Putting Toys Away: Tips for Fostering Language While Keeping Your House Clean(ish)

By Grace LeVasseur, TLC Speech Language Pathologist

 TLC student Daphne has fun with a combination of toys and cardboard boxes at home.

TLC student Daphne has fun with a combination of toys and cardboard boxes at home.

I love picking out the perfect toy for a play session. Finding a motivating toy for a child can spark engagement to help best instruct specific speech and language skills. However, as a mom of a toddler, I know the reality of caring for these toys and the constant picking up and putting away of books, dolls, puzzles, play food, and more. Is there a way to balance exposing your child to developmentally appropriate toys/play while also keeping a clean house?

Maybe not all the time. However, given the steps below, language skills like attention, following directions, categorization, requesting, and pretend play can be fostered even during clean up. 

Step 1: Dump toys on the floor (pick a corner!) and sort. Why? Embrace the mess! What is your child drawn to out of all those toys? Which ones need to go? 

Language learning opportunity: categorization/following directions: Have your child assist you in the sorting/organizing their toys. You can do this simply and increase difficulty. 

•    "Find a book!"
•    "Grab all the books!"
•    "Put the books on the shelf"
•    "Put the books on the shelf and the animals in the basket"
•    "Put the big books on the shelf and the little books in the box"

 
 

Step 2: Put those toys in containers or reclosable bags. Why? Putting toys in their assigned groups helps a child make associations. For example, if a child pulls out "pretend foods," their experience with each fruit and vegetable reaffirms the multitude of specific "foods" within that category. 

Language learning opportunity: requesting: Is your child showing interest in the zipped up bag full of blocks? Let him/her ask to open the bag! You can do this simply and increase difficulty.

•    "I see you want to play with the blocks!"
•    "You are <insert here the action your child is taking to show you she is requesting such as reaching, pointing, nodding head, or even saying "open!">"
•    Incorporate a "script" to repeatedly use every time you open an item
o    "Knock knock, open!"
o    "zzziiiippppppp, open!"
o    "Is it stuck? Oh, you need help, 'help please! Open!'"
•    Additionally, while having a clear container creates an opportunity to label the contents inside, a colored/blocked container allows for a child to guess what's inside. 

 
 

Step 3: Put half of those containers away in another room. Why? This helps your child focus on the toys available, removes clutter (less cleaning for you), and makes for a more interesting toy after they've been out of sight for a while. 

Language learning opportunity: Attention/following directions. Is your child all done playing blocks? Using "first, then" language can help transition between activities and/or increase the time spent on the activity. 
•    "Are you all done playing blocks?"
•    (no)
•    "Oh, you still want to play with blocks! Let's stack up up up" <Voila 2 more minutes of play!>
•    "Are you all done playing blocks?"
•    (yes)
•    "Oh! First, we put the blocks in the box, then we can eat our snack!"

Step 4: Use what you've got around and outside the house. Why? This is a free and functional way to optimize vocabulary development with household items and role play of daily routines. 

Language learning opportunity: pretend play. Not using that cardboard box lying next to the recycling? Can it be transformed into a house? A kitchen?
•    Play Peek a boo! around the pretend house going in and out, flapping the doors open and shut
•    Act out daily routines: pretend to eat, sleep, wipe the floor, etc.
•    Extend these routines to include other toys: feed the doll, put the teddy bear to sleep, clean up the kitty's spilled milk, etc. 

I'll confess, I'm actually not a neat freak. To be honest, my living room is usually messy... However, considering from time to time that cleaning can also be an opportunity for play and interaction, making "putting toys away" that much more fun and meaningful for you and your child. 

Tools for Communicating with Children

By Kirsten Asbury, Occupational Therapy Student

Often, it can be difficult to communicate with a child who is still navigating the world. As teachers and as parents we may be getting pretty good at reading into the situation and understanding a child’s personality to know what they are trying to communicate. More likely than not, though, it is a trial and error process. Sometimes, when the child cannot communicate their needs, they may act out in the form of more crying, taking what they want from another child, or throwing a fit. These ways of communication can be effective if they get the child what they want, but there are positive, more effective tools we can give children to help them communicate to the best of their ability. 
 
As an Occupational Therapy student, a former TLC teacher, a care giver for a boy with Down Syndrome, and the daughter of a Sign Language Interpreter, I have a few pointers for using positive communication with children:

First, use simple and direct language. Children are still developing their ideas about the world and how they want to express themselves. Sometimes they need a little guidance on what to talk about. For example, when I was leading story time and asked questions about the book, I might have asked if the children thought the character in the book was sad? When they said yes because he had a sad face and I was also showing a sad face, I asked why the character is sad? Some children wanted to talk more about what made them sad or how to cheer up the character, but I did not lead them on with a million questions, I kept it simple and let them guide the conversation.

If the child is not at this communication level, a great method to communicate would be with choices. I used choices as a communication tool when working as a caregiver for a 9-year-old boy with Down Syndrome who was none verbal. Give the child two activity options, or even a yes or no question. Use your left and right hand to represent each option. For example, I would ask the boy if he wanted to go swimming (signaling my left hand) or go to the park (signaling my right hand). I would hold out my hands and he would point to the hand for the activity he wanted to do, and then I would repeat the answer.

Another great way to communicate non-verbally is through sign language. At TLC we use sign language everyday to communicate with children. We use it during songs, at snack time to ask a child if they want more, and throughout the day as they engage in play and table activities. Sign language offers many benefits for children: they are able to learn about Deaf culture, they are able to communicate non-verbally, especially with their non-verbal peers, and it can help them communicate when they might not know how to articulate what they want to say. Another great benefit of sign language is the use of fine motor skills. As a future Occupational Therapist I have great respect for the amount of fine motor skills that children are expected to master. So, the more they exercise those skills in a fun learning environment or at home, the more prepared they will be when it comes time to hold a pencil and communicate through their writing. 

July Speech & Language Activities

By Fawn Gold, TLC Speech and Language Pathologist

TLC Speech Therapist Fawn Gold has created a calendar of activities to engage your child in speech and language development this summer. Try any of the activities below to help your child build conversational skills and verbal communication while you enjoy the long days together.

Responsive Language

By Amy Kuessel, TLC Teaching Assistant

Responsive language is a way of speaking with children that uses reason and logic, encourages independence, uses nurturing control, and encourages elaboration. Responsive language helps children develop oral language skills, self-expression, and social-emotional skills related to peer and adult interactions. The opposite of responsive language is restrictive language. Restrictive language asserts power, discourages independence, is controlling, and has a lecturing tone. 

It seems natural to ask children questions to elicit responses, but research shows that asking pointed questions can raise the anxiety of a child and thus limit the complexity of a child's language and response. Questions can be restrictive when a child worries about giving an adult the "right" answer, or about selecting his or her words to stay in the parameters of the question. Responsive language creates opportunities for children to speak freely, using an expanded vocabulary and independent thought. Some suggestions for using responsive language when conversing with a child include:

1) Repeat: Repeating what the child said opens up the conversation and lets them know they are heard, and that the adult is receptive to the child elaborating on his or her statement.

2) Expand: Repeat what the child said and expand on it in your response. This helps guide the child's thoughts down new paths, keeping the conversation open and moving.

3) Self-talk: Use self-talk to teach children how to connect actions with language. In self-talk, a parent or guardian narrates what they are thinking and feeling. For example, "I like strawberries on my cereal," "I am slicing carrots for your lunch."

4) Parallel talk: In parallel talk, the parent or caregiver repeats what the child may be doing, feeling, and thinking to help the child connect language with their actions and feelings. Parallel talk almost always starts with "you," for example, "You are playing with your blocks," or "You are chewing your spaghetti."

5) Modeling: Modeling is another way to maintain a conversation with a child, but this time without using the child's words. This type of responsive language helps a child learn new ways to say things, while guiding them to elaborate on a topic or thought.

Strategies that support children's learning and give and take in conversation help children develop language skills, independent thought, and social-emotional skills. Responsive language is a great and easy strategy to give kids a head start in the development of these positive skills!

Cold Weather Speech and Language Activities for Kids

By Fawn Gold, TLC SpeechTherapist

January in Colorado is a chilly month! And with cold temperatures, ice, and snow, comes the need for indoor activities with children. Find a whole month's worth of indoor speech and language activities to help keep kids busy (and having fun!) while developing speech/language acquisition skills, and oral motor skills in the chart below:

 Make hot chocolate and talk about each step involved in preparation (first, second, third, etc.).

 When getting ready to go outside, talk about the purpose of coats, hats, scarves, and why we need to wear them.

Name four animals you see in the winter/cold climates and find pictures to discuss how they are similar and different from each other.

  Act out and talk about the verbs jump, crawl, kick, throw, catch, and other movements that can be demonstrated in the living room.

 Race cars on a table and talk about the differences between fast and slow.

 Read a book about winter and ask your child to recall five details from the story.

Find items of different textures (rough, soft, hard, etc.) and put them in a bag and have your child guess what they are.

Use silverware to make a pattern and talk about what’s first, last, and what will come next.

 Take turns thinking of things that are white like the snow. Where can you find each of the things you list?

Help your child find 10 words in a book or magazine that start with the same letter as your child’s name

 Find five things in the kitchen and talk about how they are used, and what you can make with them.

 Make snowballs of various sizes and talk about the differences between big and small.

Find all the tables in your house and talk about their sizes and shapes. Ask your child, what can you do on each table?

Make a grilled cheese sandwich and label and talk about the ingredients.

During a meal, include a variety of food textures and talk about soft, crunchy, chewy, etc.

 Have your child help sort the laundry and match colors.

Write the names of all family members and then count the letters and talk about long and short.

 Find several pairs of shoes and arrange them from biggest to smallest.

Have your child go to three rooms in your house and find five things in each room that are blue

While driving, ask your child about all of the different colors of houses, buildings, etc. that they see.

Walk between two buckets transferring cotton balls on a spoon and talk about full and empty.

Take turns hiding a small object under one of three bowls and guessing which bowl it’s under (1st, 2nd, or 3rd).

During bath time, talk about which toys or objects float and sink.

 Use play-doh to make a snowman and talk about all of the body parts.

Take turns naming as many different animals as you can.

Are you looking for a pediatric speech, physical, or occupational therapist for your child? TLC Learning Center has a highly rated pediatric therapy center, in addition to our 4 Star ranked preschool education and infant care center. Call us at (303)776-7417) to learn more.

Early Intervention & Occupational Therapy

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By Shari Karmen, TLC Therapeutic Services Manager & Occupational Therapist

I believe in Early Intervention; I don’t believe in the motto “wait and see what happens in a year." Parents should trust their gut feeling when worried about their child’s development because parents know their children best. Early Intervention and screening for developmental delays and disabilities can make all the difference in setting a child on course for healthy growth.

Helping kids and their families screen for delays and address areas of concern to build strong, happy kids is what I love to do. I want all parents to know what Early Intervention is, and how it can benefit their child.

 My son, K, as a baby

When I think of the successes of Early Intervention in children I've worked with, so many faces come to mind. I remember when a little girl with a serious heart condition ate her first cheerio without choking, a huge feat for a toddler with a history of feeding difficulties and poor weight gain. I remember another little girl who was sent home from her long hospital stay with bottles and nipples from the hospital that were not available to the public. Her mom was panicked, but we worked together to find the right combination and a comfortable feeding position. Together, we were able to help the little girl move to a commercially available bottle and nipple. Her mom was overjoyed, and the little girl was able to eat a healthy amount and gain weight at a healthy pace, and that made me smile. I have so many stories like these.

I also have a personal story. My son, K, was delayed. I was probably the nightmare mom – the one who knew just enough to drive the doctors nuts. I brought my son in to the doctor's at four days old and said he had low muscle tone. Of course at the time he was crying his eyes out and stiff as a board, making the process of observing him more difficult. But my pediatrician believed me when I voiced my concerns, and referred me to the Early Intervention program in Tucson.

K is truly an Early Intervention success story. We started Physical Therapy for his low muscle tone at six months, followed by Occupational Therapy, and then Speech Therapy. With help building his strength and muscle tone, K was able to sit upright, as well as crawl a crooked path at nine months. He walked at 18 months. He did not use verbal language, but learned some sign language between 12-18 months. He was very sensitive to movement, noises, and touch, which made car rides, going to the grocery store, and getting dressed a challenge. Our therapists worked with K and us on each of these difficulties.

My husband and I followed through with every recommendation and exercise demonstrated by our therapists, working with K at home following appointments. My son graduated from Physical Therapy, then Speech Therapy (speaking in full sentences), and lastly, Occupational Therapy within three years. I am happy to report that today he is a talented, soft spoken, and loving 18 year old, getting ready to leave the nest to pursue degrees in classical piano performance and music education. We couldn't be prouder parents.

I know not everybody’s story is the same, but in all of my years working, I can honestly say that I always see positive changes with Early Intervention services. I was friends with my son’s therapists, and now I have made friends with my client’s families, and I love seeing the progress their children make long after they've graduated from Early Intervention therapies.

So, what is Early Intervention?

Commonly referred to as EI, Early Intervention is a nationwide system that helps identify, and then helps treat babies and toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities. EI focuses on five areas of development:

  • Physical (rolling, crawling, using hands to play with blocks)
  • Cognitive (problem solving how to get to a toy, playing peek-a-boo, figuring out a toy)
  • Communication (babbling, talking, following directions)
  • Social/Emotional (feeling secure, smiling, playing with other children)
  • Adaptive (eating, dressing, sensory processing)

Eligibility for EI services is determined by an evaluating team. If eligible, EI services can be put in place from birth up to a child’s third birthday.

Anyone can refer a child to EI. If you as a parent have a concern about your child’s development, you can call a center like TLC (a pediatric therapy office specializing in EI services and physical, occupational, and speech therapies for children up to 12), the local Child Find office through your school district, or the Part C agency in your county. Physicians and daycare providers are also great referral sources.

Early Intervention services include:

  • Physical Therapy – to address gross motor skills such as rolling, crawling, and walking, issues with balance, strength, and coordination.
  • Occupational Therapy – to address fine motor skills, sensory processing, self help skills (feeding, dressing), and play skills.
  • Speech and Language Therapy – to address understanding of language, expression, social communication, and speech intelligibility.

EI is based on routines. That means that we, the therapists, help you, the parent, to provide therapeutic activities during your child’s daily routine. EI therapists can see children in the hospital, in homes, in childcare settings, and out and about in the community.

If you have any concerns about the development of your child, don't hesitate to have your child screened. It's easy, and can make a world of difference in helping your child be the happiest and healthiest baby it can be. I'm proud to say, Early Intervention works!