How can I encourage my son/daughter to practice their “speech homework” outside of therapy?

If your child receives therapy for their articulation or phonological skills (i.e. how they produce specific sounds), intervention focuses on repeated practice of the target sounds at different levels. Your therapist structures the session to be highly motivating and engaging for your child so that they are motivated to participate in the repetitive nature of the task. Additionally, your therapist most likely assigns homework to work on in between sessions to help with generalization of your child’s articulation skills—but here’s where the challenge lies! Most kiddos are reluctant to practice their ‘speech homework’ outside of therapy because it is challenging and because it is not the most exciting work. However, daily practice of articulation skills is necessary for both acquisition and maintenance of these age-appropriate articulation skills. Here are a few tips and activities to encourage your child’s home practice:

  • Choose the same time each day to practice—on the way to school, after dinner, right before bed, etc. Creating a routine makes it easier to incorporate practice into daily life.
  • Set attainable goals—45 minutes of articulation practice per day is not going to fit into your daily routine, and it doesn’t have to! 10 to 15 minutes of directed practice per day is all you need to ensure that your child does not lose the progress that he/she has made in therapy.
  • Provide the correct cues for target sounds—Your therapist will create articulation goals based on your child’s current level of functioning. Talk with your therapist to determine if your child is working on targets at the syllable/word/phrase/sentence level and support their production of target sounds at that level.
  • Make practice fun! – Articulation homework does not have to be ‘drill’ work; you can use your child’s speech targets in a variety of fun activities, such as:
    • Sound scavenger hunt
      • Cut out pictures of your child’s target sounds and hide them around the house. Go on a scavenger hunt to find the missing words!
    • I-Spy
      • Try to find objects that start with the target sound while in the car, on a walk, looking through books, etc.
    • Adapt age-appropriate crafts
      • Making a spider for Halloween? Cut out 8 target words/pictures and attach to the spider’s legs
      • Winter crafts? Make a penguin out of an old Kleenex box and ‘feed’ it your target words
      • Jewelry? Put one bead on each target word and practice the word before adding the bead to your bracelet/necklace
    • Snack time!
      • Cover target words/pictures with one piece of a favored snack (cheerios, popcorn, fruit loops, nuts, raisins, cheddar bunnies, etc.); practice each word 3 times before eating the snack
    • Do-A-Dot
      • Say target words for X-number of dots per page


**Remember to consult your speech-language pathologist to make sure you are providing the appropriate level of prompting for your child’s goals

Autumn Smith, MS, CCC-SLP
Assistant Director of Speech-Language Services

Executive Function: Tools for Success in School

An Environment for Success

How can teachers setup their classroom to create a positive learning environment?

An organized classroom promotes organization habits among students and makes the teacher’s job easier.

  • Ensure that chair and desks are arranged in a way that allows for flexibility to fit group instruction as well as small group work.
  • It is helpful for students to have a supply center, which allows them to independently prepare and manage their materials. It may contain items such as scissors, hole punchers, pencil sharpeners, etc.
  • A homework center allows for a designated area where homework-related activities to be centralized.

Homework Management

How can teachers develop effective systems for managing homework?

A clear routine and system for assigning, collecting, and storing homework will make managing homework assignments easier.

  • Designate a regular place for recording homework, whether a portion of the chalkboard, whiteboard, or online so that it is easily accessible to all students.
  • Establish a regular time for assigning homework. It may be beneficial to assign homework at the beginning of a lesson, so that students are not writing the assignment down as class is ending. This also allows for time to answer any questions regarding the assignment and can greatly increase homework completion rates.
  • Keep a master planner and homework log where either the teacher or a responsible student records all the assignments. This can be a class resource for students who are absent or are missing assignments.
  • Extra handouts can be kept in a folder, a file organizer, or online. This way, students who miss or lose assignments have the responsibility of obtaining the necessary papers.
  • Designate a physical structure, such as a paper tray, to collect homework rather than using class time to collect papers.
  • Establish a regular time for collecting homework. Consider using a “5 in 5” reminder, requiring students to complete 5 tasks in the first 5 minutes of class, such as turning in homework and writing down new assignments.
  • File graded work in individual hanging folders to decrease class time devoted to handing out papers.
  • To encourage organization, have students designate sections of their binder for (1) homework to be complete, (2) graded work, (3) notes, and (4) handouts. Consider periodic checks and provide feedback.
  • Have students track their grades on grade logs to provide them with the opportunity to calculate grades and reflect on their performance.
  • At the end of a grading period encourage students to clean out their binders, and discuss which papers are worth keeping and why. Encourage them to invest in an accordion file or crate for hanging files to keep important papers.

Time Management

How can teachers structure classroom time efficiently and teach students time management skills?

  • Time timers provide students with a concrete visual reminder of the amount of time remaining for a task. They are a great tool for group work, timed tests, or silent reading.
  • Post a daily schedule in a visible place to establish the day’s plan. Present the schedule to the students, and refer to the schedule when making modifications to model time management skills.
  • Display a monthly calendar to provide students with regular visual reminders of upcoming events. These calendars are also beneficial for modeling backwards planning.
  • Carve out time for organization. Devote a short amount of time for students at the end of the day to reflect on their learning, manage their materials, prioritize homework assignments, and make a plan for their completion.

 Materials Management

How can teachers help students manage their materials?

  • Designate a short amount of time once a week for students to dump out and reorganize backpacks and clean up lockers.
  • When students finish tests or tasks early encourage them to use the downtime to organize their materials.
  • Have students use labels, racks, or dividers to keep items clean and organized.


Rush NeuroBehavioral Center. (2006, 2007). Executive Functions Curriculum.

Monica Zajaczkowski, OT


Jen Brown, M.S., OTR/L

My Child Overstuffs During Mealtimes…. What Can I Do To Help?

Let’s face it… all kiddos, especially our toddlers, over stuff their mouths during meals or snack from time to time. Typically, this happens when our overzealous little ones are beginning to transition to solids or when children can’t get enough of their favorite food or snack. Some kiddos, however, stuff their mouths during every mealtime and snack causing a great deal of concern to parents and caregivers. If your child is a frequent stuffer, here are a couple of tips to help!

  1. Pace him! Provide your child with small portions of food at a time – aim for only a few pieces of food during each offering. Make sure these pieces are small and can be easily managed. Also, you can encourage sips of a beverage between bites to help pace your little one.
  2. Wake up his mouth before mealtimes. Sometimes, kiddos over stuff during mealtimes because it takes more for their little mouths to feel the same thing that your mouth or my mouth may feel. To account for this, we want to “wake up” their mouths before a meal. You can give them a sip of ice cold water or tart lemonade before they start eating. Brushing your child’s tongue and insides of his cheeks with a toothbrush or a vibrating toothbrush can also serve as a sensory wake up before a mealtime or snack.
  3. Alternate tastes/textures during mealtimes. Just as we want to wake up a child’s mouth immediately before a mealtime, we want to continue waking up his mouth during the meal, too. Consider providing meals that contain a variety of spicy, crunchy, cold, or carbonated food and beverage items. These 4 sensory inputs can help a child become more aware of their mouth and organize oral movement more effectively. Foods such as pickles, raw carrots, and spicy dips can be included in the meal. Spices can be added to other foods. Cold, carbonated water can be sipped between mouthfuls. Add lemon to the carbonated water for extra sensory input if the child will accept it. Add ice to other liquids.
  4. Use a mirror. Provide your child with a mirror during mealtimes to give them additional visual feedback. They’re watching themselves eat and this can help to increase their awareness about how full their mouth is getting!

**Remember, before trying these tips at home, always consult with your speech-language pathologist to determine the best course of treatment for your child!

Julie Euyoque, M.A., CCC – SLP

Home for the Holidays

It’s hard to believe the holidays are already upon us, and this year could bring some new challenges. Seeing family and friends is a great part of the holidays, but when your family is working with a therapist to meet developmental milestones, these interactions can cause additional stress. You may be wondering how to talk about it with your family. Or you may be wondering how your child is going to do playing, communicating or eating during the celebrating.

Here are some quick tips to help you get through:

• Talk with your therapist about concerns you have, and ask for specific ideas and activities that you can do over the holidays.
• As much as possible, keep your child’s daily routine in tact.
• Talk with friends and family before the actual visit, so you can spend your time celebrating instead of explaining.
• Sometimes, the best way to explain is to demonstrate. Give some information, and then show your family how to do what you are talking about. This gives YOU the chance to be the therapist
• Bring a few of your child’s favorite toys with so that he/she feels more comfortable, and has an opportunity to play in a familiar way.

Realize that your child will likely act differently when put in new environments. This is expected and perfectly normal. Offer your child more help, and be sure to add in some extra positive reinforcement. If you notice the family visits are getting too stressful for anyone, take a break!

Sarah Pifkin Ruger, MS, CCC-SLP

36-48 Month Milestones in Speech and Language Development

Is your child aging out of the Early Intervention program? Questions about what to look for next in terms of speech and language development? Our speech-language pathologist Jessie Delos Reyes provides a helpful checklist for upcoming milestones and developmental red flags:

36-48 months of age

Receptive Language (what your child understands):

  • Understands 1,200-2000+ words
  • Hears and responds when you call them from another room
  • Follows simple commands if item is out of sight
  • Follows two- and three step directions
  • Understands words for some primary colors (i.e. can point to named colors)
  • Understands some simple shapes (circle, square)
  • Understands concepts (big/small, soft/hard, rough/smooth) when contrast is presented
  • Follows simple two- and three-step directions
  • Listens and understands longer stories

Expressive Language (how your child uses language to express himself and communicate needs and wants):

  • Uses 1,000-1,600+ words
  • Speech intelligibility is 90% or greater
  • Talks about activities at school or with friends
  • Talks about daily happenings using about four sentences at a time
  • Requests permission
  • Shares and ask for turns
  • Answers simple “who?”, “what?”, and “where?” questions
  • Asks “when” and “how” questions
  • Uses pronouns: I, you, me, we, they, us, hers, his, them
  • Uses plurals
  • Uses four or more words in a sentence
  • Labels parts of an object (wheels, steering wheel)
  • Begins to express feelings (sad, happy, frustrated)

Speech and language red flags:

  • Difficulty being understood by familiar and unfamiliar listeners
  • Consistently dropping beginnings or endings of words (“ike” for “bike,” “ca” for “cat”)
  • Difficulty producing three to four word phrases
  • Difficulty following two- and three-step directions and simple sequences
  • Inconsistently answering simple WH questions (who, what, when, where)
  • Difficulty stating wants and needs
  • Difficulty playing with others or a lack of interest in other children

If you have concerns regarding your child’s speech and language development, call our office to schedule an evaluation with a speech language pathologist.

Jessie Delos Reyes, MA, CF-SLP

The Best Thing I have Learned During My Time at PlayWorks Therapy, Inc.

For over a year, I’ve had the absolute pleasure of working with the families that PlayWorks Therapy, Inc. serves and alongside the therapists that have also made helping children and families their life’s work. I have seen early words emerge. I have clapped alongside parents who were so proud of their child who just pointed out every single picture in a book. I have built towers, and forts, and racetracks. I have heard giggles and I have seen smiles. But most of all – I have learned right along with the kids and families I’ve been teaching!

Every child is different – no statement has ever been truer. Walking into each and every therapy session means coming prepared to adjust my plans to help that child meet communication goals. What is true and effective for one family might not prove effective for another – and that’s okay! As therapists, we are equipped to pivot and move forward. After appropriately implementing a therapeutic strategy with a family, we reconvene together to discuss its effectiveness. Have we seen progress? If not, what else can we try?

But there’s a big piece that we need help with, and it comes from… families! Parents are the experts on their child! Without parent expertise, we would be without the wealth of knowledge that comes from spending every day with the children we support. So that brings me to the most important thing I’ve learned during my time at PlayWorks –

Therapists and families form one big team!  Therapists are there to provide intervention, support, home programming, ideas, progress, and expertise. Families are there to provide fun, home practice, insight, and expertise!

It has been such a joy working with all of the families and therapists I’ve met during my time here. As I move on to my next adventure in Austin, Texas, I go with a smile on my face thinking of all the progress I’ve seen and fun I’ve had. Thank you to everyone at PlayWorks Therapy, Inc., and thank you to the families for sometimes being our experts!

Leanne Sherred, MS, SLP-CF

Fun Fall Arts and Crafts

Here are some easy and creative activities you can make at home to practice matching with your children this fall!

Popsicle Stick Puzzles

  • Line up and tape five to six large wooden popsicle sticks together on the back to create a little puzzle board.Picture1








  • Paint the other side of the popsicle sticks or use markers to create a simple picture and let dry. Get creative! For a fall theme, you can draw pumpkins, apples, or a spooky ghost!
  • Once dry, take the tape off of the back of your puzzle pieces and play!










This is a great way to get your little one to work on problem solving in addition to working on matching of pictures and colors. For older children, you can help them learn to spell their names or other words by writing a letter on each popsicle stick!

Pumpkin Shape Matching

  • Draw or print out a pumpkin on paper or cardstock (cardstock and lamination is recommended if you plan on using it more than once)
  • Draw shapes on the pumpkin with a black marker to create a face
  • Cut corresponding shapes out of black construction paper (again, cardstock and laminate to use again!)
  • Use tape or sticky velcro on the back of the shapes
  • Provide shapes for your child to match the pumpkin’s “face”








To make it more challenging or to incorporate movement, print out a few pumpkins with different shapes on each and post them on the wall in your play area. Allow your child to choose a shape and find which pumpkin it matches! This activity will encourage matching and problem solving – and it’s a great indoor activity that gets your child up and moving when stuck inside on cool fall days!

Pumpkin Face Matching

  • Print out several (5 or so) simple pictures of pumpkins with different jack-o-lantern faces.











  • Using construction paper or colored felt, cut out a large pumpkin outline and different styles of eyes/mouths based on the simple pictures of the different jack-o-lantern faces.
  • Have your child select one jack-o-lantern and select the correct features to make that face.









Not only is this a great activity to practice matching, but it is also good for shape recognition. You can also incorporate number concepts by encouraging your child to count the pieces used for each face.

Kimberly Shlaes, MAT, DT

Fall Family Fun!

Last fall, I brought my Goddaughter and her younger sister to an amazing apple orchard/pumpkin patch called All Seasons Orchard in Woodstock, Illinois. In addition to the apple orchard, All Seasons has a corn maze, tractor and pony rides, a petting zoo, a mini zip line, tube slides and multiple bouncy houses! It is about an hour outside of Chicago, but well worth the drive! Whether you make it out to All Seasons or find an apple orchard closer to the city, check out these awesome ways to support your child’s speech and language development on your fall outings:

Vocabulary: Label both the familiar and novel items you encounter on your outing, and talk about ways to describe the new objects (big/little, soft/hard, wet/dry, etc.). You can easily teach and reinforce animal names at the petting zoo; fruits, veggies and other food labels at the country store; parts of a tree in the apple orchard; etc. Use the object labels frequently to reinforce their meaning:

“Look! A big leaf. My leaf is red. What color is your leaf? My leaf feels crunchy.”

Following simple directions: Target two skills at once by giving your child a direction using familiar attributes, such as “Put one apple in the red basket” or “Give the little pumpkin to your brother.”

Increase expressive language: There are many fun and exciting activities at the apple orchard that will have your child communicating like you’ve never seen before! If you are working on sign language, encourage requesting ‘more’ or ‘help’ for picking more apples, going down the slide, or jumping in the bouncy house, for example. If you are working on simple one- to three-word phrases, expand on your child’s utterance by one word and encourage them to imitate your model:

Child: “More!” or “Go horsie!”

Adult model: “More slide!” or “Go on horsie!”

Basic concepts: Teach basic preschool concepts, such as colors, shapes, numbers, etc. by identifying objects throughout the orchard. A simple way to target these skills is by playing “I Spy…” Encourage your child to find what you label and help them come up with their own objects for you to find!

If you would like more information on All Seasons, you can check out their website:

Happy Picking!

Autumn Smith, MS, CCC-SLP

Our Favorite Board Books for Your Child

Reading books with your child is a great way to bond, and to encourage early language skills; however, toddlers are not always as cautious as we would like when interacting with books. Board books are built to hold up to small fingers and mouths repeatedly tugging on the pages. When choosing board books to engage your child look for simple repetitive language, and clear simple pictures that are likely to hold a child’s attention. The following books are some favorites that are sure to withstand the test of time.

  1. Brown Bear Brown Bear, What do you See? by Eric Carle
    This book provides great illustrations of animals. The repetitive rhyming texts allows young children to “read” along with their caregivers. Try pausing as you get to the end of a phrase, and allow your child to fill in the familiar text.
  2. Moo, Baa, La La La! by Sandra Boynton
    Once again rhyming text helps to keep little ones This is a great book for introducing animal sounds.
  3. First Words by Bright Baby
    This simple word book has one image per page allowing your child  to learn new words as you label images in the book. The clear realistic images allow for generalization of new words into his/her every day life.
  4. Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann
    This book has very few words per page allowing your child to use his/her own language to describe the scenes.
  5. Where is Baby’s Belly Button? by Karen Katz
    This book helps introduce body parts, and the lift the flap format will keep young children engaged.
  6. Where is Spot? by Eric Hill
    This is another lift the flap book to help keep little ones engaged. This book is also great for working on “yes” or “no” questions.
  7. Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
    This book combines a repetitive narrative with flaps for little ones to lift. There is a good reason that this book is still popular after 25 years.
  8. Yummy Yucky by Leslie Patricelli
    This book, along with the other Leslie Patricelli board book, have simple repetitive language and themes, paired with simple pictures. These books do a great job of teaching early concepts to curious young minds.
  9. Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
    This is another great choice with a relatable theme, and a simple engaging rhyme scheme.
  10. The Little BlueTruck by Alice Schertle
    Another book made the list due to its simple, engaging rhyme scheme. This book is also a great choice for introducing animal and environmental sounds to your child. Try pausing to allow your child to fill in the sounds as you read.

Story time should be enjoyable for both you and your child. Don’t worry if your child has not yet developed the attention span to listen to a whole story. Allow your child to get up as needed, and wander back to the book when he is ready. Keep in mind that it is not necessary to read every word on the page. Simply identifying pictures as your child flips through the pages is another great way to introduce your child to the joy of reading.

Meryl Schnapp M.A., CCC-SLP

Withholding Desired Objects to Encourage Speech: What to think about.

Q: My toddler’s speech therapist instructed me to withhold desirable objects to encourage communication. Every time I try to do this, my child has a complete meltdown. How is this supposed to help him talk?

A: Withholding preferred or highly favorable objects is a common technique used by many speech-language pathologists to encourage language expression. It is just one of the many tools in your talking “toolbox” that you can use to model appropriate requesting, either verbally or through sign language. By withholding a favorite object, you are essentially setting up an opportunity to model what you want your child to do in order to request that object (“You want ‘more.’ Tell Mama, ‘ma-ma-more’”). But here’s where it gets tricky: As soon as you prompt your child to use sign language or to imitate your verbal model, they have a meltdown, despite imitating your therapist’s prompts 30 minutes earlier with no problem.

While frustrating, your child’s behavior makes complete sense. He has been able to meet his wants and needs up until now using nonverbal communication, such as gestures (pointing, pulling on your hand, etc.) or eye contact. Now you are requiring him to do something much more difficult, and this change to his routine is stressful! But the key to success is repetition, so don’t give up! As a rule of thumb, prompt your child to imitate your model no more than three times before helping them with hand-over-hand cueing of sign language. This teaches your child that they have to use at least one form of expressive language before you are going to meet their needs. Model the sign while verbally saying the request, and then give them the object while praising them for great talking. The idea is not to make them so upset that they no longer want to communicate with you, so use your judgment to keep your child from getting to that point.

The bottom line is, every child is different and you know your individual child’s wants, needs, abilities and frustration tolerance better than anyone. So trust your instincts and pull back when you know your child is being pushed farther than his/her tolerance. With practice and patience, you will be able to use this technique to support the progress of your child’s expressive language development.

Autumn Smith, MS, CCC-SLP