The Symbiotic Relationship of Play and Speech Therapy
You may have wondered why your child’s speech therapist spends so much time playing with your child. We are often on the floor being silly, making animal sounds, talking into a banana, or pretending to make a fabulous spaghetti and meatball feast. It looks too fun to be therapeutic, right? But in reality, those are the moments where the magic happens. To understand why speech therapy involves so much playing, it helps to know why and how children play.
Why do kids play?
Play helps children to understand their world. A child can pretend to be an astronaut without ever leaving the ground, or they can pretend to be a doctor before they have started elementary school. Play helps children try new things, test out theories, and imagine new worlds. Communication is an essential piece of this process. A child who plays with another child or with an adult will use language to craft a shared, imaginary world. Delayed play skills may be a red flag that a child may also have delayed language skills.
Play skills develop in tandem with language skills.
Children typically say their first word at about one year of age. Before then, they ‘practice’ language when they watch others speak and when they babble. A one year old is likely to understand more than they say, and they may be able to respond to a simple request such as, “bring me your shoe.” That same one year old is starting to realize that objects they can’t see still exist. In other words, they may be able to retrieve those shoes even if they are out of sight, in another room.
By age two, a typically developing child will be expressing their wants and needs using spoken words. They may still do a lot of pointing and crying, but they can also combine two words for a variety of purposes, such as to greet someone (e.g., “Hi Mommy”), label objects (e.g., “big dog”), or to make requests (e.g., “want banana”). A two-year-old uses play to connect with another person and to practice using new words and phrases.
As children continue to grow, they express themselves using more complex words – learning to use words to describe concepts such as time, location, and size as well as to discuss abstract ideas and feelings. When language becomes more detailed and complex, play also becomes more sophisticated. Children progress from observing play, to playing by themselves, to playing next to other children (but separately), and ultimately to playing interactively with others. By the time a typically developing child is three years old, they are able to engage in imaginary play, and their play schemes may follow a sequence. For example, a child might pretend to choose ingredients, cook food, and then eat it. Or, they might pretend to be a doctor – inspecting and treating an injury.
How and why play is used during speech therapy.
Since play and language skills develop in tandem, we often play during speech therapy to encourage language. Rule-based “game play” is often built into speech activities and/or combined with other forms of play to entice children to join in. We use “symbolic play” (pretend play) to get a children talking, since pretending requires the use of language in order to build a shared understanding. We also utilize our sensory motor gym, where we have the option to collaborate with our occupational therapists to engage in “practice play” (play that involves a lot of movement), which has the added benefit of helping children to maintain a state of sensory regulation, or optimal band of arousal, so they are happy and having fun while engaging in speech learning activities. During all these different forms of therapeutic play, we can incorporate gestures, facial expressions, and signed language in order to help build language skills in children whose verbal skills are delayed.
So, the next time you see your giggling child on the floor sitting next to a speech therapist who has a banana phone in her hand, rest assured that play is the fun way to build communication and language skills.
During the Covid crisis, speech therapists are using telehealth to support kiddos and their families during extended at home time.
At this time, perhaps more than ever, we count our blessings, and we are indeed blessed to have at Child Success Center, an extraordinary team of therapists. This May, as usual, we honor our speech therapists during Better Hearing and Speech Month.
Two of our speech therapists, Jeni and Samar, recently spoke via Zoom with CSC Director, Melissa Idelson, about their use of telehealth therapy sessions during the “shelter-at-home” period associated with the Covid-19 crisis, and how they have benefited both therapist and client.
Jeni talks about why she became a speech therapist, and how she uses various methods of therapy, including Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) to help children communicate and build their social brain. She also shares the ways she’s currently using telehealth to support her clients during the Covid-19 crisis.
Samar shares her experiences using telehealth to conduct speech therapy sessions during “shelter-at-home” period. She has discovered a plethora of new online resources that she is utilizing in her sessions, and feels strongly that many of them will continue to be useful, even after in-person therapy resumes. She is looking forward to having teletherapy as a future alternative when children are unable to make an appointment in person, like during a vacation or when mild illness makes staying home preferable.
The weather is perfect for some time outdoors engaging your child in fun sensory motor activities!
The 4 videos below demonstrate easy, fun and engaging ways to use sensory motor activities to advance academic learning. The kids will have a great time as they are motivated and challenged, both physically and mentally.
Practicing math, spelling and handwriting has never been so much fun!
Sensory motor play with shaving cream is a great way for kids to practice letter and number formation.
How to use fun, engaging sensory motor learning to advance academic learning at home.
Fun and engaging “at home” activities for kids use balance and core work while practicing math and spelling.
Listening, thinking, matching, moving – sensory motor learning at home.
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Your child is entering Kindergarten in the fall. But is he really prepared for the big transition?
The big day is almost here – your child is making the transition from pre-school into Kindergarten in the fall. As a parent, this can be both an exciting and emotional time, but for the child it is a major shift in routine, environment and academic expectations. Is your child really prepared? Common Core Standards have raised the academic bar, even at the Kindergarten level, but it is a child’s ability to attune, adapt, anticipate and efficiently process information, that is critical to a successful transition from the pre-school environment.
Typically, in pre-school a child may be given a single level task, that when autonomously completed, frees the child to go off and play. In contrast, as a Kindergartener a child may be asked to remain with an activity for a longer period of time, requiring auditory attention to both learn and follow an external plan. The activity may involve a series of directions that require the child to adjust his perspective or body multiple times, while self-regulating his emotions and actions. Since more time is spent in Kindergarten with whole-class, teacher-led instruction, a child must have the ability to think as a “we”; to attend and adjust to a group activity that requires social collaboration such as discussions about a story being told, its characters, settings and how they can relate to the story.
Social Brain Building Skills
The new Kindergartener will now have to attune to surroundings and peers, a shift from the more self-attuned pre-school positioning. The child must be able to walk into a situation and be able to observe and listen, then perceive what is expected of them. For example: the child walks into a classroom where other children are sitting and drawing. The child can then conclude that he/she is expected to sit and draw. This awareness, or metacognition, will keep the child from getting distracted and disorganized, helping to facilitate the efficacy of each learning experience. Auditory processing allows the child to attune to teacher directions and turn language into actions in order to follow new routines or complete a task. Repetition established by the kindergarten teacher will support this learning curve throughout the kinder year.
The ability to think as a “we” and follow directions, listen, attend, modify behavior and anticipate change, are the building blocks of executive function, a set of processes, or neurologically-based skills, that all have to do with managing oneself (mental control and self-regulation) and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. A solid foundation of Executive Function skills is imperative to all future learning.
Understanding Letters and Numbers
All of these so-called “soft skills” are necessary for the Kindergartener to achieve success in the development of the “hard skills” such as the acquisition of the understanding of letters and numbers. Kindergarteners are expected to recognize the letters of the alphabet, both in upper and lower cases when they enter kindergarten. They need to understand the difference between sounds, letters and words and that words have meaning and make up sentences. They must know number formation so they can begin the process of learning how to break out numbers.
Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills such as holding and using a pencil/crayon/marker/ and scissors, are required as children, over the course of the school year, will need to be able to express their thoughts, ideas and experiences through drawing and writing.
How to Prepare Your Child for the Transition from Pre-School into Kindergarten
It is important to note that approximately 1 in 5 children experience one or more challenges with behavior, communication, body movement and learning. While these challenges are common, each child’s root issues can be vastly different. If your child is struggling in any of these areas as the transition to Kindergarten approaches, it would be wise to seek out a consultation or assessment with a pediatric therapist who can get to the root issue and facilitate a program of occupational, speech/language, educational or multi-disciplinary therapy.
Kindergarten Enrichment Camp is fun way to help prepare children over the summer for the new challenges of Kindergarten. This type of program helps children develop confidence when taking the first steps toward reading, writing, attending to a new routine, developing social-emotional skills, being mindful of themselves and others and making new friends.
It’s that time again, summer is winding down and schools are back in session! For all you pre-school parents it’s a big time of change and transition. There’s so much to balance that it’s hard to keep track of everything! Lucky for parents SLPs (Speech/Language Pathologists) are here to make part of that process a little easier with preschool speech and language screenings.
What is a pre-school speech and language screening?
A pre-school speech and language screening is a way for an SLP to observe children (approximately ages 2.5-5) in the school environment to determine if they demonstrate appropriate understanding and use of language, production of speech sounds, attention, and social skills with peers. The SLP will then determine if the child passed the screening or if they will recommend a full speech and language evaluation.
What does it mean if my child does not pass?
Being recommended by a pre-school language screener is an open conversation to talk about your child’s needs. As a parent you should be aware, but not alarmed! Early intervention is a wonderful opportunity to address areas where your child is struggling and give them the extra help they need before academic and social demands increase as they get older. Research continues to show that identifying children with language disorders as early as possible is important because the earlier children receive speech and language intervention, the better their language outcomes will be.
Each child develops at their own pace, so SLPs use typical age ranges of speech and language development as a guideline to recommend assessment.
6 hidden speech and language skills that SLPs look for and why:
- Speech intelligibility (in words and conversation) – Often it’s easier for close family members and familiar adults to understand kids, but if less familiar people have trouble understanding your child’s speech it could mean their speech is somewhat unintelligible. This can make it hard for children to be understood by peers and teachers, which can impact their communication at school. It can also be indicative of phonics or reading issues down the line if left untreated.
- Attention to tasks – Can the child sit and listen during story time? Are they able to focus and listen when the teacher is talking? This can appear like the child struggles to follow directions when they may just need help learning how to focus and maintain their attention at the same level as their peers. Without appropriate attention skills, children can miss important things going on around them at school.
- Early social skills (relating to peers, pretend play, functional play) – Are they able to initiate games and social interactions with their peers? Are they playing with toys functionally, such as stacking blocks or putting shapes in a shape sorter? Are they engaging in pretend play with their peers, like feeding their animal dolls or making their toys go on adventures? If not, they may need some help to gain these skills! If left untreated, this can lead to trouble relating to their peers and losing out on opportunities for social interactions.
- Emotional regulation – Is your child able to react and respond appropriately when things do not go according to plan? Are they self-directed and on their own agenda or can they follow along and participate in what the group is doing? If not, it could mean that they need some help learning how to regulate their emotions.
- Vocabulary development – SLPs take a look at the content and vocabulary your child is using in their speech. Preschool-age children are expected to understand and express a variety of concepts and word forms (e.g. verbs, adjectives, location words) at the same level as their peers. If your child is not using age-appropriate vocabulary or using only limited phrases or sentences, they might need help to expand their expressive skills.
- Clear communication – Is your child able to clearly communicate their thoughts and their wants and needs? Are you noticing breakdowns in communication? Your child might need help in this area in order to help them be clearer communicators and to prevent frustration that breakdowns in communication can often cause.
“How do I help my child? What am I supposed to do?”
That is the question most parents ask when we begin speaking to them about their children’s developmental and learning challenges. It comes from a feeling of helplessness. They’ve either tried everything they know or they’re at the beginning of their attempts to make sense of things, and the myriad treatment options seem too overwhelming to make decisions about. The result is burnout or, worse yet, the inability to act. With knowledge and support, parents are empowered to act swiftly and confidently on their child’s behalf.
It takes a village to help my child.
You can’t do this alone, nor should you have to. The best thing a parent can do when seeking support for their child, is to get support for themselves. Parents are the ones helming the ship, and if the captain isn’t operating with optimal knowledge, the whole crew suffers. Self-care, groups, therapy resources, and just being kind to yourself, are all recommendations for parents. Give yourself a break – give yourself compliments – don’t give in to negative self-talk.
There’s no right or wrong way to find community and get support. Some parents prefer one-on-one meetings with a therapist, others prefer parent groups, while others find community in their yoga class or religious community. Podcasts, books, blogs, and online groups are great resources. Finding others to talk about these topics and share experiences, gives a parent a sense of belonging and connection as opposed to feeling isolated and alone.
At the Child Success Center we understand the hurdles and intricacies of parenting “outside the box” kids. We offer various opportunities for parents to learn how to continue and support in the home and school environments, the strategies that we work on with the kids during sessions.
Our goal is to provide the resources and tools needed to facilitate happiness and success for children and peace of mind for parents.
Behavioral Therapy – A child’s problematic behavior may, in actuality, be the resulting reaction to any number of unseen factors. Our therapists work closely with family members to help determine what lies beneath the surface of the behavior, including a variety of sensory, social emotional, environmental, and physical issues.
Back to school tips to make the transition easier on the whole family.
With school about to resume after the long summer break, now is the time to put wheels in motion for a smooth transition to the back to school routine. These back to school tips will benefit the whole family.
First and foremost on parents’ minds is likely some dread thinking about the “morning routine” of school time. Two weeks prior to the start of school, establish school appropriate bedtime and wake up times, and practice going to bed and waking up at those times. Determine what the school morning will look like for each member of the family. Don’t use words alone – try using visual schedules to illustrate routines. A checklist with added visuals helps children learn how to self assess if they have completed what is expected of them. Every child wants to succeed, and feeling successful with the morning routine is no different.
Who will prepare breakfast and lunch?
Make sure to leave enough time in the morning routine for eating breakfast or preparing healthy smoothies to go. Start planning breakfast and lunch options a couple of weeks before school starts too, especially if your child is a picky eater. Explore ways your child can learn to make their own healthy lunches with plenty of fruits, crunchy veggies and protein to fuel their brain throughout the day.
Transition of movement
As kids head back to school, it’s important for parents to understand that their child’s nervous system is going to go through a transition while their body gets used to having less active movement throughout their day. Summer time fun involves a lot of whole body big movement play. School time requires more small motor tabletop play and learning experiences. This shift in body movement can cause a child to get fidgety or anxious. Try not to increase this anxiety by emphasizing they should “sit still”, “be good”, or “pay attention”. Make sure they get a good amount of active movement during after school hours.
If your child has been seeing an occupational therapist working on strategies to support attention and regulation, or if there are certain words that help your child connect to whole body listening, share those strategies and words with your child’s teacher prior to the commencement of the school year.
Much of the tabletop play and learning will involve writing or drawing. The small motor skills required for both are not necessarily automatic and easy for all children. Watch how your child picks up and holds a marker or pencil, and if they experience joy or avoidance responses when doing so. If you notice a tendency towards avoidance, manipulation seems awkward or encumbered, or if their desire to do age appropriate drawing and writing does not develop, seek advice from a pediatric occupational therapist as early as possible.
The classroom environment may have a lot more sound and visual stimulus than a child might experience during a typical summer break day, as well as many more people in their immediate space. For some children, this additional sensory activity is joyful, but for those with sensory processing challenges, these circumstances can heighten the stress response. Be aware and observe your child as he transitions into these new situations, and appreciate how his/her brain may be working to modulate and process the incoming sensory information.
Children can also be overwhelmed by the amount of oral communication they have to process during a school day. They need to fire up their listening skills to follow direction, and their memory systems need to respond and perform in an expected manner in a group all day. Whew, that’s a lot! Don’t be surprised if they struggle with following directions and listening when they get home at the end of the day. Watch for chewing of shirt, pencils and other nonfood items – this is a sign that their nervous systems is needing help to regulate. Keep this in mind for the first couple of weeks and try not to overload them with too many additional directions.
School requires children to be sharing thoughts and ideas, and following direction utilizing their language processing brains all day long. If they are struggling in any of these areas and if they were a late talker, seek a speech and language evaluation to gain insight into language processing, before social, emotional, or reading/spelling concerns develop as well.
Speech intelligibility is a developmental process. Knowing when your child should be saying “s”, “l” and “r” sounds, to name a few, correctly can be confusing. This chart can be referenced as a guideline.
Finally, you and your child will feel tired as you transition sleep patterns and routines back to school. Be kind to both of your nervous systems and don’t over schedule your child’s after school activities. Some down time is a good thing – for both of you.
How the many aspects of social emotional brain building affect a child’s academic success.
When a parent thinks about “back to school”, thoughts probably turn to new backpacks, notebooks and sneakers. Academic questions likely come to mind too. After all, isn’t that mainly what school is all about? Well, yes, mainly. But a child’s back to school tool box needs to have social emotional skills too, as the ability to perceive, adapt, attend and self-regulate is key to effective learning and social integration. And let’s not forget about executive function, mindfulness and self-awareness. Let’s take a closer look at each of these to make sure you can check them off your child’s back-to-school “to do” list.
Social Brain Building
Much can and should be said about social brain building, and we’ve written much on the topic. But for the sake of this article, we’ll keep it short. In a nutshell, social brain building is the development of a child’s social emotional health, critical for interactions with others.
This developmental process is not always inherent, and relies upon efficient self-regulation, sensory motor processing, executive function, two-way communication, (verbal and non-verbal), and the capacity to stay connected, in order to develop problem solving skills and a sense of “self” in relationships. The integration of all these processing systems enables a child to think of others, taking into consideration their thoughts, emotions and intentions, and react in an expected manner to build attachments rooted in joyful, trusting relationships.
We navigate our world and our social relationships through language. Effective use of oral communication with peers sets the stage for positive self-esteem, and enables a child to advocate on his own behalf.
Receiving and processing non-verbal social communication cues requires a child to “think with their eyes”. By visually assessing a given situation they can determine what others might be thinking, how others are feeling, and what might be expected of them upon entering that situation or environment.
The ability to think as a “we” and follow directions, listen, attend, modify behavior and anticipate change, is the foundation of executive functioning. Executive function is a set of processes, or neurologically-based skills, that all have to do with managing oneself (mental control and self-regulation) and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. A solid foundation of executive function skills is imperative to all learning.
Mindfulness and Self-Awareness
We hear a lot about “mindfulness” these days, but perhaps you’ve never heard of the body’s 8th sense. Interoception is a sensory system that gives us whole body awareness from the inside out. Receptors for interoception are widely spread throughout the body’s organs and give us a huge variety of sensations including but not limited to hunger, physical exertion, nausea, and the need to go to the bathroom. Interoception is deeply connected to our emotions and self-regulation. When a person is aware of their internal state they will either consciously or unconsciously take steps to self-soothe. That entire process from sensory perception, to awareness to self-soothing, all together is called self-regulation. Our desire is for our children to be regulated in order for them to successfully build meaningful relationships with others.
Self-regulation refers to the ability to manage your reactions to your emotional and physical feelings and the environment around you, and begins with the ability to identify and validate those feelings. The ability to self-regulate is closely tied to one’s awareness of their internal state via the interoceptive sensory system as well as efficient management of input from all 8 sensory systems.
Self-regulation depends largely on a child’s capacity to turn the volume up and down on incoming sensory information from all 8 sensory systems. Effective sensory processing directly affects a child’s ability to attain and maintain the “just right” state of regulation necessary for the classroom and peer interactions.
So as you might have surmised, the system of social emotional skills is complex and highly interconnected. It is also vitally important to a child’s academic success, and really to all of life’s successes.
Have a look at these areas of development as part of your preparation for the upcoming school year. If you have concerns regarding your child’s proficiency in any of the areas discussed above, a consultation with an early childhood development specialist might be recommended. It’s never too late to learn a new skill set, but like with anything, the sooner the better!
Summertime can provide endless opportunity to enrich early childhood development.
Summertime for young children means splashing in water, squishing sand between toes and endless hours of creative play. Still, there are ways for parents to guide a child’s play, here and there, to make sure they’re getting all the developmental support and enrichment they need to be ready for their next level of learning.
Summer tips for early childhood development – 2-6 year olds
The therapists at Child Success Center share some simple ways parents can foster early childhood development during the summer break.
- Sit and read with your child everyday. Choose books with illustrations and have your child talk about the story and images as you read it. When you’ve finished reading the book, ask your child to tell you what happened in the book in the beginning, middle and end. Books with little or no text encourage a child’s imagination to create the story.
- Consistency and accessibility can foster early literacy. At home, create a reading corner where you and your child can sit and enjoy books whenever you want. When traveling over the summer, take some favorite books along in the car or plane, and find some new ones that might be relevant to the places your visiting or the activities you’ll be experiencing.
Social Brain Building:
- Facilitate social skills building by challenging your child to get acquainted with one new peer each week during the summer break. Ask them to find out another child’s name and 2 fun facts about that child, such as what grade they’re going into and if they have a pet. This exercise helps a child build confidence when placed in new social groups or when entering a new classroom environment.
- Invite some of your child’s friends over to collaborate on building a fort or obstacle course. When completed, have them explain why they made the choices they did, and ask for a walk thru or demonstration.
- Limit screen time each day. With the extra “down time” during the summer break, it’s easy for a child to spend too much time in front of a screen. Limit screen time, making sure there’s plenty of time spent playing, exploring and socializing.
- Encourage your child to share thoughts and words. One way to help build “communication temptation” is by keeping toys out of your child’s reach. This requires your child to use their language to ask you for what they want. As a child learns to request, provide two options, asking, “Do you want _____ or _____ toy? By doing this, the child is empowered with ownership over their choices.
- Language is everywhere! Increase your child’s exposure to language input by narrating, commenting, and labeling everything you see while playing, eating, and driving.
- Engage in activities that involve and stimulate the talking muscles, tongue, lips and jaw: Blowing bubbles, blowing kisses, drinking with a straw.
- Take pictures of your child’s day and talk about what happened first, next and last. Make a photo album of your child’s summer activities that he can talk about with friends and family.
Communication and social brain building skills come with shared play experiences, including just getting messy! Play with water, take out the finger paint, dig in the garden, build sandcastles. Have a great summer!
Well developed communication skills are vital to a child’s academic success
At all levels of education, students must be able to communicate effectively. Without well developed communication skills, children run the risk of falling behind their peers or becoming emotionally overwhelmed or withdrawn at school.
Academic success depends on solid communication skills, beginning with clear oral communication. Students are often called upon in class to answer questions. These questions may range from those with simple factual answers to questions that involve putting thoughts together and making arguments. Answers to questions need to be communicated effectively so teachers can assess a student’s knowledge. Students with oral challenges may also become embarrassed if they are unable to communicate on par with their peers. If a student stutters or mumbles they may become fearful of speaking up in class, and this in turn can lead to lowered grades and diminished self-esteem.
Oral Communication Skills
A second aspect of oral language communication is pragmatic and social language, used in daily interactions with others. This includes what is said, how it’s said and non-verbal communication, such as eye contact, facial expressions and body language. We navigate our world and our social relationships through language. Understanding how to communicate effectively with peers sets the stage for positive self-esteem. Students feel empowered when they can “talk the talk” in their social lives.
Effective use of oral communication also allows students to advocate for themselves. They must be able to articulate when and how their academic needs are not being met. A student who can effectively ask questions and get help from a teacher will often be more successful than students who remain silent even when they are unsure of what is being asked of them.
Written Communication Skills
In addition to oral communication, a child must also develop the ability to communicate effectively with the written word. As students progress through the school years, they are expected to present more of their work in written form. They need to know how to clearly write arguments, summaries, hypotheses, and be able to synthesize complex ideas and concepts. Thoughts and ideas need to be expressed clearly, with effective use of tone and language for the intended audience. Composing a compelling essay is dramatically different than writing a text to a friend.
Treating Communication Disorders
While it is easier, more effective, and less costly to treat speech and language disorders early, in the toddler years, it is never too late to get treatment. If a parent has concerns about their child’s ability to communicate, they should seek an evaluation by a speech and language pathologist.
With the support of a speech therapist and an educational therapist, students who struggle with the academic aspects of language can become stronger students and learn the communication skills they need to be successful in school and in life.
Related: Taking a Look at Speech Therapy