When is Picky Eating a Problem?

My child is a picky eater!  Is it a problem?

This comment comes up so often with parents, as many toddlers have strong preferences for the types of food they like and will eat.  With picky eaters, mealtime can easily become a constant battle of the wills between parents and kids. You may feel like they are eating the same thing every day, and you may question if they are getting the nutrients their growing body needs.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help understand the differences between picky eating and a potential feeding disorder:

  • Does my child eat at least 1-2 items from each food group?
  • Does my child universally reject a certain category of food (i.e. certain color, certain temperature, certain texture)?
  • Do my child’s preferences change over time?
  • If given lots of opportunities, will my child ultimately try the food? If not, will they touch it?
  • How stressful is the situation when a new food is attempted? How strong is the child’s reaction and can they recover and continue with the meal?

The key is to know when you child is acting like most other toddlers, or when the picky eating is more concerning.  The more rigid, inflexible and stressful your child is, the more concerned you should be.  If you think your child may be more than just a picky eater, consider a feeding evaluation with a speech language pathologist.  Mealtime is meant to be fun and enjoyable and just another way for your child to explore the world around them!

Sarah Pifkin Ruger, MS, CCC-SLP

Encouraging First Words: Developing Language Use in Your Child

There are many prerequisite skills that a child develops before speaking their first words – eye contact, comprehension, vocal play and babbling, gesture imitation, etc. However, parents often feel that their child is understanding language at an appropriate level, but not yet using words. To encourage the emergence of first words and word imitation, there are simple strategies that can be used during daily routines or play!

Simple verbal imitation is just a half-step down from imitation of true words. A child is more likely to imitate a set of sounds or words if it is simple and achievable for them; for instance, they are more likely to imitate “woof!” than they are to imitate “butterfly.” If your child is able to imitate gestures (such as waving, pointing, clapping) and play actions (such as making a stuffed animal eat pretend food, stacking blocks and knocking them down), practice with verbal imitation is a great next step to encouraging words. Instead of trying to prompt your child to “Say ‘ball!’” or imitate when you say “Milk,” try using natural modeling of environmental sounds. Environmental sounds can be thought of as words that represent sounds – think animals (moo, quack quack, nay, baa, woof, meow, buzz), vehicles (beep beep, vroom, crash), exclamations (mmm, whoa, yay, uh oh) and other noises you hear that can be words. Don’t worry about prompting your child to “say” these sound words, just try to make any activity as fun as possible!

Outside of environmental sounds, you can also create your own consonant-vowel combination play sounds. Early developing consonants, such as B, P, M, D, N, H, and W, can be used to form small non-words that are attached to a play action. For example, as you make a toy car go up the back of the couch, add “Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo!” Stomp your feet on the ground while you march around saying, “Ba! Ba! Ba!”

Verbal routines are another fantastic way to encourage early verbal imitation. Verbal routines are sets of words that become familiar and predictable, preparing your child to know what should come next. “Ready, set, go” is a favorite among speech-language pathologists – try combining it with a fun activity, saying “Ready, set,…..” and waiting for your child to fill in “go!” “Peek-a-boo” is another simple routine that can be practiced almost anywhere! Verbal routines can also be practiced through songs, and kids usually love music! Some familiar kid’s songs: The Itsy Bitsy Spider, The Wheels on the Bus, If You’re Happy and You Know It, Old McDonald, Five Little Monkeys, Head Shoulders Knees and Toes, and Row Row Row Your Boat.

 Children are expected to imitate consonant-vowel combinations and non-speech sounds by between 9 and 12 months. First words are expected to emerge between 9 and 15 months. If you are concerned about your child’s expressive language skills, contact your local Early Intervention Child and Family Connections or contact us at PlayWorks Therapy, Inc.!

Leanne Sherred, MS, SLP-CF

Pretend Play with Paper Bags

Picture1Paper bags can have endless uses! You can use them to carry groceries, pack lunches and picnics or even make a pretend city!

What you will need:

  • Paper bags, grocery or lunch size
  • Newspaper
  • Paint and/or markers
  • Stapler

Want the know-how? Start by making roofs for all of your buildings at the opening of the bag; add doors, window, flowers and any decorations that you want! Let your child decorate and decide what buildings they want in their city. Create a school, hospital, library, your own house or friends’ homes!

Once your bags are all decorated, stand them up and add crumpled newspaper or double the bags for added stability. Fold the top of the bag and staple shut (you can also leave them open and cut out windows and doors for extra fun!)

You are ready to play pretend! Add cars and your favorite characters for expanded play!

This activity great for building your toddler’s vocabulary! Talk about the buildings, what colors they are, who might go to a building and why, what decorations you are making, or how big or small to make a decoration. Adding stickers is a great opportunity to practice requesting (i.e. “I want the flower.”). In addition, stickers often offer opportunity to request “help” opening or unpeeling the back of the sticker. Once your project is finished, be sure to talk about where a character or a vehicle is going, who they are going to see, or what they are doing, the opportunities for play are endless!

Send us pictures of your pretend house or city and be featured on our blog!

 **This activity requires adult-supervision, especially for children under the age of three.**

Picture and activity are adapted from kidsactivityblog.com

Jessie Delos Reyes, MA, CF-SLP

Get Creative with These Homemade Activities!

While this summer has brought us some beautiful weather, there are still those rainy days where we are forced to stay inside. Are you looking for new, cheap activities for your children? Here are two fun and easy recipes for entertaining your little ones:

  1. Homemade Play-Doh


1 cup flour

1 cup water

½ cup salt

1 Tbsp. crisco oil

2 tsp. cream of tartar

Food coloring

Directions: Combine all of the ingredients into a sauce pan and cook over medium/high heat (stirring constantly) until ball forms. Knead the doh for a couple minutes. Store in an airtight container.

Play-doh is a good interactive activity to encourage engagement with your child by showing your child how to roll the doh into a ball, poke the doh with your finger, or form the doh into fun shapes and animals. Play-doh can also be used as a sensory activity, in which the squeezing and tearing of the doh helps children use their sense of touch to regulate their behavior and calm their bodies.

  1. Home Car Wash


Squirt bottle with water

Hand soap with pump

Scrubbing tool (e.g. sponge, toothbrush)


Toy cars

Directions: Put some cars into a bowl and ask your child to spray them with the water bottle. Then ask the child to pump some soap onto the cars. Take the scrubbing tool and have the child scrub the different parts of the car (e.g. wheels, doors, windows). Then ask the child to spray the soap off with water before drying the car off with the towel.

This car washing activity works on using a child’s fine motor skills with the squeezing of the water bottle, pumping of the soap, and scrubbing of the car. This activity can also encourage following directions by asking the child to complete a step before moving onto the next. If you have a number of colored cars, you can work on color identification by asking the child to wash a specific color of car with each wash.

Brittany Hill, MS, MSW, LSW, DT

My Child Is Stuttering — Should I be Concerned?

Many children in the early language developing years (anywhere from one to five years old) pass in and out of stages of increased disfluency. This is often seen when children go through a time of rapid language growth, where they increase their vocabulary and begin to combine words into short phrases. Children may frequently struggle with word finding in connected speech and repeat sounds and syllable shapes as they ‘look for’ the right word. They also use fillers, such as “uh” or “um,” in conversation.

Young children may repeat the sounds at the beginning of words (“Ka-ka-cookie”) or they may repeat whole words at the beginning of phrases (“My-my turn”). Normal disfluencies are two- to four-repetitions long (“I-I-I want ice cream”) and the child will continue their phrase without pause. The majority of typically developing children are unaware that they are disfluent and show little to no signs of frustration. They often do not follow a pattern of disfluency, but may experience times of increased disfluency when they are excited, tired, upset, or when under stress to talk or answer questions. They may be disfluent for a few days or weeks at a time, and then enter periods of relatively fluent speech. This occurs naturally as children learn how to use language in a new way. These periods of disfluency are considered age-appropriate and usually disappear on their own.

As a parent, you can support your child by allowing him or her to finish their word/phrase on their own before responding. Acknowledge their communication attempt by giving them plenty of time to communicate and use slow, unhurried speech in your response.

Moderate to severe stuttering is characterized by longer repetitions, effortful speech, and tense facial muscles.  Children with atypical disfluencies may experience a ‘block’ in speech, where no airflow or sounds occur for a few seconds. They may become embarrassed about talking or avoid talking altogether.

If you have any concerns about your child’s fluency or communication skills, email info@playworkschicago.com to schedule a speech-language evaluation with one of our experienced clinicians.

Autumn Smith, MS, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Transitioning to Preschool- Finding the Right School for You and Your Child

The transition to preschool can be an intimidating one for families – every parent wants the very best for their child! Here are some questions to consider when choosing the right school for your child and family:

What is the school’s educational philosophy?

Parents are encouraged to ask schools this question however may be unsure of their own educational philosophy. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Is the program play-based? Are the children allowed to explore and discover or do they complete mostly drill work (i.e. worksheets)?
  • What is the school-family relationship like? Are families welcome and/or expected to volunteer? Is there an open door policy or do families need to make appointments to stop in?
  • What curriculum is used in the classroom?

Does the school use a skills based assessment?

It is important to learn how your child’s preschool program will be tracking their progress over time. Are they assessed every 6 months? Once a year? What tool is used to assess their skills? You want to make sure that your child’s cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development is monitored to ensure they are successful in the classroom and getting any support they may need.

What qualifications or educational background do the teachers have?

Qualifications to teach in a preschool classroom can vary from school to school – some require a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, elementary education, child development, etc. Others may require only a few hours of coursework and complete the rest of their training in-house. You want to make sure that you are comfortable with their educational background and experience, as these are the people who will help your child learn and grow!

What is the school’s discipline policy?

It is essential that a preschool’s and classroom’s rules are clear to both the parents and child. You want to be certain the program is setting children up for success in the classroom. How often are the rules reviewed with the children? Are they posted it the classroom or around the school?

You also want to make sure you agree with the way the school handles discipline, should the situation arise. Do they use the “timeout” method? Do they redirect the child when possible? Do they talk with the child to explain why they are being disciplined and to resolve the situation? Are children rewarded or acknowledged for good behavior?

Does my child need to be potty trained to attend?

Some schools require children to be potty trained in certain classrooms and may not allow a child to move up to the next room until they are using the toilet regularly. Other schools do not require children to be fully potty trained and help out in the practice.

Kimberly Shlaes, MAT, DT

Developmental Therapist