my favorite carrier phrases are:

I want a…
I found a…
I have a….
I see a….
Do you have a….?
Where is the….?

Carrier phrases can be a great way to help children learn to use longer sentences. And, as a bonus, they can be used to help with lots of other speech and language skills as well. Carrier phrases work well because they can be used repetitively in an activity, giving children multiple opportunities to learn the phrase.

For example, if I am looking at books with a child, I might model the phrases, “I see a ball!” “I see a fish!” “I see a plane!” and then wait. Often, the child will come back with, “I see a (new noun here).” This teaches the child that exchanging one word in a sentence changes the meaning of the sentence, but because the first few words of the sentence are the same, it’s easier for children to memorize and say the whole thing. This can, however, be a good and bad thing. It’s good because using carrier phrases can lead to children using longer sentences quickly. Many children with autism, for example, are taught to use “I want (+ noun)” to request things and are able to learn this pretty fast. The downfall, though, is that sometimes children become over reliant on using these carrier phrases and don’t learn to make up all kinds of new and creative sentences. Carrier phrases can be good as a first step for learning to create sentences, but I always make sure children are using lots of different types of 2-word phrases as well.

Carrier phrases are also great for other language skills. For example:

• Carrier phrase can be used with children who are working on producing new speech sounds (i.e., articulation). Often, children can produce a sound well when producing it in one word at a time, but they have difficulty producing it in sentences or conversation. Carrier phrases are a great in-between step, because they increase the sentence length, but "reduce the linguistic load’ (in other words, they don’t require kids to think as much about what they are going to say before they say it). This can be especially helpful for children with developmental apraxia of speech.

• Carrier phrases are also great when working with children who are stuttering. In my post on preschool stuttering, I gave lots of beginning suggestions for working with a preschooler who stutters. One of those steps is to use slow and simple speech (again with the idea of “reducing the linguistic and cognitive load”—or helping children speak in activities that are predictable and thus require a bit less complex language and a bit less thought about what they are going to say). Doing this helps increase fluency. Using carrier phrases can be a great way to sloooow an activity down, take turns, and use simple, repetitive speech to increase fluency. 

How to use carrier phrases?

• Use expansion to model the phrase for your child in an appropriate activity. Say, for example, you were having snack and your child kept asking for “cookie” by just using that one word. Each time he did this, you might say, “I want a cookie,” before you give him the cookie and wait just a bit to see if he imitates you.

• Read books that have carrier phrases embedded in them. One of my favorites is Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?by Eric Carle.

• Play games like Memory and Go Fish, modeling simple phrase like, “Do you have a (noun)?” and “I found a (noun) ” or “I see a (noun)”

• Take turns pointing out interesting things in a book, modeling “I see (noun)” as you go.

Looking for More Strategies for Language Development?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Strategies for Language Development: "Reading" Wordless Picture Books and Describing Funny Pictures

Today's guest-post is written by Stephanie Sigal, M.A. CCC-SLP. She not only provides us with some really nice tips for reading wordless picture books and describing silly pictures with kids, she also provides an extensive list of wordless picture books and silly pictures. (My personal favorites are the Frog Series Wordless Picture books. I also *love* Ezra Jack Keats books.) Enjoy!

Wordless picture books and funny pictures are excellent tools to address vocabulary, word finding, grammar, articulation, attention and pre-reading skills. Goals to improve each of these naturally fall into place when “reading” wordless picture books and describing funny pictures. Even better, the variety of wordless picture books and funny pictures available allows for activities to remain fun and fresh. You can use wordless picture books and funny pictures for…

Sometimes a child can say a sound (e.g., /s/) in sentences, but needs extra practice in conversation.  Wordless books and funny pictures can bridge the gap between sentence level and conversation. 

Take turns with your child describing the pictures you see. If your child leaves out important information when describing scenes in books or pictures, you can ask an open ended question (e.g., "Hmmm - What's happening over here?").  If he can't describe what's happening, describe it for him.  Perhaps your description will improve his awareness to be more specific next time.  

With Wordless Picture Books
When appropriate, before turning the page, excitedly ask “What’s going to happen next?”  When given the opportunity to make a prediction (a pre-reading skill), children combine verbal and critical thinking skills.  

With Funny Pictures
Describing funny pictures is entertaining!  An instant smile appears when a child is shown a picture of the Statue of Liberty holding an ice cream sundae.  This task allows your child to link visual and cognitive skills, which is crucial for pre-reading.  Funny pictures need to be carefully examined, just as words need to be looked at closely to notice blends. What’s more, when a child focuses and attends to a funny picture and can explain why it is crazy a polar bear is on the beach, he is using attention and reasoning skills and making inferences. 

Social-Emotional Awareness 
A child may better appreciate the feelings of others if he can interpret and describe feelings.  When the opportunity presents itself, ask your child how a main character feels.  You may need to be more specific: “How does Jack the dog feel after his family left him without breakfast?”   Provide explanations as necessary.

Looking for some wordless picture books and funny pictures?

Wordless Books and Caldecott Winners

“Jack” Books

The "Jack" books by Pat Schories are a great introduction to wordless picture books. While the Jack books do not need to be read in any particular order, the following order works nicely:  

Children are interested in the characters in Jack's life.  Searching the detailed pictures for surprises is motivating, facilitates attention and assists in developing visual scanning skills.

Frog Series

The Frog Series by Mercer Mayer (and sometimes Marianna Mayer as well) is an appropriate series to try next.  Again, the books don’t need to be read in any particular order, but given the language skills required within each book, this order may be preferable:

I was first introduced to The Frog Series in my graduate school clinic.  School-age children described scenes in a Frog book chosen for them during an evaluation so we could obtain a narrative sample.

More Favorite Wordless Picture Books

(best for older children, purchase a used copy)
(My favorite, essentially wordless book, also a Caldecott*)

You can also use picture books with text, as long as the pictures are detailed.  This is generally more difficult than using wordless picture books, but if you try, it will work best with *Caldecott Medal / Honor Books.  One of the criteria for the Caldecott Award is that a child can interpret the story directly from the pictures.  A child doesn’t need to know how to read the text, in fact, cover text if your child can read, so he can freely choose his own words.
Caldecott Favorites

Flotsam (This is also a wordless picture book) by David Wiesner (Tuesday and Sector 7 are good for school age children)
The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster, Illustrated by Chris Raschka
The Paperboy by Dav Pilkey
Rumpelstiltskin by Paul Zelinsky
King Bidgood's In the Bathtub by Don and Audrey Wood
A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
One Fine Day by Nonny Hogrogian
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Umbrella by Taro Yashima
A Tree Is Nice by Marc Simont
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

The pictures in books by Leo Lionni and Ezra Jack Keats also allow for great descriptions.

Funny Pictures

I often provide What’s Wrong coloring books to children I work with so they can discuss one page a day with a parent as part of their homework.  I often leave the wordless picture book that we read together in therapy for homework as well.

What's Wrong? by Anna Pomaska is good to start with.  Then try What's Wrong with this Picture? also by Pomaska. 

Try this incredible set of silly photographs.  Wacky Wednesday by Dr. Seuss is fun to read together.  Practicing describing a worksheet or two each day from Super Duper's 150 "What's Wrong With This Picture?" Scenes can also help carryover speech and language skills.

What’s your favorite wordless picture book or funny picture game?


Stephanie Sigal, M.A. CCC-SLP is a speech language therapist practicing on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, NYC.  She works with babies, toddlers and school age children with expressive language delay and articulation disorders in their homes.  To learn more about Stephanie, please visit her website www.sayandplayfamily.com and blog www.blog.sayandplayfamily.com.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Strategies for Language Development: Using Songs to Improve Receptive Language and Behavior

I’ve posted before about the power of using songs to help a child start talking.  That’s not all songs are good for, though. They can also be used to help children learn to understand and follow directions.  I sing often during both the therapy sessions I run and my days at home with my toddler.

(I pause here to note that a good singing voice is not required to make this strategy work. My voice is, um, not the best.   As a dad of one of the kids I see for therapy recently remarked after hearing me sing, I need to “keep my day job.”  My lack of musicality matters not—singing almost always helps children understand what I want and improves the chances that they will actually do it.)

Why songs?

1.. Singing is fun! Children respond to adults who are engaging and silly, so an adult singing songs often shifts the mood of a stubborn toddler.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been fighting a typical two year old battle with my little girl about getting dressed and then started singing “Where’s your (body part)” to the tune of “Where’s Thumpkin?” as I pulled her arm through a sleeve.

Where’s Your Arm?
Where’s Your Arm?
There it is!
There it is!
We found your arm
We found your am
There it is.
There it is.  

Almost magically, her face will transform from frustration to rapt attention.  It doesn’t always work…but it often does.  This particular song is also a great way to work on understanding of body parts.

2. Songs are repetitive.  Toddlers and preschoolers thrive on repetition- it helps them learn and brings order to a world that is often rapidly changing.  Singing during transitions helps children understand what is expected .  When they hear the clean up song, for example, children often join in both the singing and cleaning up.  I use songs often during routine transitions such as cleaning up, washing hands, and walking out to the car.  To keep things simple (for my nonmusical mind), I sing a lot of songs to the “Where is Thumpkin” tune.  I just change out the verbs and the nouns:

Washing, Washing,
Washing, Washing,
On Your Hands
On Your Hands
Washing Washing Washing,
Washing Washing, Washing
On Your Hands
On Your Hands

Walking, Walking
Walking, Walking
To The Car
To The Car
Walking Walking Walking
Walking Walking Walking
To The Car
To The Car

3. Music is (we think) processed in a different part of the brain. There is some debate about this-- debate which I am not nearly smart enough to truly understand--but the idea is one that makes sense to me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a child with autism respond completely differently to directions that are sung as compared to directions that are spoken.  It’s like a switch has been flipped.  

No matter how you cut it, singing with children can be a great way to work on language.  Sing away!

Looking For Other Strategies for Language Development?