Playing with just your imagination: HOT LAVA

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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.

Why Symbolic and Pretend Play is Important in a Child’s Cognitive Development

There are many benefits of symbolic play to your child’s cognitive development. For example:

  • Children learn many new skills through imitation. While engaging in symbolic play, they act out behaviors and scenarios they’ve observed in their daily life. While acting out these activities or behaviors, children develop their interests, or likes and dislikes. Given the opportunity to act out adult behaviors, a child may realize that they love tending to a baby but have less interest in driving a racecar (or vice versa!).

  • They gain an understanding of relationships between people and build social skills. When children are young, they may hug, rock, and kiss a baby doll or stuffed animal, demonstrating their understanding of relationships and interactions between adults and babies. As children get older, their symbolic play becomes more in-depth and interactive. They assign roles to others, communicate, and take turns while role-playing. This type of play also encourages children to work out social issues and deal with different emotions while playing with children and adults around them.

  • They problem solve. Acting out different scenarios allows children to be presented with a variety of issues or problems along the way. In a single symbolic play scenario, such as making dinner, a child could face multiple problems or complications:

    • The child may imitate a problem they’ve observed their parent solve, such as burning dinner.

    • They may have an issue finding the right surface or materials to make a “stove”.

    • They may have to solve a problem with a peer when both want to be the parent in this play scheme.

What can I provide to encourage symbolic play?

  • Different sized boxes – a single box can be an airplane one minute and a barn the next.

  • Adult clothing – what better way to feel like a grown up than wearing dad’s old dress shirt and tie?

  • Stuffed animals or dolls – this allows children to imitate their own life and explore different feelings and thoughts.

What are some scenarios I can create in my home?

  • Grocery Store: Instead of disposing of your trash, clean out milk jugs, jelly jars, cracker boxes, etc. and provide a few grocery bags. You can even expand the play scheme to create a shopping list or use construction paper to make money to pay for groceries.

  • Post Office: Save your junk mail and your child can be a mailman! Those handy boxes mentioned above can be created into mailboxes. This also provides exposure to numbers and letters.

  • Restaurant: Collect the take-out menus from your favorite restaurants and have a restaurant in your own home. Provide your child with some paper and a crayon and they can take your order (or the other way around!).

Kimberly Shlaes, MAT, DT

How to Incorporate Language-Rich Activities into Your Holiday Routine

Many families go away this time of the year to celebrate the holidays, and this often results in a short break from speech therapy for your child. Luckily, it is easy to incorporate language-rich activities into your normal holiday routine!

Holiday and Winter Songs

It is hard to turn on the radio this time of year without hearing familiar holiday and winter themed tunes! Singing and listening to holiday songs is a beloved tradition in many families, so this year, invite your children to join in the fun! Try slowing down the pace of familiar songs to allow your child the time they need to sing the words along with you. Once your child knows a song well, try pausing at the end of each phrase in order to allow them to fill in the last word.

Travel Activities

Long trips can be challenging with young children. Be sure to bring lots of books and toys in order to keep your child entertained on long road trips or plane rides. Airplanes are a great place to sit and read with your child. Have your child point to objects in pictures and engage with the book while you flip through the pages together. Remember, it is not necessary to read every word. Books with interactive components, such as “lift-the-flap” or “touch-and-feel”, tend to be favorites among young children. There are also lots of mess-free activity books currently available for young children.  Crayola Color Wonder paper and markers, as well as Melissa and Doug Water Wow activity books allow your child to color away while you talk to them about the pictures and objects that they are coloring. These activities also provide a great opportunity to model color vocabulary.

If you have older children, “I Spy” is a great game to play on road trips. This simple game can keep children entertained for long stretches of time while they work on using descriptive vocabulary, and asking and answering “yes” or “no” questions. With younger children it is still possible to point out sights along the road while modeling the use of the simple phrase, “I see a___.”

Baking

Baking sweet treats is a classic holiday activity for many families. This year let your little one join in the fun. While baking, use short, simple phrases to describe what you and your child are doing. Some examples of easy phrases include: “pour milk,” “crack eggs,” and “mix, mix, mix” (while stirring batter). Baking is also a simple way to practice following directions and demonstrating simple spacial concepts like “on the cookie sheet” or “in the pan”. It is also great for size concepts like “big cookie” vs. “small cookie”, and number concepts like count eggs, cups of flour, etc.

Enjoy trying out these activities, and have a very happy holiday season!

Meryl Schnapp M.A., CCC-SLP

Teaching Your Child to Manage Emotions

Many of us have experienced a child’s meltdown, or inability to calm down after an exciting day. It can be frustrating for parents when a child expresses his or her feelings in less than desirable ways, but with a little know-how, these instances can become teachable moments.

One of the greatest coping skills your child can learn is emotional management. As a child develops, they try to make sense of a myriad of feelings, and learn behaviors to deal with them. Emotions are a normal part of life, and they have the potential to influence our choices, actions, and interactions either positively or negatively. So, how can a child learn to positively express feelings such as sadness, anger, frustration, joy, or excitement?  By parental guidance and modeling.

First, teach your child to verbally identify feelings. For example, angry and happy may be easily identifiable, but does your child know a simple word for feeling embarrassed, or worried? Build your child’s vocabulary of feeling words slowly. Start with simple words like sad, mad, or happy, and then expand to more specific words like frustrated, scared, excited, calm, bored, nervous, shy, or overwhelmed. Here are some ways you can help your child’s understanding:

  • Talk about emotions during everyday routines. Narrate what you’re feeling, what your child might be feeling, and what others might be feeling.

  • Read books about emotions and point out the various faces the characters are making.

  • Create a “feelings chart” with pictures to refer to.

  • Act out emotions. Make angry faces, sad faces, and happy faces.

As your child learns to label feelings, their emotional vocabulary will help them navigate through their days.

Second, teach your child to communicate and act on feelings appropriately. When a child feels frustration, he or she may act out in negative ways, such as hitting, throwing, or screaming. But if the parent has both empathized and helped the child to identify feelings, they can also help the child discover more positive ways of expressing frustration. Let your child know that it is always appropriate to use words and positive actions to show how they are feeling. Teach your child to ask two questions:

1. What can I say?

Teach your child to use “feeling” words. Make it a goal to talk about feelings before acting out in response to them. Your child must feel confident that it is always okay to talk about feelings. Always listen to your child; as you empathize, you will validate what they are experiencing and your child will feel secure in expressing emotions to you.

2. What can I do?

Help your children discover creative ways to respond to their emotions. When they feel frustrated, they may ask someone for help. If they are angry, they might squeeze their fists or stomp their feet. When they’re sad, they may ask for a hug. And if they feel tense, they might step away to a quiet spot and take a deep breath. The possibilities are endless. Let your children come up with fun, appropriate ways to soothe themselves.

Finally, it’s important that you practice these skills when your child is calm. In the midst of a meltdown or tantrum, your child might not be able to access the necessary words to express how they are feeling. But once calm, they may be ready to discuss what happened and how the situation could have been handled differently. Eventually, your child will be able to express how they are feeling before a meltdown escalates.

You are your child’s best support and teacher of positive emotional responses. Your child will need your listening ear, your patience, and your example to learn these skills. If you stay the course, your child will begin to internalize healthy emotional behaviors.

If you have questions related to supporting your child’s development in this area, please contact one of our pediatric social workers.

Laura Mauriello, MS, LCSW, DT

Make Reading Fun For Every Child

As speech language pathologists, we are always encouraging parents to read more with their children. Some children are naturally more interested in books than others, but by making a book more than just a book, you can use them to help develop your child’s language, and encourage them to explore the world. By bringing more books into your home and exposing your child to the printed word, you are also helping them develop early literacy skills.

Make A Book Fun!

A book can be so much more than pictures and words on a page. In fact, you don’t even have to read the exact words to make it a meaningful experience. Pediatric speech therapists use books to introduce new concepts or ideas, and then extend the book into other activities. When you extend the book beyond its’ pages, your child learns through the words they hear, the pictures they see, and the objects they touch. All of this reinforces the story and makes the content of the book more meaningful for your toddler.

As you may have noticed, many children’s books have repetitive, predictable language (think Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle). Children benefit from the repetition of the same language and, for children, the anticipation of the repeated phrase is fun every time! Here is a strategy to make books more than just a 5-minute activity.

1. Pick a book that you are interested in, and read it to your children when they are awake and alert.

2. Do more with it! Depending on your child’s age and attention span, find a way to make the book more engaging. If you have a 1 year old, they can turn the pages on your cue, or you can have them point out objects as you say them. For a 2 year old, have your child hunt around the house for objects mentioned in the book. For a 3 year old, consider a home craft project to replicate a character. Use simple objects from around your house; for example you can make faces out of paper plates, create cereal sculptures, or cut out pictures from magazines!

3. Talk about the book later in the day, or better yet, read it again. This helps remind children what they learned. And remember, repetition is key!

Sarah Pifkin Ruger, MS, CF-SLP

Ask an Expert: Tummy Time

What is “tummy time” and why is it important?

Tummy Time is an important activity for your baby’s development and is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Because the AAP recommends that babies sleep on their backs for safety reasons, babies need enough supervised Tummy Time during the hours they are awake to strengthen head, neck, and upper body muscles. Tummy Time helps to build the strength and coordination needed for rolling over, crawling, reaching, and playing. Remember that all babies benefit from Tummy Time, including newborns. Pediatric occupational therapy practitioners promote a child’s development through activities such as Tummy Time, and they can help make Tummy Time a regular part of your daily routine

Playing with just your imagination: Fall!

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(Photo Credit)

When the weather cooperates, fall is a great time for imaginative play outside! With falling leaves, there are many opportunities for language expansion and other developmental goals, such as gross motor movement! Have the kids make a pile with the leaves (or play with the ones you rake) and model for them to practice imitating a variety of actions, sounds, words, and phrases! Target relevant verbs (e.g. jump, fall, rake, throw, etc.) as they jump and play in the leaves. Throw them up in the air, pile them high, watch them fall from the trees, jump and stomp to listen to them crunch, and so much more! They’ll have a blast playing outside with no equipment necessary!

November Toy of the Month: PlayDough!

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Playdough is an endless opportunity for targeting a variety of developmental goals, such as receptive and expressive language or fine motor skills.  Your child can use their imagination to mold it into different objects/shapes, or generally play for sensory input and language expansion.

Practice colors by naming them and then having your child identify each one, or have your child label them themselves for further expressive practice. Encourage your child to request, such as signing/saying “more” or “please,” requesting their desired color, etc. Practice acting out/modeling relevant verbs (e.g. roll, cut, squeeze, rip, smash, push, etc.) with the playdough. Encourage imitation of sounds, words/phrases, and actions.

You can make animals/objects with the playdough or find small toys to put in playdough for extended sensory play and to target other vocabulary. Modify targets as your child progresses, this is a toy that can absolutely grow with your child’s skills!

Ask an Expert: Daily Routines?

Help! My toddler often becomes very upset when transitioning between daily routines, such as getting in the car to run errands, or putting the iPad away to take a nap. What should take only a few minutes turns into a 20-minute ordeal! What can I do to make these transitions go smoother for both my child and me?

Typically, children become upset or defiant when they feel that they have no control over a situation, which causes a certain level of anxiety. Having to turn the iPad off at an arbitrary time feels so unexpected that they act out as a way to take back some control. It can also occur when they feel overwhelmed or anxious about what is going to happen next (in their day, or in that specific activity), such as when they have to get in the car. They may not know what to expect at the grocery store, despite having been there many times before. A simple, yet effective, solution to this is to implement a visual schedule into your daily routine. This allows the child to see what is coming next in their day, and gives them some control over knowing if/when an activity will end.It can be as basic as pictures of routine activities (eating breakfast, dropping sibling at school, music class, errands, lunch, nap, etc) taken on your phone or printed from the internet. I have found that phone pictures work best, as they portray the actual objects and environments that your child interacts with. You can print the pictures, laminate if desired, and add Velcro for easy manipulation of the day’s activities. As another option for kiddos who struggle to finish an undesirable activity, you may want to add an ‘all done’ or ‘stop’ envelope at the bottom for your child to deposit the pictures/activities that you have already completed. Add the remaining Velcro pieces to the outside of a manila envelope for the visual schedule, and also on the inside for storage of unused pictures.The picture below offers a great example of a visual schedule, so feel free to check it out and model your own visual schedule from the guide! Happy transitioning.