Child Development in the Time of Technology

There’s no denying the conveniences that technology allows us, but are modern conveniences affecting child development? Televisions, smart phones, and tablet screens seem to be everywhere you turn, and shielding your young toddler from screens may feel impossible. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has updated their recommendations for screen time to reflect the inevitable change our world is experiencing. Previously, they called for a “Screen-Free Environment” for children under 2 years. Now, with many apps and programs targeting young children, recommendations allow for limited amounts of screen time for children under 2.

How should we manage expectations with technology?

There are many key points to be mindful of when exposing your toddler to technology, but it is important to remember that setting limits and rules is up to you! Perhaps time on the iPad can be limited to 15 minutes, or the phone app can only be played after all the toys are picked up. Maybe you want to declare your child’s bedroom or the dinner table “screen-free zones”. The AAP outlines some screen time rules to guide parents through the difficult decisions. For example, interacting with technology alongside your child is a more beneficial way to introduce them to this modern world. The AAP states that “passive video presentations,” where kids sit and watch the screen alone, do not encourage language development. Try your best to watch videos alongside your toddler, or play along with the app! To this point, the AAP reiterates that content matters! Spend some time researching the best apps or video programs (see the list below!) to make better use of limited screen time.

But handing over the phone or iPad is the only way I can get time for work and chores!

Screen time can help us make it through the day, but it can’t replace the valuable growth that happens in good old-fashioned play time with caregivers! Cognitive and language development are optimized during unstructured play time, and when toddlers play with others. If you need 15 minutes to yourself, try encouraging your toddler to interact with toys and other real objects as opposed to the screen. If your household has determined that your toddler’s screen time will coincide with doing the dishes, try to find the most highly recommended apps and videos for them to use during this time.

What apps should I be using?

Try these apps to optimize your toddler’s screen time:

Busy Shapes
Moo, Baa, La La La
Peekaboo Barn or Peekaboo Wild
Eli Explorer
My Very Hungry Caterpillar
Tozzle – Toddler’s Favorite Puzzle
Baby’s Musical Hands

Sites like,, and are other great resources for technology recommendations.

Leanne Sherred, MS, SLP-CF


Winter Activity Idea: Balloon Rockets


What you’ll need:

  • 1 balloon
  • 1 straw
  • Yarn (between six and ten feet)
  • Tape


  1. Tie one end of the string on the back of a chair or similar item.
  2. Thread straw onto the string, and attach the loose end of the string to another chair.
  3. Inflate the balloon, but don’t tie it!
  4. Tape untied balloon to straw and get ready to for action!

This activity is great for practicing phrases like “ready, set, go!”, “go balloon”, or “more air!”. It is also great for naming objects in your home like “tie the string to the chair”, or “tape the string to the table”. For added fun you can set up two rockets and have them race!

When you are done, kicking around tied balloons or hitting them into the air can provide hours of entertainment. This creates the perfect opportunity to practice action words and get all the winter wiggles out!

Caution: always supervise play with balloons, as they can be a choking hazard for children three and under.

Jessie Delos Reyes, MA, CF-SLP

Image and idea source:


How Toys Improve Your Child’s Development

Parents often comment, “It looks like my child just plays with toys during the developmental therapy session.” How can toys improve a child’s development? Do parents need to buy the same toys in order for their child to progress?

What is developmental therapy?

Developmental therapy focuses on a child’s global development. Global development includes regulatory and sensory processing, cognition, language comprehension, language expression, gross and fine motor, social-emotional, and self-help skill development. A therapist will identify specific areas of strengths and concerns to develop a play activity program that addresses the child’s needs.

How are toys used to address areas of development?

Toys used during developmental therapy sessions are strategically chosen in order to help children overcome their challenges and gain confidence in their own ability to acquire functional, age-appropriate, developmental skills. Each session will focus on a number of specific goals, which are assessed through the child’s play with a toy. For example, a book may be used for younger children to help them focus on the details of each page, by encouraging them to run their fingers over the pages and follow the therapist’s pointing at objects. For an older child, a book may be used for object recognition, sound attribution, and concept of size. Nesting cups are another popular toy choice for expanding a child’s development. Younger children learn imitation skills by watching the therapist bang two cups together, and eventually producing the same action. Older children will learn trial and error while nesting the entirety of cups independently, and turning them over to stack them.

Do families need to buy the same toys to see progress in development?

No, families do not need to go out and spend money on the same toys used by the therapist. Many of the skills tested during the sessions can be easily produced with simple objects already found in the home. Instead of buying books, families can work on their child’s identification skills by naming foods in their house (milk, apple) and pointing to objects outside (flower, tree). An easy substitute to the nesting cups that would test a child’s construction skills would be different-sized bowls in the home for nesting, and toilet paper rolls for stacking. While the therapists do use a bag of specific toys, our approach to developmental therapy encourages skill development at home through available resources, and embedding learning activities into a family’s daily routine.

Brittany Hill, MS, MSW, LSW, DT


Is there a difference between speech and language?

While speech and language delays or disorders can exist together, there is a distinct difference between the two. Language is communication that can be understood, spoken, written, read, and gestures (such as sign language). There are two areas of language including receptive language, defined as what we hear and understand, and expressive language, defined as the words we use to communicate wants and needs to others. Speech is the ability to clearly and verbally communicate messages to others. Speech includes: articulation, defined as how sounds are made (e.g. the ability to produce /r/ or /s/ correctly), voice, defined as how the vocal folds and breathing combine to produce sound (e.g. healthy voice versus hoarse or “lost” voice), and fluency, defined as the rate and rhythm of the flow of speech (e.g. smooth versus stuttering).

When a child has difficulty with comprehension or understanding others, it is defined as a receptive language delay. When a child has difficulty expressing wants, needs, and other general ideas and thoughts, it is defined as an expressive language delay. When both are present, it is defined as an overall language delay.

When a child has difficulty producing speech sounds correctly or fluently, or has voice problems, it is defined as a speech delay or disorder.

It is significant to note that there is also a difference between a delay and a disorder. A speech or language delay describes a child whose skills are developing along the same developmental path as typically developing children, just at a slower rate and they may require more time, more practice, and more repetition.

Speech and language disorders describe children whose speech and language is developing abnormally and not following the usual pattern or sequence of typical language development.

The best way to find out if your child’s development requires attention is to seek a comprehensive evaluation by a speech-language pathologist (SLP). Pediatric speech therapy is available through the Illinois Early Intervention program and can greatly improve or remediate your one- to- three-year-old child’s speech and language problems. Children over three can receive outpatient pediatric speech therapy at a pediatric therapy clinic as well. A children’s speech therapist can be a great resource for your questions and concerns, as well as ongoing speech therapy.

Therese Schmidt, MS, CF-SLP


What is Childhood Apraxia of Speech?

Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) is a motor planning disorder that interferes with a child’s ability to plan and execute the precise sounds needed for speech. Children with CAS find it difficult to produce specific sounds on demand, and find even more difficulty in stringing sounds together into words. They may be able to use various sounds when babbling but cannot produce a specific sound when asked to do so. It is often frustrating for the child, as they know what they want to say but struggle to produce the sounds and words needed to communicate their message.

How do I know if my child has CAS?

Initially, CAS may present as a language delay in young children if they are not yet talking by 15-18 months of age (most children say their first word around 12 months of age).  It is difficult to diagnose CAS when the child is not yet talking, so initial speech therapy may focus on verbal imitation of age-appropriate sounds. Children with a speech or language delay can successfully imitate the prompted sound with guided support. Children with CAS, however, will struggle to imitate sounds when prompted because their brain does not send the right coded message to their mouth. Without this message (i.e. the motor plan), they will not know how to use their tongue, lips, and/or teeth to make the correct sound.

Common characteristics of CAS:

  • Reduced babbling during early language development (6-12 months of age)

  • Inconsistency of speech sound productions

  • More errors or changes in errors when producing the same sound or word multiple times

  • Difficulty imitating sounds and sound patterns when prompted

  • Incoordination and/or groping of the mouth when attempting to speak

  • Significant gap between receptive language skills (understanding of language) and expressive language skills (production of sounds/words); receptive language skills tend to be age-appropriate in children with CAS

  • Slow progress in therapy, or a plateau in progress

If you think your child may have CAS, refer to a speech therapist for a speech and language evaluation. The speech therapist will work with you and your child to determine the appropriate diagnosis and to establish therapy goals that will support your child’s communication skills.

Autumn Smith, MS, CCC-SLP

January Community Events

Be Enchanted by Trains That Glide Through Every Season @ Morton Arboretum

The kiddos can watch trains travel through all four seasons with the Enchanted Railroad. They’ll see bright orange pumpkins in the fall display, and they’ll even spy fluffy little daffodils as the trains sweep through spring. This interactive display is specially designed for the kiddos because it’s meant to be viewed from just two feet off the ground.
When: Jan 15 – Feb 21.  Ages: All Ages.  Cost: Free with Admission.

Sing Along with Neeleo at the Farm-in-the-Zoo @ Lincoln Park Zoo

Sing Along with Neeleo delights young audiences with silly songs and tall tales every Wednesday and Friday at 9:15 and 10 a.m. at the Main Barn in Lincoln Park Zoo’s Farm-in-the-Zoo. Join Neeleo as he performs original songs while the wee ones dance and sing along. This joyful jamboree features animal songs and dances for children ages 6 and younger accompanied by a caregiver.
NOTE: Always call ahead, some dates may vary. When: 9:15 and 10am; Cost: FREE
Ages: 0-6

Hansel & Gretel Meet the Swamp Witch @ Museum of Science and Industry

AlphaBet Soup Productions presents another fractured fairy tale that the whole family will enjoy! Join Hansel Jo and Gretel Lou as they journey into the Louisiana bayou in search of the legendary swamp treasure! But beware–deep within the swamp lies the junk food fortress guarded by Badweena the Swamp Witch and her wacky alligator henchmen. This down-home, foot-stompin’ musical comedy is one that will FEED your imagination!
When: Jan. 22 @ 10:30am.  Cost: $8 General Admission, $7 Groups (25+).  Ages: PreK-4th grade

Disney On Ice celebrates 100 Years of Magic @ Allstate Arena

The legacy of Disney is displayed through 14 classic and modern stories in this epic production that features an international team of award-winning figure skaters, high-energy choreography and a breathtaking set. Features more than 30 melodious masterpieces such as “Let It Go!,” “You’ve Got A Friend in Me” and “Hakuna Matata.”
When: January 20, 2016 – January 24, 2016; 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m.Friday; 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Cost: $20 and up

Craft Time: Make your own puffy paint!

Combine equal parts white glue and shaving cream. Using a paintbrush or your hands, apply to paper and that’s it! Feel free to add food coloring to make your desired color or keep it white and pretend it’s snow! This activity is great for following directions, allowing children to touch and explore different textures, and makes a cute craft! 


Ask an Expert: “Joint Attention”

You may hear your therapist emphasize the importance of “joint attention” during their sessions with your child. What does this mean and why is it important?

Joint attention is when yourself and the other engaged parties are all sharing attention or interest on the same toy or activity AND there is a shared understanding that both are interested. When you are stacking blocks with your child and both of you are looking at the tower, that is a “shared gaze”, which is the first step towards joint attention. True joint attention is when you are stacking blocks with your child and you are exchanging eye contact between looking at the tower.

It is so important to share joint attention because it provides an extremely important foundation for communication, language, and cognitive development. Exchanging looks while playing is very basic communication and encourages social interaction. Children learn new skills when imitating the actions of others – which can be extremely difficult if you are not focused on the same object or another person!

Examples of ways you can encourage joint attention while playing:

  • Engage in activities that require turn taking – stacking blocks, rolling the ball back and forth, or completing a puzzle together where you hold the pieces.

  • Pause and wait for your child to communicate (either through eye contact or asking through signs or verbally) before providing the next piece or taking your turn.

  • Provide positive reinforcement – children love to be praised! Give high fives or verbal responses to encourage continued participation

Playing with just your imagination: HOT LAVA


In a living room, play room, or bedroom, pretend that the floor, certain colored tiles, or a carpet/rug is “hot lava” and work together to navigate the room. This is a great opportunity to initiate imaginative play such as creating “bridges” and “tunnels” out of blankets, pillows, stuffed animals or other objects in the room. This activity also addresses balance, coordination and can give proprioceptive sensory input by jumping, leaping and crashing into blankets, pillows and other furniture. (Be careful if placing pillows/blankets on a wood or tile floor!)

January: Toy of the Month

“Fun Crayons”
(a.k.a. short/broken crayons)

1306fc6d-2d0e-4100-b30e-e5dd21c96549Broken crayons are actually a good thing! Coloring with broken crayons helps promote a mature pinch grasp of objects, and it promotes a more mature grasp of writing utensils. Use an easel or an inclined surface for your little artist to also encourage mature wrist movements when drawing and coloring.