Thursday, June 8, 2017

Simple Activities for Speech and Language: Hidden Colors

I’m a huge fan of using simple activities for working on speech and language. Simple, because I’m a working mom with lots on her plate who just doesn’t have time for planning for and buying materials for more complex crafts and activities - either at home or at work. And activities, because speech and language are best promoted inside activities that are meaningful and motivating to children!

I recently came across an interesting simple activity on Pinterest: Hidden Colors. Thanks to Busy Toddler for this idea! Hidden Colors is super simple because it contains exactly three ingredients: baking soda, vinegar and food coloring.  Easy peasy! I've since used this activity to entertain my own daughter and to work on building speech and language during my speech-language sessions with preschoolers.
Hidden Colors involves a slight twist on the classic baking soda and vinegar volcanoes.  Instead of building a volcano and making it explode, baking soda is sprinkled into the cups of a muffin tin. Before sprinkling the baking soda into the cups, though, drops of food coloring are hidden underneath the baking soda.  Then, when your kiddo pours vinegar into the cup, it not only fizzes and foams (which is fun in and of itself), but a color is revealed.  Super simple, as promised, and super fun!

The key to success with this activity lies in making sure you don’t use very much baking soda in the cup of the muffin tin. The first time my daughter and I tried this, I dumped way too much baking soda in the cup and it really didn’t do much except for fizz - no color at all. The second time around, I put 3-4 drops of food coloring in each muffin tin and poured in just enough baking soda to cover the food coloring.  Lots of color this time around!

So how would you use this activity for promoting speech and language? In lots of ways!

If you have a toddler who is just starting to talk, you can build his vocabulary by using parallel talk and self talk to describe your actions using simple verbs, nouns and concept words: pour, in, bubble, wet, more, wow! Repeat these words over and over as you do the actions.  You can also use expansion to extend your toddler's words into short phrases; if he says, “bubbles,” you can say “red bubbles!” or “blue bubbles” “more bubbles” and “the bubbles are gone! This type of indirect language facilitation is known to be very effective in helping grow a child’s language.  You can also set up communication temptations by pouring the vinegar into one of the cups, ooohing and ahhhing as it fizzes and foams. Then, when the action is done, put the cap on the vinegar and just wait! When your child does something to indicate he/she wants more, you can ask her to say “bubble” or “more” or “pour” if she will imitate your words, or help her use sign language if she’ll let you help her sign.  

If you have 2-3 year old who is using short, but grammatically incorrect utterances, you can use recasts to fill in the gap of her words.  For example, if she says “bubble blue,” you can say, “The bubbles are blue!”  Research has found that using recasts can be a powerful ways to help children to build their grammar (or syntax) skills.

Children really start to learn their colors during the 2-4 year old age range, too, so you can ask your child to tell you what colors emerged from the cup.  If she struggles, you can use forced choice (are the bubbles blue or are they red?) or just go back to using parallel talk and self talk to surround him/her with the language to help her learn colors. The more she hears you say the names of colors, the more likely she will be to say those colors!

If you have a 3-5 year old, you can work on building more complex language.  Around this time in development, children start using conjunctions such as “and” and “if” in their sentences.  You can use these conjunctions to make longer sentences that describe what you’re doing. For example, “Let’s pour the vinegar in and see what color we find!”  During this age range, children also begin to master past tense verbs, so you can use this verb tense frequently (“I poured the vinegar!” “The bubbles turned blue!”).

During the preschool years, you can also also start working the mental state verbs (think, know, remember, hope) that go along with theory of mind.  For example, before pouring the vinegar into the baking soda, you can each predict the color that will emerge, using the word “think” (“I think it’s going to be blue!”).  Then, after the fizzing has ended, talk about what you thought and how it compared to reality (“I thought it would be blue, but it turned red!”). As an additional bonus, this type of sentence also has the conjunctions I just described above! You can also take pictures of each step of the activity; review them with your kiddo and describe what happened in each step.  Later, have him tell the story to someone else who didn't watch the activity. All of this helps children begin to separate their thoughts from both the actual events and the thoughts of others; it also gives them practice using language to talk about things that have already happened - something that becomes really important during the preschool and early elementary years.

One easy activity, three simple ingredients, and endless speech and language possibilities!

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