Wednesday, February 23, 2011

So much more than words on a page

The More that you read, the more things you will know.
The more that you learn, the more places you'll go
-Dr. Seuss

"Come let me take you on a journey; to teach you, to fascinate you, to engage you. To keep you wanting more of the knowledge within, the new experiences, surprises, fun, laughter. Come read with me. "

This is the message that we should be relaying to a child every time we open a book*.
As a therapist I have always valued books as essential components in not only literacy development, but in language building, vocabulary enhancement, increasing moments of engagement, building social interaction skills, and many other areas of a child's development. I try to encourage all of my parents to read to their children and, most importantly, make it an interactive experience. I am sometimes amazed at the responses I get to this request:

"He's too young to read"

"She's not going to sit still to look at a book"

"He doesn't like books/ He's just not interested"

"I really don't have the time to read to her"

....and the list goes on

After hearing these responses I have made it a personal goal to ensure that all parents who receive services from my practice are reading with their children, and reading effectively. I have started coaching and providing feedback for parents on how to make it an interactive experience, and want to also share this with my readers.
Reading is so much more than words on a page. You can go through a book from cover to cover and have a great experience, without even looking at any words. Want to see this in action? Ask a 3 year old to read a book to you. They will use picture cues, imagination, everything to tell you their interpretation of the story.
It's all about the experience with your child as you go through the book, look at pictures, talk about what you are both seeing and experiencing, and open up a new world for him/her.

How do I make it interesting?

  • First by not making it seem like a punishment. Many parents tend to use a book as a 'quiet period' if a child seems too active. A book may seem like an easy escape to some peace and quiet in the house. However, to a child "Stop running around, come get a book" may cause the book to be perceived as something negative which they get when they have to stop an enjoyable activity. Incorporate book time into your daily routine as a fun, comfortable moment of interaction, with no negative connotations. Some parents note that the 'bath-book-bed' sequence usually works well to provide a good time for the 'book experience.'

  • By making the book come alive. In therapy I show parents how to make a book seem like the most interesting thing in the world. With my little ones I like to peek inside, give a very dramatic gasp with a very excited expression, then close it again. I do this a couple times until interest is piqued then I encourage them to open and see what I've found. I also do this when it's time to turn the page, or if there's something hiding under the flap (Lift-the-flap books are actually my favourite kinds). The key here is to have no fear of being silly. Children love it when therapists are silly, and they will love it just as much when their parents are. Giving voices to the characters, making sound effects, using exaggerated facial expressions, making the book move like the events of the book all help to grasp children's attention and keep them engaged. Turning the book into a cause and effect activity where you make a noise whenever he/she touches the page also helps hold interest and adds to the fun.
With older children I tend to use books geared towards their interests and give an interesting promo for it. "I've got the coolest, most super book about Thomas the Train and his friends and you wouldn't believe what happened.... Let's look and find out!" If there is some hesitation or frustration around reading it's good to provide lots of encouragement and ease pressures around this area " It's okay, I can help you if you get stuck," or " You don't have to read the words, you can be Thomas and I'll tell you what to say." Remember that older ones still like it when parents are silly and provide sound effects, just as much as the little ones.

How do I use it for language development?

The shared experience of books is great for language development in children of all ages. For babies it is a good method to help with localisation to sound, listen to changes in intonation patterns and provide exposure to the sounds of their native language. Babies are also great observers, and they take in everything from the world around them, so introducing them to pictures and early words and concepts from a very young age is a nice early addition to their language development. Some nice simple tips on reading to your baby can be found at

Reading also promotes the development of preverbal communication skills such as attention to objects, particularly shared attention. This is a key element in language development where the parent and child are looking at the same thing at the same time while the parent provides language around it. It can also encourage imitation skills, where the parent touches a picture or makes a noise around the picture and encourages the child to do the same.
Also important in preverbal communication are turntaking skills, which move from taking turns in an activity to taking turns in verbal interaction. Parents may need to pause and wait a little longer than might feel comfortable for a child to take his/her turn in the interaction.

In terms of direct language building there are so many ways to use the book experience to promote the development of content, structure and use of language. There is constant exposure to new vocabulary, parents should use this to their advantage, especially when it comes to building a first word lexicon. My favourite article is which has a comprehensive but not exhaustive list of first words, and books which can be used to encourage these.

Parents can build auditory comprehension for pictures by playing the 'touch the...' game, where they encourage children to touch the picture for the word presented, followed by lots of praise.
They can talk about what they see on the page, but can then take it a step up (according to the child's language capabilities) and go beyond the page. They can:
  • Group them into categories: " Look here's a cow, and a sheep, these are animals, can you find some more animals?"
  • Relate them to events that happened in the past "Remember we saw a big balloon at Jane's party?"
  • Talk about early concepts "This is a blue ball, where's the red ball?", "The dog is under the table," "This car is big and this is little."
  • Ask 'wh' questions "What is that?" "What is he doing?" "Where is the truck?" "When do you see the moon?" "Why is he going in there" "What do you think is going to happen next?" (Again depending on the child's language level).
  • Encourage story retells. Narrative development is an essential component of language development and a good precursor to literacy development. Encourage children to tell the story or retell one that has just been read.
The focus here is more on language development than literacy development, but I still want to stress the importance of shared reading in the development of phonological awareness skills such as rhyming, syllable and sound identification and syllable and sound blending and segmentation.

Where do I start?
With a fun, colourful, interesting looking book that you think your child might be interested in. Try different books to find your child's likes and dislikes. Choose a quiet time in a comfortable place. Be open and welcoming and give lots of praise. Get ready to give lots of language input, but more importantly to have fun. Don't forget to put your silly cap on and be ready to introduce your child to the wonderful world of books.

* I use the term 'book' loosely, as with new advances in technology this can refer to any type of media.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Hello and a Happy New Year to everyone!

I'm back from a way too long hiatus, where I've been doing some serious procrastination with regards to updating my blog. It has been on my fancy 'to-do list' since the beginning of the year and look, one month late, here I am! While I was gone I was cruising around the Caribbean (and gaining 15 lbs while at it) and when I returned I took a huge step....I opened my own private practice. It's quite small scale to start, operating from home and doing some home and school visits, but I'm really enjoying it. I'll update you on its progress as I go through the year.

Tonight's post is about my favourite christmas present, the ipad :)

I am now officially addicted to the ipad! as a personal tool and more importantly as a therapy tool. The number of apps available for use in therapy is amazing and the children love them. It has really brought a new life to my therapy sessions. The key for those searching for apps is to not only search for those labels specific to therapy like "speech therapy" or "autism" (while they return good results too). Try searches like 'preschool', 'phonics', 'routines', 'animals' to get some fun finds. I think I get approximately 4 new apps a week (mix of paid and free) to work with in therapy. I love that I can use it with everyone, from my toddlers to my adults.
Here is how I incorporate a few of the apps into my therapy sessions:

Welcomes and warm ups:
With the younger ones I tend to start with a song. My favourite for this is the very interative "Wheels on the bus HD", which appeals to the older children as well. I also like to use the "Routines" app, which makes morning routines visual and exciting. I tend to do some voiceovers and actions with this one ("wash hands, brush teeth" etc).
For warmups with older children I've fallen in love with the cute lovable monster Grover in his interactive storybook "The Monster at the end of this book", which never ceases to make me....err I mean the children giggle.

A great activity for vocab building, as well as following directions and auditory memory is "Animal Train", where children have to listen carefully for the animals to put in the train. I had feedback from a parent who was amazed that her son pointed out an iguana on television, a word that he had learnt previously from animal train.

Cookie Doodle is another favourite, where children "make" cookies from "scratch". The best part is adding all the ingredients (tilt and shake ipad to pour and shake etc), and then eating the cookie at the end. It's really good for sequencing and vocab building.

I've just started using Guess Em, a type of 'Guess Who' game for question structures and problem solving with a little boy who also has an ipad, and that has been going well.

I also enjoy 'Who's Hiding', and use it both as a language tool and a reinforcer. Children love swiping away the blanket to find the animal hiding underneath. I use it as a cause effect tool for toddlers, as a 'guess who's hiding' game for older ones and as a sentence builder- "The elephant is hiding under the blanket". Children also enjoy swiping the blanket across as a reward for completing tasks.

Another app I use as a cause and effect tool is "Toy phone", which gives sounds for animals, vehicles and musical instruments.

Artic and Phonology
I've been trialling "ArtikPix" for artic and I find it quite useful to carry, especially when I'm visiting schools. I'm also trialling "All about Sounds" with a little one.
I've found a nice therapy tool in Goodreader, which although not a fun app itself, allows me to carry the pdf versions of my artic and phono books around and view them on my ipad, which is pretty neat.

These are only a snippet, and I will review more as I go on, but I must say the ipad is the best thing to happen to technology. Thanks Apple :)