Summertime language activities for children and their families

image credit: Personal Creations, Flickr. CC license.

Summer doesn’t mean you have to take a break from stimulating speech and language skills with your children. There are still many opportunities to enrich communication skills. From trips to the zoo, waterpark or beach, to camping and other family vacations, you’ll have plenty to talk about. Here are some suggestions for incorporating language into your fun summer plans.

Schedule play dates with friends and classmates. Play dates foster peer interaction, play, functional communication, and social skills. Offer a few summer activities (bubbles, sand toys, swings) and encourage conversation/interaction. Later, ask open-ended questions about what happened, who was there, and other details.

Plan a day trip. Take a trip to the beach, park, museum, amusement park, or zoo. Providing your child with a variety of experiences gives them a broader vocabulary base and builds connections to stories and books they may read. While planning for the trip, talk about what you need to pack for the trip. After the trip, tell the story of what you did that day. Check online for nearby family-friendly activities and discounts.

Go for a walk. As you walk with your child, encourage conversation by asking open-ended questions (e.g., What do you like to do outside?). Make observations and comment on what you see around you (e.g., I see a blue bird flying in the sky), while encouraging your child to do the same. Or try an “I Spy” game to focus on inference skills by describing items and having your child guess what you see.

Make a snack together. Cooking and baking create natural opportunities to practice following directions. Together, check the ingredients list and create a shopping list. While shopping, discuss what you will buy, how many you need, and what you will make. Talk about the size (large or small), shape (long, round, square), and weight (heavy or light) of the packages and where you put them (in the cart, on, under, above the grocery cart). Then get to cooking! After the snack is made, have your child describe what they made. Take it a step further and see if your child can remember and retell all the steps in the process.

Read. Reading with your child is one of the best activities you can do to promote language and literacy skills. While reading, ask your child different “wh” questions related to the story (e.g., Why is he sad? What do you think is going to happen? Where are they?). Visit the local library to check out new books.

Host a scavenger hunt. Work with your child to write clues and create maps for participants to find the items. While writing the clues together, work on sentence formation and vocabulary development. To target a specific articulation sound, think of items that start or end with that sound. Completing the scavenger hunt targets critical thinking skills and following directions.

Camp in the backyard. Set up the tent with your child, tell campfire stories and make s’mores. Not only is this activity so much fun, but it targets narrative skills, imaginative play, and following directions.

Have a game night. Board games, charades, bingo and card games are very interactive and fun. Most games can have multiple players at a time so invite over the neighbor kids for some laughs! Games encourage turn taking, social skills, rule-following and understanding directions.

What are your favorite summertime activities, and how do you incorporate learning during while the children are not in school?

– Alexandra Barman, M.A., CF-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health

Fun ideas to help your child unplug this summer

Summer is the perfect time for kids to get outside and play. However, many children turn to computers, televisions and tablets for entertainment rather than their imagination or creativity. While apps, games and shows can be entertaining and keep the kids occupied, it’s important to continue to foster development of other skills without digital assistance.

Here are a few suggestions to keep your child unplugged for the summer:

  • Books
    • Reading helps expand vocabulary, problem solving, inferencing and comprehension abilities. It also aids development of creativity and imagination when children envision the story taking place.
    • Encourage leisure reading with a sticker reward chart. Have your child work towards a special reward like going out to eat at their favorite restaurant, having a movie night, camping in the backyard, making a special dessert or snack, or even earning time with their desired electronic.
    • Set aside time to read with your child. Pick a more advanced chapter book and spend 30 minutes each day reading a chapter together.
    • Plan quiet reading time outside in a hammock, on a blanket or in a tent/fort.
  • Activity books
    • Help kids use logic, reasoning and imagination in a fun way through activity books!
    • Examples include mazes, hidden picture books, sticker books, dot-to-dots, paint by numbers, student workbooks (Kumon or Brainquest), and coloring books.
  • Art
    • Pick a different art activity each day or week to stimulate creativity. Use different types of paper (e.g., construction, tissue, foam, felt, etc.) and different art mediums (e.g., markers, crayons, colored pencils, paint, glue, Play-Doh, etc.) to keep the activities interesting and fun.
  • Games
    • Single-person games are a great way to promote use of logic and reasoning.
    • Examples: jigsaw puzzles, Perplexus, IQ Fit, Gravity Maze, Suspend Game, solitaire, Rush Hour, Scrabble Flash, Mighty Mind, Rory’s Story Cubes, Logic Links, Laser Maze, Circuit Maze, Katamino, Swish, Pathwords, Find It.
  • Sports/Games
    • Introduce your child to new and different outdoor sports and games. These are great for fine and gross motor development.
    • Examples: soccer, basketball, baseball/T-ball, tennis, ladder golf, croquet, Washers, corn hole, hopscotch, bowling.
  • Toys
    • Toys are a great way for kids to learn to entertain themselves and use their imaginations through pretend play.
    • In order to keep toys interesting, set aside specific times during the day to play with these special items. You could also set up a toy swap with a neighbor if your child loses interest in the toys you currently own.
    • Examples: stuffed animals, dolls, race cars, marble tower/track, Silly Putty, wood pattern blocks, puzzles, sensory bins.

Samantha Bailey-Crow, MA, CCC-SLP, is supervisor of Pediatric Rehabilitation at the Center for Exceptional Families, Beaumont Health

How the arts inspire confidence in children

Image by Heidi Yanulis, Unsplash

Children with learning disabilities don’t lack for intelligence. However, differences in how these children process information can cause them to struggle in the classroom. Because academic achievement is a major way that children are compared to their peers, this can leave kids with learning disabilities wondering if they aren’t as smart as their friends.

When a child stops believing in his own intelligence, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Afraid to try and fail, many children stop trying at all. Grades fall, teachers lower expectations, the child loses more faith in himself, and grades drop more. When children believe they can’t learn, they don’t try.

Parents often feel helpless to assist their child with a learning disability, especially if the child has started to hide homework or leave it at school. It’s hard for parents to help with what they don’t know about. But while completing the night’s homework is important, the greater issue is reigniting the child’s belief that he is intelligent and capable of learning.

This is where the arts come in. Many children who struggle with reading, writing, listening, counting, or other learning abilities excel at playing the piano, painting, dancing, or engaging in another form of art. Learning in the arts is flexible, so children can play off their strengths: a child with dyslexia can learn music by ear, while a child with language processing disorder can observe others to learn painting.

The arts can improve a child’s abilities as well. LD Online explains that drawing and painting reinforce motor skills, while learning music improves phonological awareness — a key skill for auditory processing. Dancing teaches both motor control and counting, while acting furthers understanding of subject matter. Sewing is another medium that can be especially helpful for children who need to improve their concentration skills. In addition, it allows children to express themselves creatively and reap the benefits of their artistic skills, whether they craft a pillowcase, cloth napkins, or a stuffed bunny they can cuddle with at bedtime.

Playing an instrument, in particular, could enhance a child’s brain power. Playing a musical instrument is known to improve brain function and brain development when started in childhood. In fact, research suggests that music training improves a person’s ability to integrate input from the various senses. That could help children with visual and auditory processing disorders become better learners.

Excelling in the arts renews a child’s confidence in his learning ability. It drives home the fact that a learning disability isn’t a lack of intelligence, but simply a difference. The confidence a child gains then carries over to other learning environments, where kids become more willing to try and ask for help. If you’re a parent of a child with a learning disability and you think the arts could help your child, here are some tips to get started.

  • Allow opportunities to create. Not all learning is structured. Keep art supplies, instruments, and other creative toys at home to encourage your child’s creativity.
  • Allow for exploration. Your child may start and stop several arts hobbies before committing to anything. Encourage your child to explore his/her interests but try to avoid overspending.
  • Enroll in lessons. Whether it’s weekly soccer practice or music lessons, routine helps kids commit to hobbies. Enroll your child in individual lessons with an instructor who understands the learning disability.
  • Talk about art. Encourage your child to explore his creative process. Ask questions about why he chose one color over another, why she likes a particular song, or how he felt creating his art.

Every child can benefit from exploring the arts. Whether it’s drawing and painting, sewing and making textile crafts, singing and playing music, or dancing and acting, the arts help children learn, express themselves, and connect with others. For children with learning disabilities and all children, the arts are a powerful tool for growth.

– Charles Carpenter created HealingSounds.info. He believes in the power of music and sound as a healing tool. He is based in San Antonio, Texas.

Finding the right preschool when your child has delays

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney.

For any parent, sending your child to school for the first time can be overwhelming and a little bit scary. But when your child has delays (speech, language, developmental), finding a preschool that is the right fit for your child and your family can seem even more daunting.

To make navigating the process of finding the best preschool feel less intimidating, I compiled a list of five important things to look for and ask about to ensure the best learning environment and support for your child.

  1. Parent/Teacher communication. Understanding how communication is handled and what to expect from the start will be of utmost importance. How will you find out about your child’s day? Will you have the opportunity to communicate with your child’s teacher at pick-up and/or drop-off, or will the teacher send home daily notes with information regarding what happened at school that day? Will you have the chance to ask questions regarding your child’s progress in person or does the teacher prefer email or scheduled phone calls? Will there be conferences to communicate how your child is progressing throughout the school year? All of these questions are important to have answers to prior to enrollment so that both the teacher and you as a parent have clear guidelines and expectations regarding communication. Make sure you are comfortable with the amount and means of communication promised by the preschool. This will set your family up for success, a positive parent/teacher relationship, and make sure you have clear, thorough information about what’s happening in your child’s classroom.
  2. Student to teacher ratio and classroom size. Making sure there are enough helping hands in the classroom is crucial to ensuring that each child in the classroom gets the support he/ she needs. The lead teacher can only be so many places at once, so knowing that there are other qualified adults in the room is important. A 3:1 child to adult ratio is ideal, especially if you feel your child will require more individualized attention. When thinking about student to teacher ratio, you also need to consider class size. Children with any sort of delay will likely benefit from being in a preschool classroom with smaller class sizes. Smaller classes allow for more one-on-one teacher instruction, provide a less overwhelming sensory environment, and create more opportunity for teachers to facilitate social/play interactions.
  3. Willingness to communicate with outside service providers. If your child has speech, language, and/or developmental delays, he or she is likely receiving outside services and working with a team of therapists. When looking for the best preschool for your child, don’t be afraid to ask if the classroom teacher is willing to communicate with outside service providers and join the team of professionals supporting your child. Your child’s teacher will have access to your child for the longest period of time of any of the therapists/professionals on the team. Making sure the teacher is willing to learn more about your child’s goals in therapy, what strategies are most effective/beneficial, and how he/she can incorporate and support generalization of your child’s treatment goals into their school day will be essential for a successful preschool experience.
  4. Visual supports and schedules. We all benefit from the use of visual supports throughout our day. Whether it is a “to do” list, a grocery list or a calendar, visuals make navigating our day more concrete and help to eliminate stress even as adults. For preschoolers, especially preschoolers with developmental delays, a classroom with strong visual supports and schedules is equally (if not more) beneficial. A classroom visual schedule creates routine, predictability, and comfort in what to expect and what is coming up next. Visuals help guide our thinking and make abstract concepts more concrete. This is vital when helping children understand and make sense of a new environment. Look for pictures labeling items in the classroom, photographs of peers for “checking in” or saying “hello,” social stories, and of course, the visual schedule.
  5. Movement breaks/play. Knowing how long your child will be expected to sit for a given time throughout the school day is important to know. Preschool-age children need to move their bodies to be accessible to learning and to soak in the important information being presented during structured activities. They need to “shake their sillies out.” Making sure that movement breaks are embedded in the classroom routine is imperative. This can be achieved by dancing, playing with equipment (e.g., scooters, balls, balance beams, slides, etc.), structured gross motor activities, and more. We also want to make sure that your child has the chance to play! Play unlocks language and builds social skills. Play helps create imagination and develops problem solving skills. Children need to play. Ask how much time in your child’s day will be dedicated to play. Make sure there will be the opportunity to explore new toys, engage in play, and develop foundational social skills that will serve your child forever.

So look for these important things as you explore options for your preschooler. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, to go on visits, to observe, and to make sure you feel comfortable with what the program has to offer. Of course, a teacher who will love your child for exactly who he/she is and make learning fun is key to a positive first school experience as well.

If you have any questions or would like assistance on your journey to finding a preschool that will best fit your child’s unique needs, do not hesitate to reach out to the Beaumont Children’s Speech and Language Pathology department, we would love to help.

– Ali Pettit, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health

Understanding childhood trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences

image credit: Kat Jayne, Pexels.

Childhood trauma is a growing public health crisis for children today. Research shows that traumatic childhood experiences are increasingly common. It also shows that these negative experiences have a profound impact on the function and development of children. Children exposed to parental substance abuse and domestic violence rarely have secure childhood experiences. The symptomatology tends to be complex and multi-dimensional.

A natural response

Children learn to regulate their behavior by anticipating their caregivers’ responses to them. A caregiver’s response encourages that child to develop an attachment to the caregiver and the environment. Attachments can be both secure and insecure, resulting in a child’s ability to form and engage in relationships for the rest of his or her life. Children’s attachments also impact their ability to regulate their own emotions and senses, as well as adapt to their environment.

Children who experience developmental trauma are often stuck in the “primitive brain,” which is responsible for automatic body functions (breathing, heart rate, and temperature control) and protects us by switching us to survival mode. Survival mode requires an immediate response (fight, flight or freeze) to all possible harmful stimuli. Children who are stuck in their primitive brain due to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) will respond with one of the survival responses and will require co-regulation. These children will require co-regulation much longer than their typically developing counterparts.

Also, children who experience developmental trauma cultivate coping strategies that aid in ensuring safety. However once the child is removed from the unsafe environment, those coping strategies become unhealthy. They inhibit healthy growth and the development of daily life skills that are important for managing impulses, problem solving, and learning and developing higher level thinking and planning skills. These skills take place in higher levels of the brain that are often “offline” and inaccessible due to the quick response of the primitive brain. This limits the ability for information to pass into the higher levels responsible for attachment, relationships, learning, thinking and language. Often these children are misdiagnosed and misunderstood by professionals, friends and family. These misdiagnoses and misunderstandings tend to reinforce the already disorganized patterns of attachment and regulation.

Trauma at an early age

Many professionals and individuals who aren’t educated in the effects of early childhood trauma believe if the child experiences the trauma as an infant or toddler, then the child doesn’t remember the trauma and therefore won’t be affected by it. However that is not the case.

Because language hasn’t developed at that young of an age, memories of the trauma aren’t stored in language, so the child cannot necessarily describe or recall the event in words. Instead it is stored “physically” in sensations and sensory memories.

Infant brains function mainly in the brainstem, the primitive brain, therefore their experience of trauma is held in primitive responses (heart rate, temperature, respiration rate). The child’s sensory system develops with limited ability to effectively filter sensory input due to its over or under response for survival. As a result, the child grows up re-living the trauma through natural body functions, without the ability to put words to the trauma. The child also has difficulty telling the difference between danger or natural body responses to safe experiences that cause activation of the automatic brainstem (aka primitive brain).

Trauma in infancy causes disturbances to the sensory system, which often brings the children challenges in making sense of the world through their senses, including knowing how much pressure their body is exerting, differentiating differed textures, and understanding where their or her head and body are in space (balance and coordination). It also makes it difficult for the child to manage his or her own emotions and regulate responses. Often there may be an increase in anxiety and depression, with the child expressing this through behavioral issues and anger outbursts.

Treatment is available

Beaumont’s Trauma Regulation Treatment team uses a multidisciplinary approach within a medical model for children who have experienced abuse, neglect, peri- and post-natal substance exposure, invasive medical treatments, and/or exposure to community trauma. Our goal is to provide education and support to aid parents and caregivers in understanding the impacts of trauma on their children. Our team is composed of an occupational therapist, a behavioral health therapist, and a physical therapist who work closely to address underlying issues caused from trauma exposure. This interdisciplinary approach supports a combination of bottom-up (occupational and physical therapy) and top-down (behavioral health) treatment to calm the response of the child’s primitive brain and encourage increased access to the relationship and executive functioning parts of the brain. This lets the child develop use of all parts of the brain for neurological growth and development while addressing attachment, regulation, sensory motor challenges, and natural processing of trauma experiences. Our treatment approach values the efforts and inclusion of the caregiver into the treatment team to provide education and resources, empowering the caregiver’s efforts to better support their children through daily growth and development.

Resources

The information above is derived from pioneers in the areas of trauma and child trauma: Bessel van der Kolk M.D. and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Bruce Perry M.D. Ph.D and the Child Trauma Academy, and Vincent Felitti M.D. and his work with the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study.

For more information on childhood trauma and treatment options refer to:

– Sara Gariepy, MS OTRL, CATP and Kristin Rosales, MSW, CATP are with the Beaumont Center for Children’s Rehabilitation team in Macomb.

Improving your child’s motor skills in a winter wonderland

smiling girl making snow angel

Photo credit: Loadmaster (David R. Tribble) at Wikimedia Commons.

Michigan winters are cold and snowy. When the family has cabin fever, an outside snowy day is the perfect place to play. Not only is it a fun change, did you know it’s also a perfect way to improve fine and gross motor skills?

Getting ready for snow fun can be both challenging and rewarding. Putting on snow pants then adjusting the straps, pulling on the boots, zipping up a coat, placing on a hat, and finding just the right spot for your thumb in the mittens are all fine motor and body awareness skills children can achieve when given the time and the incentive. The youngest ones will still need a little help.

Once out the door all bundled up, a whole snow-filled playground awaits in the yard! Running with boots on is hard work! Check out the snow; is it soft, crunchy, wet, flaky, good for packing, or powdery? Make a footprint path in the snow for your friends and parents to follow. Take big steps, small steps, and jump with two feet. Making a snow angel is exercise; now try to get up without squashing the angel! Does it look like you?

Ready to build a snowman? Pack a snowball tight, now roll and roll. Keep pushing it, using all of your arm, core and leg strength. Make two more each smaller than the last. Kids can ask mom or dad to help stack the snowballs on top of each other to make the snowman.

Time to go sledding! Younger children enjoy being pulled on a sled while the older kids seek the hills. Sledding down and climbing back up over and over builds great strength and endurance. No hills in your yard? Children can pull each other on sleds or pack some snow and make their own hill – let their imaginations take over. Building a fort, shoveling a path and looking for animal tracks are all ways to enjoy being outside.

Are you ready for one more adventure? Go ice skating! Many rinks have open skate with rental skates available; some rinks offer plastic PVC walkers for children to help with balance. Bring your own helmet (bike or hockey) with you. Ice skating is fun and challenging. It incorporates balance, coordination, and strength. Children about 3 years old can really start to enjoy skating; they don’t have far to fall and they enjoy the quick progress they make.

Well that was fun! The kids will climb out of the layers of clothing, pile up the boots, and are ready for a snack. Soup or hot chocolate are just perfect to warm up all over. This was an exhausting day, so expect the kids to go to bed early tonight.

– Amanda Froling, PT, C/NDT, CKTP, is a physical therapist within the Beaumont Center for Children’s Rehabilitation in West Bloomfield.
– Carol Julien-Buell, PT, MPT, C/NDT, PCS is a board-certified Pediatric Clinical Specialist. She is physical therapist at the Beaumont Center for Children’s Rehabilitation in Beaumont Health & Wellness Center, Royal Oak.

How music can be a key to improved children’s literacy

young girl hands on piano keys

Parents and teachers often promote learning music when it comes to encouraging children to enjoy a thorough, well-rounded education. However, did you know music can specifically influence children’s reading and writing? Here is important information for educators, moms and dads on the link between music and literacy.

How does music help?

Participating in music — whether in the form of song, dance, or playing a musical instrument — helps children learn to follow instructions and listen for comprehension. According to Science Daily, there are several studies supporting the idea that music helps children with language development, with many theories as to why. Some researchers believe the overlap of brain circuitry is at the heart of the matter, that children are learning to use a similar part of the brain for music as for language. Others believe it relates to the timing in a child’s development. No matter how or why it works, the evidence in favor of engaging children with music is overwhelmingly positive.

Home and budding musicians

Adding music to a child’s homelife can be a boon to their literacy. Any family can encourage children toward music through song, and as Scholastic points out, even parents who are not gifted in singing can participate. Children enjoy the musical aspects and interaction, and they really don’t care if family members or friends are “good” singers. Dancing is in the same category, making learning easy and fun for kids who can participate with mom, dad or siblings.

When it comes to learning a musical instrument, you might want to engage a tutor or participate in group lessons. There are also free online music lessons available for various ages and abilities. Some families decide to set up an area at home dedicated to practicing an instrument, apart from the rest of the household so your child doesn’t disturb anyone. You should expect to pay an average price of $1,757 to soundproof a room in your home.

Naturally turning to music 

Many parents naturally gravitate toward music when it comes to raising their children. They sing lullabies when it’s time for sleep and soft songs to soothe children when they are anxious or afraid. When hitting the road, songs provide entertainment on long car trips or an opportunity to learn the alphabet in anticipation of school. In addition to these traditional tools, Bright Horizons points out that music can be a specific resource to child development as well, helping children toward improved literacy and overall learning. You can use music to connect children with particular communication skills, such as learning to form and understand words, speak in sentences, and read. Teaching children tongue-twisting songs, alliterative songs, or songs with foreign words and phrases can build language skills directly.

Examples and specifics

Music naturally engages children, helping them to get excited about whatever they are doing. It is also a way to keep them connected and interested in learning. One of the many ways music helps children in their language development is the learning of rhythms, rhymes and patterns. The repeated sounds, words, and actions that are part of traditional children’s music help give better understanding of what is meaningful, and teach emotional connections to words. Songs we might describe as “sing-songy” are an example, such as “Over the River and Through the Wood.”

Musical activities such as finger plays, which is singing songs with coordinated finger movements, appear to enhance children’s vocabulary and help them learn to pronounce words more clearly. An example of a finger play is “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”

Songs that incorporate dance and body movement can also reinforce understanding of words, rhythm, emotion and meaning. You can connect children with fun music and dance videos on websites like YouTube. Playing a musical instrument appears to further enhance children’s language and comprehension skills, as they learn to read notes and understand the variances in soft sounds, short sounds, loud sounds, and smooth sounds.

Every educator and parent aims to help individual youngsters become his or her best. By including music in a child’s life, you can build important language-related skills and abilities. Ensure children have access to music for improved literacy.

­– Charles Carpenter created HealingSounds.info. He believes in the power of music and sound as a healing tool. He is based in San Antonio, Texas.