Featured Learning Toy: Farm & Animals

Farm and Animals

This toy is great for eliciting imitation and spontaneous production of animal noises and other simple sounds, such as “mmm,” or other eating/drinking noises.  It is an excellent activity for facilitating pretend play, such as feeding the animals or having them run, jump, etc. It is also great for learning new simple vocabulary by labeling objects and animal body parts. This versatile toy is perfect for children ages 1-3, as you can appropriately adjust expectations for your child’s responses.

Ask an Expert: My child is getting frustrated

I thought once he started speech therapy his language would explode immediately. Now my child is just acting more frustrated with his language skills.

Practice, practice, practice! Now that your child is being asked to use their language more often, they are more likely to get frustrated since you are making them work harder to get what they want. Now, instead of pointing and using gestures, your child is being required to vocalize and use more words. Continuing to model language for your child, providing choices in which he/she is required to use language, and encouraging your child to use their words to request items will all help promote continued language use. Repetition is key, and remember, building language skills takes time and practice!

Who needs toys when we have our own creativity?


Imaginative play is crucial for both cognitive and language development, and the good news is that you can engage in pretend play with your child almost anywhere with little to no supplies! One activity that kids love is to play “grocery store” with food already in your home. Set up food around the room and give your child a bag, box, or bowl (anything you have handy!) for them to carry food in. You can work on vocabulary, action words, requesting, and turn taking, so it is a great way to encourage language development.

How can I prepare my child to succeed in preschool?



Therapists often receive this question from parents of little ones ready to begin their journey into school. You may be asking yourself, “Is my child ready for preschool?”, “Am I ready to send them to preschool?”, or “Does my child need to attend preschool?”

The preschool environment sets a foundation for your child’s academic success by providing opportunities to interact and engage with peers, participate in structured learning activities, and increase independence. Here are five social-emotional skills to encourage as you prepare your child to enter this new environment.


1) Interaction with peers

Children learn how to engage and play with peers appropriately (sharing, turn-taking, compromising) during classroom interactions. You can encourage appropriate peer interactions within your current surroundings by seeking out opportunities that allow your child to practice engaging with peers. Some ideas include: playing simple turn-taking games with siblings or friends, bringing chalk or bubbles to share at the park, or attending a neighborhood play date.


2) Separating in familiar surroundings

If your child feels comfortable separating from you in familiar surroundings, he or she will have an easier time separating when it is time to enter the classroom. To prepare your child for this transition, begin to schedule short periods of time throughout the week that provide opportunities to practice.


3) Following simple directions

Preschool teachers will provide simple directions throughout the day to support learning. Your child’s ability to follow adult-directed activities, such as listening, understanding, and following simple directions is necessary for success. You can help prepare your child by giving simple directions throughout the day and helping them follow through (i.e. “go wash your hands” or “bring me your shoes”).


4) Anticipating routines

Preschool classrooms often follow a daily routine (circle time, story time, free play, and snack time). Building predictability into your daily schedule will help your child anticipate this. For example, create and follow a consistent bedtime routine or read a book together each day after breakfast.


5) Caring for simple needs

The preschool setting requires children to demonstrate basic self-care skills, such as washing their hands or eating meals without assistance. Build your child’s confidence in his or her ability to do things independently by providing opportunities throughout the day to practice self-care skills.


If you have concerns about your child’s emerging skills in these areas, consider enrolling them in a class through your neighborhood park district or attend our social-language playgroup where we target these specific preschool readiness skills.


Take a look at our Playgroups!

Ask an Expert: Parent Intervention

Why is it important for parents/caregivers to participate in Early Intervention Therapy sessions?

It is pretty obvious that Early Interventionists love working with your adorable little ones, but we love working with the parents/caregivers, too! The hour we spend with your child every week is incredibly valuable, however there are 167 more hours during that week that you can expand upon! Most, if not all, of the activities therapists do with your child can and should be repeated throughout the week to ensure your child getting the most out of their therapy. You may see therapists use certain strategies or language during sessions that could be helpful in another part of your child’s routine.  We encourage you to ask your therapists how you can adapt these approaches into your daily life.

Helping My Child With Transitions

getting ready

What counts as a transition? 

Transitions are the times in the day that your child moves from one activity to the next. When looking at a typical daily schedule, transitions occur from the moment your child wakes all the way through his or her bedtime routine. Examples of transitions include:

  • Getting dressed
  • Leaving the park
  • Sitting down for a meal
  • Cleaning up
  • Preparing for bed

Why does my child have difficulties with transitions?

It is important to first determine that your child’s basic needs have been met; is my child hungry, tired, or sick? If you answered “yes”, then the expectations at that time may be unrealistic for your child to follow. Before beginning a behavior routine, ensure that your child is at his or her best ability to successfully participate.

Many children struggle with transitions as their environment moves at a quicker pace, and their desire for independence grows. The demands placed on your child become stressful, developing frustration for both you and your child. This is when a power struggle begins!

Children with disabilities, such as autism, may have a greater need for predictability, difficulty when a pattern is interrupted, or trouble with understanding what activity is coming next.

How do I turn my child into a transition master?

There is great news – trouble with transitions is NOT a new problem. Many therapists, teachers, and parents use tried and true methods for helping children move from one activity to the next.

Consistency: If a transition occurs frequently (e.g. bedtime, brushing teeth), it is important to make the transition as consistent as possible. For example, if your child avoids brushing his or her teeth, make the expectation known that brushing teeth occurs as soon as your child wakes up and before reading a book at night. Once your child knows the routine, the difficulties following it disappear.

Provide (limited) choices: When it comes time to clean up an activity, you can ask your child “Do you want to clean up by yourself or would you like me to help you?” At first, your child might ignore you or begin to tantrum. When this happens, calmly use hand-over-hand assistance to help your child put their toy away. It is essential for your child to learn to follow your directions! At first, you may become more upset; however, your child will quickly learn to successfully follow instructions.

Use visuals: It is often helpful for a child to understand what is coming next. A visual schedule using pictures of each activity for the day will prepare a child for what is coming next. A timer will allow your child to understand what “two more minutes” means and prepare accordingly.

Allow your child to feel heard: When your child is upset, explain that you understand. For example, you can say, “I can see that you are feeling sad.” I know that you were having fun with your cars! Right now it is time for lunch. We can play with your cars tomorrow”. This not only allows you to demonstrate empathy, but also gives your child a model for appropriate language to express him or herself.

If you have further questions regarding transitions or other behavior concerns, please contact a social worker at Playworks Therapy to help meet your needs!

Ask an Expert: But, my child doesn’t have an occupation??

My child doesn’t have an occupation, why does she/he need occupational therapy?

Social Work Web

Occupations can be defined as “activities that people engage in throughout their daily lives to fulfill their time and give life meaning” (AOTA, 2008). For young children these occupations can include activities of daily living (dressing, eating), play, rest and sleep, and social interaction. If something is preventing a child from participation in these occupations such as a diagnosis or developmental delay, occupational therapy can help. Occupational therapists are trained to modify the environment, develop skills, and promote meaningful engagement in all the areas of occupation for children.

References: Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process (2008). The American Occupational Therapy Association, Bethesda, MD.

Tips for the “Picky” Eater

By Brittney LaTurno, MS, CF-SLP


As a parent, do you feel like you are constantly making multiple meals at each sitting to accommodate that “picky eater” in your home? Many parents and care takers report they have difficulty getting their child to try new foods and that their toddler may only have four or five types of food that they will eat on a daily basis.

It may seem like there is a constant battle at meal time, but it is important to remember that shifting from a full liquid diet to pureed and table foods may be a difficult, overwhelming transition for your kiddo. Listed below are some helpful tips to increase your child’s interest in trying new types and textures of food!

  • Introduce a new food with food your child already enjoys.
  • Do not introduce more than one new food at a meal.
  • Continue introducing food if your child refuses it the first time (this will help he/she become comfortable with it).
  • If child prefers one type of consistency (sticky), introduce other foods with the same consistency – this will help them feel comfortable with the foods they are eating while trying new flavors.
  • Allow your child to be involved in the preparation of food. For instance, they may help warm food in microwave, put food on their plate, etc. Also, let them pick out their own utensils.
  • Serve as a good model for your child’s eating. Show them that you enjoy eating the foods that you want them to try.
  • Give your child small servings of food (1/2 tablespoon for each year of child’s age). An abundance of food on the child’s plate may be overwhelming.
  • Make meal time a relaxed atmosphere, do not pressure your child to finish all of their food. Try to talk about other enjoyable things during meal time.
  • Serve foods at different temperatures (hot, cold, warm). Talk about how each temperature feels and see which temperature he/she enjoys most.
  • Serve your child milk during meal time. However, try to give water between meals so he/she is not full when it is time to eat!
  • If your child enjoys soft foods, mix foods in applesauce or yogurt to give food a softer consistency.
  • Allow your child to practice “playing” in the mouth with chew tubes or straws
  • Allow your child to “dip” food into things they enjoy (Nutella, peanut butter)
  • PLAY with food!
    • Bring your child’s favorite toy to the table to “try” the food. For instance, if your child enjoys dolls, bring doll to table and have your child feed the doll.
    • Allow your child to get messy with food! They can explore food by feeling different textures, “painting” with food, etc.
    • Allow your child to smell foods without forcing them to eat food.
    • Play with food away from the dinner table. This will help take some pressure off.
    • Let your child make art projects using food (dry pasta, cereal). You can use a sticky consistency as the “glue.” This will help make food exciting!

It is important to note that if your child demonstrates avoidance behaviors as strong as gagging, vomiting, coughing, or extreme discomfort through mealtime, your pediatrician should be consulted.  

Ask an Expert: “Tongue tied”

Mother and daughter playing with finger toys

How do I know whether my child’s speech and language delays are due to being “tongue tied?” When is surgery appropriate?

Tongue tied is when the child’s frenulum, the connective tissue that connects the bottom of your tongue to the floor of mouth, is either partially or completely fused to the floor of the mouth. The medical term for this condition is ‘ankyloglossia.’

When children have this condition, it impacts the range of motion of the tongue for tongue tip protrusion (sticking the tongue out past the teeth) and elevation (tongue tip to palate). Decreased lingual range of motion can have negative effects on feeding; specifically, how a child chews the food and forms a food bolus and/or swallows. Many children with akyloglossia, however, do not present with speech or feeding difficulties and proficiently eat a variety of foods and liquids, elevate the tongue tip for speech sounds /t, d, n/, and protrude the tongue for the interdental sounds (voiced and voiceless “th”).

In effect, there is no clear evidence that there is a causal relationship between akyloglossia and speech delays, and it should not be assumed that a surgical intervention will solve speech sound disorders. For more information, please contact us!

(Reference: ASHA)

6 Sensational Spring/Summer Activities for Speech & Language

By Caitlin Brady, M.A., CCC-SLP

We at PlayWorks Therapy Inc. are so excited that the weather seems to finally be turning spring-like! Spring and summer bring the opportunity for vacations, long days of playing outside, exploring new places, drawing with chalk, barbeques and other fun outdoor activities! Here are six sensational spring/summer activities that are great for speech and language practice – how about that for alliteration?

Playworks Therapy

So, grab your kids, toys and sunblock, it’s time to start playing!

1.) Sunscreen Body Parts

Speaking of sunblock, applying sunblock provides a great opportunity to practice naming and identifying body parts! You can target receptive language (language comprehension) by having your child point to or lather up a named body part (i.e. “Put this on your nose!” or “Show me your ears!”) and expressive language (language output via speech, signs, etc.) by encouraging your child to name or imitate the name of various body parts. You could also have your child continue this practice as they help you put on your sunblock.

2.) Chalk

One of my favorite memories from childhood summers includes decorating my long driveway with hopscotch, family portraits, shapes and other chalk drawings with my neighbors and brother. A few ideas include drawing and labeling shapes, naming colors, singing a song related a picture (i.e. Wheels on the Bus, Hopscotch song, etc.) You could also draw animals and name them and their respective noises. For older kiddos, see if you can categorize farm animals vs. jungle animals, etc.

3.) Hide and Seek

Hide and seek is my favorite way to practice spatial concepts including on top, under, behind, next to, etc. You can hide in a yard, home or hide a toy and look for it together. Be sure to identify where the toy or person was hidden. This is also a great way to continue adding new phrases to your child’s vocabulary (i.e. ball under tree). For younger kids, you can practice naming the hidden object (i.e. ball, banana, etc.)

4.) Explore (zoo, aquarium, vacation)

Summer brings many opportunities to explore new places including a new vacation locale, the zoo, the beach, the library, a local playground or park, and these places provide tons of new vocabulary words! Be sure to talk about what you are doing and seeing (i.e. animal names/noises, digging, playing, swimming, books, build, hike, etc.) You can also target receptive language by having your child follow one-step or multi-step directions (i.e. “Go get the ball and bring it to me!” or “Give me the bucket, then the shovel.”) or by practicing pointing to new words (i.e. “Point to the giraffes”).

5.) Water/Sand Play

Summer provides endless opportunities for sensory-based play including, but not limited to, sand, water, Play-Doh, playing with shaving cream, finger painting, etc.! You can build castles in the sand, make water balloons, play in an outdoor baby pool, pretend car wash toy cars (or real ones), draw shapes in the sand or shaving cream, make shapes or animals in Play-Doh. Sensory play provides opportunities to talk about what you’re making (i.e. shapes, animals, etc.), as well as opportunities to talk about how things look and feel (wet, cold, color, etc.) You could also incorporate body parts, action words.

Quick tip: I always find it helpful to keep a wet cloth nearby in the event that your child is uncomfortable and would like to wipe his or her hands or face.

6.) “Cook” together

This last one is my favorite, as I’m a serious foodie. I love to cook (and eat) and grew my love of food by cooking with or watching my mom cook. However, this is an activity that you can do with children of all ages as you could have them help with something simple like mixing pudding and milk. Cooking provides great opportunities to teach sequencing (first, then, last, etc.), taste words (sweet, sour, salty, crunchy, smooth) and try new foods together! Another fun idea is to make homemade Play-Doh or peanut butter Play-Doh together. There are various recipes available online.

Enjoy these activities, the warm weather and contact me at Caitlin@playworkschicago.com with any questions!