As summer is winding down, there are many emotions leading up to the first day of school--excitement, anxiety, anticipation, nervousness, worry. As parents, we want to prepare our children as much as possible and set them up for success. In preparation for back to school, we have a few ways to help.
I love a good list. My daughter quickly caught on to this and even one day as a toddler asked if I could make her a list. She knows that Mommy likes to organize things and that it brings me joy. Lists don't have to all look the same. For my own children, I make a variety of visual supports, including visual lists.
Why LISTS? When I heard myself giving the same verbal reminders each morning before school for my daughter Sloan the clinician in me cringed. I knew that there was a way to support both learning the sequence of the morning routine, while encouraging independence. I knew this would give us both a calmer morning leading up to school drop off, so I quickly made a visual list:
I knew that even with being a strong early reader, a visual list first thing in the morning was a smart choice to reduce the cognitive load. I did transition to a written list within the school year based on her level of reading. With the tasks in the list, I gave her some control over the order, which is what differentiates a list compared to a schedule. For every child and household, the tasks in a visual list may be a little different. A visual list can be hand-drawn, you can use google images, or use text based on your child.
How Was School Today?
When your child hops in your car or arrives home after school, often our first question is, "How was school today?". More often than not, the responses are lacking. For many children, this is an abstract question or recalling experiences that tie to this question can be hard. Breaking down this big question to more concrete prompts/questions gives children more opportunity to respond with more "complete" answers. It is important to point out that for some children, the moment that they get in the car or arrive home may not be the best time to debrief the day. A better time might be over a snack or once they have had "down" time after school. Below are some examples of questions for both preschool and elementary aged children. Choose a few questions to help facilitate conversations about school. When it comes to concrete questions specific to what kids are learning, it is much easier when paired with information from the teacher (e.g., If your child's class is working on patterns in math, ask "What objects did you use to make patterns with today?").
This is the phrase that I often use to explain how much social communication encompasses. I use the term social communication intentionally instead of social skills. I think social skills at times becomes limited to being able to say hi/bye, take turns, look at someone when directed, and maintain a topic for multiple exchanges. All of these skills are important, but social communication isn't just about a collection of learned skills. It's about not only what marker of communication is used, but in what context and for what purpose. To say it simply--it's not simple.
One of the foundational layers of social communication is COMMUNICATIVE MEANS & COMMUNICATIVE INTENT.
Communicative Intent: Why we communicate (function)
Communicative Means: How we communicate (form)
At the core, many children with social communication deficits have unconventional or limited communicative means for the communicative intent they desire to communicate. For example a child who:
The absolute BEST time to model/teach communication is when the child shows the communicative intent for that communication (means). For example, when a child grunts to secure a mom's attention, that is the time to model calling, "mommy" while the mom is not looking. Once the child repeats "mommy", then the mom turns and comments, "I heard you say my name! I'm looking at you!". This reinforces the appropriate communicative means (calling name with one word label) with the communicative intent (securing attention).
When we look at the communicative intent, we can shape the means that is used (even unconventional). In that way, we are addressing the function instead of simply redirecting.
As a parent and a speech pathologist, I've heard many thoughts regarding if a child is ahead or behind when it comes to development. This input can come from a variety of sources, each with its own weight (your pediatrician versus the "one upper" mom at playgroup). Not all input is consistent either, which can be confusing as a parent. While there are many differences and ranges in child development, there are milestones to aide families in answering the question of whether to "wait and see" or ask for help.
Parent WOW moment
At first, I ignored it, then I excused it for his age, and later I thought it had to be because he had an overly verbal older sister that carried the conversation. Finally, I reasoned that he would grow out of it and that it would eventually all work itself out. When that did not happen, I went to Holland Speech and Consulting.
Our son Tripp was evaluated by Holland and we learned that he had a speech disorder. At that moment, I did not fully understand what speech therapy entailed and was still hoping it might be a quick fix and that in 6 weeks he would be healed! Holland’s team made sure to carefully guide us through the process that we were about to undertake to provide Tripp with speech therapy in order to work through his speech disorder.
Now as I look back over the past 2 and half years, with the help of a Holland speech therapist, Tripp has taken considerable steps in overcoming his speech disorder. Each new season brings about a different type of what we like to call “language explosions.” Difficult words are pronounced, sentences are strung together and Tripp’s confidence continues to soar.
To think that if I had not paused during my hectic life, listened and sought out Holland’s help, I would have missed out on so much that my sweet boy is now able to tell me, like what he learned in Church that day, who he played with at school and what makes him happy.
Tripp is now a regular contributor at our dinner table conversations every night and it is with extreme appreciation and gratitude that we thank Holland Speech and Consulting for the work they have done and continue to do in shaping the life of our child.
motivating materials + strategic vocabulary targets = simple activities to build language
Here is an example of motivating materials and targeted vocabulary that coordinate.
-Sample two-word phrases: car go, uh-oh crash, car crash
-Sample three-word phrases: uh-oh car crash, car go on, car ride off
The best way to facilitate and model language for your child is during PLAY. While playing with your child's favorite toys that motivate them:
1. USE LANGUAGE RIGHT ABOVE YOUR THE LEVEL OF YOUR CHILD: For example, if your child uses single words on average, use a variety of two-word phrases.
2. REPETITION IS GOOD: Children learn from routine and repetition.
3. USE A VARIETY OF TYPES OF WORDS: This is where quality is better than quantity. Children develop verbs, specifically action verbs for example right alongside nouns. Verbs and early location terms are more productive than a bank of nouns when it comes to being an effective communicator. It is much more functional for a child to be able to request to "go up" in his highchair to eat, than to only be able to label animals or colors in a book.
4. EXPAND ON YOUR CHILD''S LANGUAGE: This can happen for any level. If your child produces a sound while looking at an object, say the name of the object (eye gaze to single word). If they say "car" when they want you to roll the car to them, say "roll car" (single word to two-word phrase).
5. HAVE FUN: Children learn through play and any level of back and forth communication with your child is connection--celebrate it!
Our team was asked 5 quick questions to let us know a little more about them:
1. TELL us about your family.
2. What would your SUPERPOWER be?
3. If you could be ANYWHERE right this minute, where would you be?
4. What are you HAPPIEST doing when you aren't at work?
5. What are you most PASSIONATE about professionally?
When you really break down aspects of communication and play, you realize how many skills children must coordinate for a successful play interaction. Play is reciprocal, so therefore language within play must be as well. Let's look at an example play routine:
Pretend Carwash Play Routine
Clear Roles & Actions within that Role: This is where children use language such as, "you drive the car and I'll be the washer". This demands that the child either is able to respond to single or multi-step verbal directions of others or is able to give verbal directions to others, or hopefully BOTH. In reciprocal cooperative play, if directions given are unclear or there is a breakdown in understanding, the play is often abandoned by the participants.
Negotiated Spatial Boundaries: Language around spacial concepts must be given clearly and understood--on, in, under, over there, beside, between, above, in front of.
Securing Attention: Verbal and non-verbal means must be used to gain the attention of another prior to communicating. This could be calling a play partner's name to ensure they are listening or touching their arm to get their attention. Play also demands that children actively engage when a friend secure's their attention.
Requesting Shared Materials: Play is constantly moving, as is access to materials. Participants must be able to negotiate trading of objects and requesting objects. This could include anything from, "want to trade" to asking for materials missing (e.g., "where's the fishing rod") to requests, "can I have the purple one?". This often includes descriptive language involving adjectives and/or coordination of gestures (e.g., pointing, open palm for giving).
Appropriate Protests to Regulate Emotions: Things don't always go as planned and intentions are not always clearly understood or agreed upon. Language such as, "I don't like that", "I changed my mind", "don't do that" are powerful tools to communicate a protest. When a child can communicate through language versus a meltdown they can then negotiate a different plan of action--"let's do it this way", "I want to have one more minute and then give a turn". In most cases this language must be taught or modeled to children to support emotional regulation.
Have questions about your child's development?
Jamie Cato is the founder of Holland Speech & Consulting and the mommy of two incredible kids, Sloan (5) and Jude (2), who unknowingly become the subject of many stories when it comes to the development of language, play, and emotional regulation.