Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Everyday Language Activities: Grocery Shopping With a Toddler

As with any other profession, the field of early intervention goes through periods of evolution. These days, we are talking a lot about the importance of weaving child skill development into the context of everyday experiences and activities.  It's something that Ellen over at Love That Max blogged about recently in her post Sneaking in therapy for kids with special needs.

In her post, Ellen explains that her son Max gets therapy sessions throughout his week but that "the sessions are only 45 minutes to an hour long and it's the ways we put those therapy techniques into practice that matter most."  She goes on to describe how attempting to accomplish therapy carryover at home used to be overwhelming and somewhat guilt-provoking, especially when therapists would leave long lists of tasks to be accomplished. Then, Ellen reflects on how she has learned to do only what she can and let the rest go (yay!) and, most importantly, how she has learned to integrate the things Max needs into fun family activities that they were doing anyway. Yes, I thought when I read her post. Yes. That's exactly what we are trying to encourage families to do when we work with them and their children as early intervention professionals.

With that in mind, I took my two-year old daughter grocery shopping.  I'm learning that much of life is to be found in the joy of daily activities, so I decided to slow the activity down-- to enjoy it and her along the way. As I did, I realized how much skill development was occurring right in the context of this simple and potentially mundane daily routine.
  • Two-year olds are developing and understanding of simple concepts, so we wove them into our trip. She put things "in" the cart and "under" it as well.  The cat litter was heavy (I let her drag it to the cart so she could experience what heavy meant) and the chips were light (as she threw them up and over the edge of the cart). The bread was soft (and a bit squished after we were done) and the cans were hard. The apples were big and the grapes were small. I paired actions with words as we compared and contrasted all these things, and by the end of the trip, she was starting to use some of the words on her own to describe what she was doing or what she felt. Even better, she had a blast helping gather the food, throwing thing into the cart, and just generally being involved in the experience.
  • Toddlers this age are also just starting to use simple grammar elements such as: plural -s (cans), possessive -s (daddy's), and -ing (pushing)  I used expansion and indirect correction to model her sentences back to her, a bit more correctly. If she said, "two apple," as we counted them and put them in the bag, I said "Yep, two apples!" When she commented that she was holding, "daddy plum"  I responded with, "These are daddy's plums!" And when she said "I push!" while pushing the cart down the aisle (and almost into the pickles), I replied that "Yes, you're pushing!"
  •  Two-year olds are also merging into the word of pretend play and we wove this into our trip as well. At one point, a jar of olives was a microphone and we were rock stars. People may have thought us a bit odd, but we were certainly having fun. 
The beautiful part of all of this is that it made the activity joyful for both of us. She was learning and I was shopping, but most of all, we were just being mother and daughter, loving up life. 

I must note, of course, that this won't work for everyone, in every activity. My daughter loves grocery shopping. My son? Hated it. With him, getting through grocery shopping was an exercise in survival; my sole focus was on keeping him contained long enough that we could get the groceries we needed. It wouldn't have worked to slow it down, even if I had tried to engage him more. It's just how he was as a toddler: full of boundless energy that was exceedingly hard to corral.  When he was little, it was much easier to weave learning into football than into grocery shopping. The activity has to fit the child, not the other way around.

And, there is also the danger of believing that every single activity throughout the day has to be a learning experience. It doesn't. Sometimes grocery shopping just needs to be grocery shopping, and that needs to be okay.  But when it doesn't, when time can slow down just a bit, when children can learn in the context of an activity that is truly a delight for everyone involved, that's the sweet spot for sure.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Give-away! Awesome Apps: Speech With Milo

Scroll to the bottom of this post to find out how to enter the Speech With Milo App Give-away! 

I am always on the look-out for fun activities, games and toys to help facilitate language in kids, and am always super excited when I find them. As I mentioned in a comment recently, I'm pretty sure I actually drooled the other day at a store when I happened upon wind-up toys that were priced 10 for $10.00. A speech-therapist's dream! (Yes, we are an odd breed at times). 

One fun new discovery I've made recently is  the Speech With Milo Apps Series developed by fellow speech-therapist Poorani Doonan. I love her apps, because they are designed to be used interactively with children to promote language growth. They are simple, yet well thought-out, fun, and motivating. The best part is that they can be used in a variety of ways with a variety of children, both typically developing and those with language delays or other diagnosis.

Speech With Milo: Verbs, for example, can be used a number of different ages or levels of language development.

  • If your child is just starting to use verbs, you can use Speech With Milo: Verbs to label the verb as you and your child watch Milo ("glue!"). 
  • Around two years old, children starting using the verb tense "-ing" to describe what is happening; at that point, you can emphasize this part of the verb while talking with your child about Milo ("Gluing! Milo is gluing"). 
  • Around 3 and 4 years old, children start using different types of verb tenses. At this point in language development, you can talk about what Milo is going to do ("He's going to glue!"), what Milo is doing as it is actually happening (He's gluing!") and what Milo did, after it is done (He glued!). Children with language delays often struggle with these subtle differences in verb tenses;  this app is a simple and yet motivating way to work on these aspects of grammar repeatedly. 

Speech With Milo: Sequencing can also be used a variety of ways.

  • Toddlers will enjoy sitting with you and simply narrating what Milo is doing in each picture ("Mixing!") and then watching as you turn it into an animated story.
  • As children grow into preschoolers, you can use Speech With Milo: Sequencing with them to work on their sequencing skills by putting the pictures in order. This helps them begin to develop an internal narrative structure, which will eventually help them to organize and understand stories during their academic years.  
  • This app is also a fantastic way to work on time sequence words such as "first," "then" and "finally," which can be particularly hard concepts for children with language delays and autism.
Then, there's Speech With Milo: An Interactive Storybook, which, from my perspective, is the most versatile app of them all.  As Poorani explains in her demo, this app can be used to address a wide variety of skills: storytelling, describing, making predictions, improving utterance length, and improving grammatical skills. One of the coolest parts of this app is that you can have your child record his own voice to tell the story...a great chance to get him talking!

Poorani has also created Speech With Milo: Prepositions, Speech With Milo:Verbs (in Spanish), and Speech With Milo: Prepositions (in Spanish). All awesome and all found at her Speech With Milo App Store

And (here's the best part!) she's letting me give away two of her apps here on Child Talk! Yay!! :) I'll be giving away one Speech With Milo: Interactive Storybook App and one Speech With Milo: Sequencing App, each to one lucky reader. To enter the give-away, do one of the following by October 28th:

  • "Like" or share this post on Facebook and leave me a comment here to let me know you did this, 
  • Retweet the tweet about this on Twitter and leave me a comment to let me know you did this,
  • Follow Child Talk on Twitter and leave me a comment to let me know you did this, or 
  • Follow Child Talk via e-mail or a feed and leave me a comment to let me know! 
Make sure you leave me a comment here on Child Talk to know which of these you've done if you want to enter the give-away.  I'll use the comments to pick two winners via random.org and announce the winners in a post on October 28th. Also, make sure you either leave your e-mail address in your comment or check back on October 28th to find out if you've won!   Good luck!

Advertising Disclaimer: I accept cash and product compensation for some of the posts on this blog, and if you click on an advertising link or purchase an advertised product I have placed on my blog, this will sometimes result in a monetary compensation for me, which I use as a means of supporting Child Talk. (Trust me, it's much less than you imagine it to be!). However, my opinions about the products I blog about are my own.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

If At First You Don't Succeed: The Importance of Failure in Child Development

I love watching children develop. So much so that I'm pretty sure one of the main reasons I entered this profession is this: it gives me the chance to watch children discover the world, over and over and over again. Since I am a mom, I get to see this process unfold in front of me at home, too.  And  honestly, it is a beautiful thing to behold.

The other day, my baby (um, toddler) girl was playing with blocks. I started to try to help her and then I stopped. Instead of interfering, I simply sat back and watched. Her patience astounded me (it's a trait that I can only wish to acquire) and her inquisitiveness delighted me (I am a mama, after all!).

After observing for a bit, my speech-therapist brain kicked in and I began to realize what I was watching.  At 24 months, children are natural explorers- they are trying hard to figure out the world  around them and find out how they fit in.  They are starting to develop mental models, which means they are starting to hold representations of objects (and eventually ideas) in their head. And yet, their mental models aren't quite fully established, and, as a result, they end up doing a lot of trial and error to see how things fit together. As they try things out, they begin to develop more accurate mental models.  Eventually, they develop an understanding of how things go together without having to try those things out first.

Back to the blocks. My daughter was clearly working on developing a mental model of the blocks. She knew what she wanted (a fully stacked tower) and she knew when her tower wasn't quite working out as she wanted. She also seemed to know that when the tower wasn't working out, she had to remove a block or two.  And yet, at just 26 months, she doesn't yet have the cognitive powers to analyze the situation fully in her head-- instead, she must rely on the trial and error process of removing and adding blocks as she goes.  In doing so she's creating a series of mini-experiments. Over time, the results of her experimenting will add up to a new understanding of how things fit together, and, eventually, she'll be able to figure tasks like these out in her head, without ever touching a block.
So how does this relate to language? (This is, after all Child Talk).  Here's how: we know that cognition--the scientific term for the mental processes in our head--and language go hand-in-hand.    Problem-solving, remembering, and decision-making are all mental processes that both require language and inspire language.  Spurring cognition spurs language, and vice versa.

All of this to say:  Don't underestimate the importance of letting your child fail sometimes. It's such an essential part of learning. If you are like me, you may have to fight your instinct to help, to step in, to teach your child exactly what to do, to save her from the frustration and agony that come from not having things work out like they should on the first try.  And yet, it's worth the fight. Step back, watch, and let your little one explore on her own...and in doing so, know that you are handing her the keys to understanding the world around her.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Every Day Language Learning: My Love Affair With Mr. Potato Head

Today's guest post is written by fellow speech-language therapist Brie Schindel, who blogs over at Toddler Talk. I follow up her post with a few thoughts of my own about the different types of strategies you can use while playing potato head with your little one. Enjoy!

I'm expecting a baby in 3 short weeks and in an attempt to be VERY organized before my second child arrives, I began my Christmas shopping a few weeks ago! While shopping at Costco for my 22 month old nephew Tyler, I was overjoyed to discover a jumbo Mr. Potato Head multi-pak. This kit has at least 3 different sizes of Mr. Potato Head and all the accompanying body parts.Mr. Potato Head is such a universally popular toy for young children that I shared my purchase with Tyler's mom, in order to be sure she didn't pick one up for him before Christmas. 

As a Speech-Language Pathologist, I may love Mr. Potato Head for slightly different reasons than the average parent. Vocabulary sizeat age 2 is a critical predictor of future language and literacy development in elementary school.  Mr. Potato Head is a fantastic tool for teaching one of the core vocabulary groups for young children - body parts.  Along with providing one more way to teach your child about body parts, Mr. Potato Head provides the opportunity to model some great position words like 'in', 'out' and 'on'.  Now throw my Costco purchase into the mix and you've got the opportunity to talk to your young child about 'big' and 'small' Mr. Potato Head and the different sizes of accompanying pieces, which may be 'too big' or 'too small' for the Potato Head your child is playing with.

When I'm working as a Speech-Language Pathologist, these are the things I'm thinking about, but when I'm playing with my own daughter I use the words and concepts very naturally and we just have fun with a classic, favorite toy.

Read more of Brie's thoughts on speech and language by heading over to Toddler Talk!

Becca's note: I love Brie's post because it underscores how easily we can use every day play time to work on language. And there are lots of ways to do so:
  • As Brie noted, it's super easy to use parallel talk, self talk, and description to model (say) the name of the different body parts as you play with them. It seems so simple, but it's a step that parents often forget. Say eye as you pick up an eye, nose as you hand her a nose, and teeth as she puts the teeth on. Do this many, many times (yes, you will sound like a broken record!) and pretty soon your child will start doing the same.  
  • You can also pair actions with words during this activity.  Say "on" every time you put a piece on, and "off" each time you take a piece off. These concepts of "on" and "off" are very early developing ones; toddlers will naturally repeat the words as they do the actions. Potato Head can also "walk walk walk" across the floor, go "boom" as he falls on the ground, and "jump" off the couch onto the floor (creating great excitement when all the pieces fall off along the way!).  Say the word each time the action happens.
  • Give your child choices. Hold an ear in one hand, and a nose in the other, saying "ear? (hold up ear) or nose?" When your child reaches or points at one, give it to him while labeling it again ("Ear! You want ear.").  Eventually, he'll start making the choice by saying what he wants. 
  • Give him a chance to find the body part that matches the potato head part you have. Hold an ear up to your ear, saying ear and then give him the nose....see if he'll hold it up to his. Work on receptive language (understanding) by making a game of finding the part that you name.
  • Use expansion when he uses a single word. This is a great chance to work on early developing two-word phrases. When he says, eye when putting the eyes on, you say eye on; when he says shoe while talking a shoe off, you say, shoe off; when he picks up a big nose and says nose you say (anyone?) big nose; and when you clean the pieces up, you can model eyes done, nose done, shoes done one at a time while putting the pieces back in the box (pairing your words with your actions yet again!)
  • Because it has pieces, Potato Head also lends itself to being a communication temptation. If your child lets you, you can hold the pieces in your lap and hand him a piece one at a time. Then wait. See if he communicates that he wants more. Depending on his language level, you can ask him to say or sign "more," ask for a specific piece (nose or eyes?), or use a two word phrase to clarify which piece he wants (Blue shoes or red shoes? Big nose or small nose?). It's also an easy way to work on carrier phrases such as "I want a...." or "I have a...."
  • Finally, my potato head loves to eat food, dance around, go to sleep, and play hide and seek. All beautiful ways to work on pretend play, which begins emerging around one year and takes off in earnest by 18-24 months 
Looking for more every day language learning tips?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

FAQs About Using Pictures to Help With Beginning Language

In Part One and Part Two of this three-part series on picture use, I explained how to go about teaching your child to communicate with you using pictures. Many parents, though, have reservations about using pictures with their child.  In the third and final post of this series, I answer some of the most common questions I hear from parents. Here we go! 

Won’t using pictures keep my child from talking? 
Won’t he just use pictures and never learn to talk?

Not in my experience, and not in the experience of many others. Quite the opposite, in fact: there are many reports in the literature of children whose verbal language increased as they were taught the use of pictures to communicate. On a logical and a practical level, this makes sense to me. If we teach our children that they can communicate with us through pictures, this will increase the likelihood that they will learn that verbal language can be used as a form of communication, too.  Then, as children learn to communicate verbally, pictures can be dropped out.  Children who learn to access the power of verbal speech will choose this route over the more work-intensive route of going to find pictures, selecting the picture and taking it to a person.  Speaking is easier and much more efficient and children will learn that quickly once they start talking. I have seen this happen more times than I can count.

However, this has not been proven without a doubt through empirical research. To my knowledge, there are still no large, well-controlled studies that prove that pictures help increase verbal language. BUT, there are also no studies that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they inhibit verbal language.  So.  Can I tell you definitively and absolutely that pictures won’t inhibit language? Nope, I can’t. But I sure don’t think they do.

Aren’t pictures only for children who we know will never talk?

We used to think this way. In the past, picture use was reserved for the most severe cases, when all other options were exhausted. Now we tend to move much more quickly into picture use, especially when we know that there is a gap between what the child wants to express and what he is able to express verbally.  A child in this situation is often terribly frustrated, and picture use gives him a quick way to communicate his basic of needs—until he is able to do so verbally.  In my opinion, I see no need to exhaust other options.  Instead, I often use pictures along with other language development strategies.  

Does my child actually have to hand me a picture?
 Can’t he just point to a picture in a book, on a page, or on an I-pad app?

He can. This is certainly one way to use pictures.  However, the value in having your child physically exchange a picture is that he learns that he *needs* to use a communication partner to communicate. Requiring a child to exchange a picture makes it very obvious that a communication partner is involved in the exchange in a way that simply pointing to a picture in a book does not.    Teaching a child to actually exchange a picture with a person prevents him from standing in an empty room, pointing to a picture and expecting something to happen. When he knows he has to give the picture to a person, he will go seek out that person.  When we teach children to exchange a picture, we hope that the child will then learn that he needs to exchange verbal words with a partner as well; all of this highlights the idea that an attentive partner must be actively involved in the communication process.

In my humble opinion, this is most essential for children with autism, as they have the most difficulty understanding social dynamics. If you’ve got a highly social child who simply cannot communicate verbally, allowing him to point at pictures to request and comment might be the easiest route for everyone involved. 

What can I do to find out more?