The Importance of Promoting Early Literacy Skills

Literacy skills develop from language skills and language skills begin to develop as soon as your child is born. Your baby begins communicating through eye contact, smiling, crying, facial expressions, and gestures and relies on your response with words and attention to lay the foundation for language and literacy development. Your child’s brain develops the most during those early years, and frequent exposure to language and reading will help build your child’s vocabulary, comprehension, story-telling, reading, and writing skills.

Why is Early Literacy Development Important?
Research shows that babies and toddlers who participate in literacy activities with their caregivers are more likely to develop a sustained interest in reading and writing. Developing an interest in reading and writing early on will have a positive impact on your child’s academic readiness.

Literacy, which is the ability to read and write, is comprised of a variety of skills including letter recognition, phonemic awareness, use and understanding of vocabulary, and story comprehension. These skills begin to develop within the first year of life. For example, when your child is six to twelve months old they may begin to grasp books or pat pictures they are interested in. At twelve to twenty-four months your child may begin to turn board book pages, give a book to you to read to them, and point to and name objects in pictures. Between the ages of two and three your child may start to scribble, request the same story over and over, and begin to complete sentences or rhymes in stories that are familiar. As a parent or caregiver, you can provide your child with positive early literacy experiences, which will lay the foundation for language, reading, and writing skills to develop.

Tips For Promoting Early Literacy Skills:
1. Have fun while reading! If your child is engaged and enjoying themselves, they are learning. You can use silly voices and actions while reading your child a story. This will promote positive feelings towards reading for your child.
2. Talk about the pictures. Rather than reading the words on each page, try talking about the pictures. Point to the objects and actions in the pictures as you describe them so that your child will begin to make connections between the words you are saying and what they see. Eventually you can ask them to describe the pictures themselves.
3. Let your child interact with books. Let your child hold the book and turn the pages even if you need to help them do this. Remember that it is okay to skip pages and to talk about pictures rather than read all of the words.
4. Make books and stories a part of your daily routine. Have books in your car, sing songs and nursery rhymes during mealtimes or play, and make time to look at books before naps and bedtime. Provide your child with frequent opportunities to engage with books and story time.

Early Literacy Skills Are Developed Through Early Experiences:
Remember that early language and literacy skills are learned through every day experiences with you and your child. Through playing, talking, singing, and reading together, your child is developing early language and literacy skills. While your baby or toddler may not be ready to read or write yet, exposing your child to frequent opportunities to interact with books and tell stories will help to develop your child’s vocabulary, comprehension, story-telling, reading, and writing skills. Remember, it is never too early instill a love for learning and reading in your child!

Questions or concerns?
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s early literacy skills, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Claire Kakenmaster, MS, CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist

Photo Credit: Child, Fun, Family, Love via Pixabay.com

Toys: How Many Is Too Many?

“It is a happy talent to know how to play,” -Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Toys help foster children’s play development. Toys are one of the first opportunities that a child has to explore and interact in their environment. They open up a world of learning opportunities through education of play. Toys provide developmental growth when it comes to cognition, language, motor skills, and social interactions (plus many more). They create opinions, reactions, and fun experiences. These experiences allow a child to engage independently and socially. Toys must be introduced and used interactively with another social/ communitive partner (i.e. an adult or parent). A child must learn how to functionally play with a toy in order to use a toy to the fullest.

Although toys have many benefits for toddlers and preschoolers, having too many toys can feel overwhelming and distracting. A toddler can feel distracted by the overload of toys and not use the toys to their full potential. A toy must be introduced to a toddler first to learn the functionality of the toy. Too many toys can distract a child from focusing their attention on one toy at a time. Many children will pick up toy bins/containers, dump them out, move them around, the room, instead of using them for their functionality. Using a toy functionally with adult assistance will help a toddler use the toy to the fullest. After a child is done using a toy having them clean up and move on to the next activity will help with the growth of their attention span. Having too many toys does not encourage the growth of their attention span.

Tips

  • When your child gets a new toy engage with the toy together first! Get on your child’s level (one the floor) and look at the toy together! Talk about what the toy is, what the toy can do, and play with your toddler and the toy.
    • Example: “Wow look at your new red car! I love how shinny it is. Vroom Vroom let’s see how fast the car goes!”
  • Select toys that have multiple developmental benefits. For example, find toys that can be used to benefit cognition and language growth.
  • Organize your child’s toys into bins to help your child organize what they are playing with.
    • Use pictures to highlight what toy goes in which bin
  • Switch out the toys and the bins to keep things fresh.
    • Example: don’t have all your toys out at reach for your child at all times. Put some toys out of sight so that your child can focus their attention on the toys in front of them.

Have fun playing!

Rachel Weiser, MS, DT

Developmental Therapist

Resources:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/12/05/many-toys-bad-children-study-suggests/

https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/may2017/case-brain-science-guided-play

https://www.therapyshoppe.com/

Can Prolonged Pacifier Use Affect My Child’s Speech and Language Development?

Sucking is a postnatal reflex and is a natural part of your child’s development. So it is no wonder that a large majority of infants and toddlers use pacifiers to help them self-soothe throughout their daytime and nighttime routines. Pacifiers may be helpful for comforting your child in stressful situations, distinguishing between a fussy and hungry infant, and also as a sleep aid. But how old is too old for pacifier use? And are there any negative affects from prolonged use of pacifiers?

Pediatricians recommend that babies be weaned from pacifiers around four- to six-months of age. Pacifier use is no longer needed as a calming strategy after six months, primarily because the sucking, or “rooting,” reflex has disappeared. Prolonged use may result in the pacifier becoming a habit and therefore more difficult to wean.

Speech-language pathologists also recommend discontinued pacifier use by 12 months of age for many reasons. First, your child’s oral development is changing rapidly during the first few years of life. Prolonged sucking may in fact create a raised or indented palate, resulting in an oral cavity that is too large for typical articulation. This may manifest as a speech disorder around four to five years of age, often requiring therapy to remediate. Additionally, sucking on a pacifier encourages an immature suck-swallow pattern, resulting in possible feeding difficulties and articulation concerns.

Pediatric dentists recommend that pacifier use be discontinued by 24 months of age at the latest. The constant sucking on a foreign object beyond 24 months may cause the palate, gums, and teeth to develop atypically. This is primarily seen in the atypical eruption of permanent teeth, leading to crowding and/or gaps in the teeth.

If you are ready to tackle the job of weaning your child from his/her pacifier, there are a few strategies that can ease the transition. It is not recommended to go ‘cold turkey’ at first; rather, tell your child that the pacifier is for sleeping only and keep it out of sight during the day. Once you have established this routine, remove the pacifier from nap times and eventually from bedtime. It is helpful to offer a brand new comfort item (such as a new blanket or stuffed animal) that your child can use as a replacement for self-soothing. The most important thing to remember for weaning your child from a pacifier is to remain consistent with the rules you set in place!

While there is variability in the recommended age for weaning your child from a pacifier, general consensus is that pacifiers should not be used at any time (day or night) after 24 months of age. Consult your speech-language pathologist or dentist if you have any questions about your child’s pacifier use, as well as for recommendations and support for weaning your child from the pacifier.

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

Family Time: Helps kids grow!

During the holiday season, many families have the pleasure of spending time together, increasing their daily family time. There are many fun family activities that you and your child can do to promote their cognitive development.

Winter scavenger hunt: Create a winter themed scavenger hunt around your home and outdoors.

  • Tip:
    • This is a great way for children to work on their picture concepts, matching skills, and helps them in making associations.
  • Activities:
    • Indoor Hunt: Hide items around your home related to winter and have your child find them (e.g. hat, coat, gloves).
    • Outdoor Hunt: Talk about the different things your child might see while walking outdoors during the winter (e.g. snow, snowmen, shovels). Go on a “hunt” to find these items while spending time outdoors.

Organization/ laundry: Have your child help you organize your home and take care of daily chores.

  • Tips:
    • This is great for categorization of colors or sizes.
    • Learning where items go around your home will help further develop spatial relationship knowledge.
  • Activities:
    • Turn this into guessing game around your house.
  • Examples:
    • Narrate what you are doing and have your child join along: “Hmm, I wonder where I should put away Jon’s toys.”
    • Make a mistake and have your child catch/correct it: “I should put the pillows away on the kitchen table.”

Singing songs: Singing songs is a great way to work on your child’s engagement and imitation songs.

  • Tip:
    • Using songs that your child has interest in will help maintain their attention span and further work on their engagement and imitation skills.
  • Activities:
    • Sing together: Listen to music around the house and in the car. Select music that your child shows interest in. Model singing and dancing along with the music.
    • Finger play songs with gestures (i.e. “If You’re Happy and You Know it”, “Wheels on the Bus”, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”): Model gestures for the song and encourage your child to imitate the gestures. Use hand over hand assistance if needed to help your child imitate the gestures.

Pin up pictures: Put pictures around your child’s room or in your home to practice picture identification.

  • Tips:
    • This activity helps your child work on word associations and improve memory.
    • You can pick pictures of your family (especially those that you will see during the holiday season) or your child’s favorite things (e.g. favorite toy, blanket, food item).
  • Activities:
    • First go around the house and label the pictured items for your child (i.e. “Look, there is a picture of your train set.”). Point to the pictures while labeling them out loud, then start asking your child to label the pictures themselves.
    • Turn it into a game! After you feel your child can identify specific pictures ask your child to retrieve specific ones.

Winter crafts: Arts and crafts are a great way to engage with your child in creative ways. These activities help them practice their fine motor skills, their color concept knowledge, and their concept knowledge.

  • Tips:
    • Talk about the characteristics of the paint (e.g. the color, temperature).
    • Work on color identification. Label the colors for your child and have them work on labeling them independently.
    • Work on number identification. Count the cotton balls with your child. Have your child work on giving you “one” cotton ball at a time.
  • Activities:
    • Ice paint: Put food coloring into an ice tray with water and a popsicle stick. Freeze the “paint”. Once frozen, take tray out and have your child paint with it on paper
    • Painting the snow: Use food coloring and a spray bottle. Fill the spray bottle with a few drops of food coloring and water. Take the snow paint outdoors and have them spray the snow.
    • Cotton ball snow man: Draw the outline of a snow man on a piece of paper for your child. Have them glue cotton balls inside the snowman to make it look like snow.

Have a great winter season!

Rachel Weiser, MS, DT

Developmental Therapist

References:

http://dailymom.com/nurture/encouraging-cognitive-development-through-arts-and-crafts/

http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/intellectual/toddler-development-activities/

Taking the Pressure off Talking!

If you are a parent who has tried implementing some of the language strategies your speech therapist has taught you with your little one- only to end in your child running off or having a meltdown- this blog is for you! Often the reason for these meltdowns is due to pressure. Not only the pressure put on your child but also the pressure you put on yourself. Below are three strategies for ways to encourage language development while avoiding a meltdown.

  1. Finding your child’s limit- Knowing how much you can push a child can be tricky. We want to encourage and challenge our little ones, but not to the point that we see a meltdown. Try starting with something that is easy for them and make slow, gradual changes to increase the difficulty. The moment you notice your child is at their limit pull back. It’s important to keep in mind that your child’s limit can change daily or even by activity and we may need to adjust accordingly.
  2. Play- The best way to encourage language development in our little ones is to play! Rather than planning a specific activity, think about what toys or activities your child loves and how you can incorporate language into that. If it something that they like then they will be more interested and engaged and you will be more likely to avoid a meltdown. If your child loves trucks- play with trucks. You can practice the sounds that they make or talk about their size and color. If you’re having fun then your child will too!
  3. Get moving- Sitting for extended periods of time can be hard for toddlers., so incorporate movement into your activities. This is a great way to engage your child and keep their attention while avoiding a tantrum. If you’re doing a puzzle you can put the pieces on the other side of the room so your child has to run to go get each piece or you could make an obstacle course out of pillows and blankets and work on following directions.

By taking the pressure off talking you will see your child become more engaged and eager to participate. I hope these strategies are helpful and as always if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us!

Claire Kakenmaster, MS, CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist

Toy Guide for Babies and Toddlers

With the holidays quickly approaching, families are always asking for recommendations for toys for their small children. Here are a few ideas for age-appropriate toys for your baby or toddler!

Babies (0 to 12 months)

YOU! Your baby from 0-3 months is most interested in his or her parent or caregiver. Encourage eye contact, sing songs, talk to, play peekaboo, and make silly faces at and with your baby!

Mobiles: As their vision is starting to become more clear, toys like mobiles with simple pictures or solid colors will motivate them to reach for the objects above.

Rattles: Our littlest humans are interested in sensory play so what better than something they can bang, shake, and mouth? Rattles provide visual, tactile, oral, and auditory stimulation.

Unbreakable Mirror: Children love to look at themselves and playing in the mirror teaches them self-awareness. Look at each other in the mirror, make faces, put stickers on your face, put toys on your head, or play peekaboo.

Young Toddlers (12 to 24 months)

Simple Books: Make sure the books have simple, real pictures. This will help young toddlers recognize objects in the world around them.

Push and Pull toys: These are great for gross motor activities. These toys encourage movement and great for early walkers.

Hammer and Ball or Peg toys: These are great cause and effect toys to help your child problem solve. Hammer and ball toys also allow them to use tools, which we know these little toddlers love!

Blocks, Cups, Stacking Rings: Stackable toys help children learn spatial relationships, size concepts, and problem-solving skills. And this allows them to do engage in one of their favorite activities – destruction!

Older Toddlers (24 to 36 months)

Matching/Sorting toys: Puzzles are a great way to teach matching and sorting! Older toddlers enjoy see organization in the world and help encourage the earliest of preschool readiness skills.

Pretend/Imaginative Play toys: How often do you see your older toddler use the remote control as a “phone”? Provide your child realistic objects or toys so that they can imitate your actions and daily life. Baby dolls, kitchen utensils/play food, toy phones, cars, trains, dress up clothes, child size broom or vacuum – these all encourage pretend or imaginative play. This type of play to helps your child learn about social-emotional relationships and shows you their understanding of the world.

Art Supplies: Large crayons, markers, clay, paint, glue sticks, child-safe scissors, and construction paper are great utensils to introduce art and explore color! Be sure all of your supplies are non-toxic and to engage in these activities while wearing clothing you don’t mind getting messy – or ruined!

Simple Board or Memory Games: As children get closer to three, these types of games are great ways to work on turn taking and exercise memory and object permanence skills.  It will also help your child improve their concentration.

Kimberly Shlaes, MAT, DT
Director of Developmental Therapy Services

Why is My Toddler’s Speech Therapist Only Playing with My Child?

The importance of play in language development

Many parents are confused when their birth-to-three speech therapist arrives and begins talking about “play skills” instead of “speech skills.” Do not fret! Speech and play skills are HIGHLY related. Play, and more specifically pretend play, gives us a look into your child’s world. Play skills demonstrate your child’s cognitive skills, which are your child’s ability to think, process language, play attention, learn, and plan their next move. All of these skills are essential for speech and language development!

Let’s break it down!

 

There are four basic types of play: Exploratory, Functional, Constructive, and Pretend.

Exploratory:  using senses of touch, taste and smell to learn about new objects. This begins when your child has intentional control over their body. Children who enjoy shaking, mouthing or smelling new objects are in the exploratory stage.

Functional: using toys and objects as they were intended. Functional play, such as is using a spoon to stir, racing cars or rolling a ball. Pay attention to whether your child is using an object or simply enjoying watching one part of the object, such as wheels turning.

Constructive: manipulating objects to make something new. This stage of play includes more trial and error to see how pieces can work together with a final goal in mind. Constructive play includes building train tracks, assembling and disassembling blocks and other toys, or sorting shapes and objects.

Pretend or symbolic: using objects in imaginary ways. Such as, pretending your hand or a block is a phone, emptying a box to make a doll a bed or bathtub, pretending a baby is crying and soothing a baby, or making a pretend steering wheel for a car. Children who dress up and act like a specific person are also engaging in pretend play.

Why is it important?

If your child is using functional play then they are demonstrating an understanding of what objects are and why they are used. When your child uses pretend play, they are demonstrating symbolic understanding of one object for another object. Words are also symbolic! Words are a symbol to represent objects, people, events, feelings, and physical states. If your child is using objects for another object, then your child demonstrates understanding that words have symbolic meaning and the cognitive skills for using words meaningfully!

Children who are using words, but are not yet playing functionally or symbolically, likely do not yet have a solid understanding of word meanings and may have difficulty using the same words in a variety of contexts. For example, think of all the ways we can play with a ball: we can roll, throw, or bounce a ball. There are different balls for different sports, or we could even pretend a ball is an apple. A child who only knows “ball” for labeling or does not yet play with a ball meaningfully is not understanding what that toy is used for and how it can be related to other objects or people. Children who are not using pretend play by the time they are two years old are at risk of cognitive and speech and language deficits.

Ways to help your toddler!

Meet your little one where they are with play. If your child is still in the exploratory phase, try modeling constructive play (fill and dump or assemble and knock down) and functional play to begin showing how objects go together. For example, a spoon can be used for stirring or eating food, but we don’t use a spoon to wiggle in front of our face.

Once your little one has some early play skills, get creative and add additional prompts or a new way to play. Pretend food, animals and baby dolls are some of my favorite toys for pretend play!

For more information on pretend and symbolic play, check out a previous blog from Kim Shales, our director of developmental therapy.

If you have further questions or concerns, call PlayWorks Therapy, Inc. for a full speech and language evaluation.

Jessica Delos Reyes, MA, CCC-SLP

Speech-Language Pathologist

Image: https://www.google.com/search?q=pretend+play&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwirjJi9097WAhUi3YMKHdKuDyQQ_AUICygC&biw=1198&bih=700#imgrc=-kgdDwYHFdD1kM:

Typical Speech-Language Development (24-30 months) & Red Flags for Communication Difficulties

Children vary in their development of speech and language, however they follow a natural progression for mastery of speech and language skills. The table below outlines speech and language skills that are typically developed between 24-30 months of age as well as red flags for communication difficulties. If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, it is recommended that you consult with a speech-language pathologist or your child’s pediatrician.

Coming up next: Typical Speech-Language Development (30-36 months) and Red Flags for Communication Difficulties. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s speech and language development, please feel free to contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or (773) 332-9439.

Claire Kakenmaster, MS, CCC-SLP

Typical Speech-Language Development (0-24 months) & Red Flags for Communication Difficulties

Children experience so much growth with regard to speech and language in this relatively short amount of time. It can be difficult to know what is expected and when. Use the chart below as a guideline to review your child’s progress or to see what skills might appear next!  If your child presents with red flags for communication difficulties, it is recommended that you seek guidance from a speech-language pathologist or your child’s pediatrician.

For those of you with children over 2 years of age, stay tuned! And as always, feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns regarding your child’s development.

Ana Thrall, MS, CF-SLP

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!