How Many Words Does Your Child Say?

April 9, 2015

When you take your toddler to a well-child check-up at the pediatrician s/he will certainly ask you how many words your child says. The developmental milestone that they are looking at is your child’s spontaneous use of words. These are words your child says not in imitation. If your child points to a dog and says “dog,” that is spontaneous. If you ask your child, “What’s that?” and he says “ball,” that is spontaneous. If your child repeats a word s/he overhears or says a word when you tell him or her to say it, then it’s imitated.

The most accurate way to keep a count of your child’s spontaneous words is to maintain a written list and add to it every time you hear a new word. The chart below can be printed and used to track your child’s early word acquisition. If your child reaches 50 words that s/he uses spontaneously before his or her second birthday, you can stop counting. Children should have a minimum of 50 words in their vocabulary by their second birthday. If your child does not have 50 words by age 2, you should seek a speech-language evaluation from a speech-language pathologist or a developmental evaluation through your state’s early intervention program.

Toddler Word Chart

 


Simple, but Effective, Communication Strategy

March 24, 2015

This simple strategy is easy to implement at home. At snack time, get down on your child’s level and offer two choices. Hold them about shoulder-width apart and far enough away so that your child cannot grab. Once s/he points to or reaches for the desired object, hold that one up by your face and say the name of it. Pause expectantly, giving your child the opportunity to imitate. After about 5 seconds (you can count in your head), say the name again and pause. Do this once more and then hand the item over whether or not your child has imitated. If your child does imitate (or attempt to imitate) the word, be sure to praise the effort.

Apple
Boy
Banana

Benefits of using this strategy:

  1. By offering a choice, your child has to intentionally communicate a want or need. This is an early step on the way to talking.
  2. By getting down on your child’s level, you get his/her attention and make it easier to watch your face.
  3. Children tend to look at the object they want, so bringing it up by your face while you say its name encourages eye contact and allows your child to watch your mouth as you form the word, so s/he can see how it is said.
  4. By pausing expectantly and waiting, rather than saying, “Say ___,” you are giving your child the opportunity to imitate without any pressure. This is important because many children with delayed language will shut down when pressure is put on them to speak. Please be sure not to tell your child to say the desired word.
  5. By saying the word 3 times, you ensure that s/he has heard the word 3 times in the immediate context of the item, which helps with understanding the meaning of the word.
  6. By giving the item to your child after the third time you have said it, you reduce everyone’s frustration. You, as the parent, do not have all day to wait for your child to say a word before giving a snack. By limiting yourself to saying the word 3 times, you get to move on. Your child also gets to practice being patient.
  7. When this strategy is used consistently, many children get tired of waiting for you to say the word three times, and learn to imitate after the first or second time.

Modifications:

  1. If your child points specifically to what s/he wants, you can skip the step about offering a choice, as your child has already used intentional communication to indicate a want/need. Go straight to holding the desired item up by your face.
  2. Once you’re comfortable with this strategy at snack time, try it out during other routines. (Green shirt or red shirt; play trains or blocks; milk or water)

 


Let’s Pretend!

November 30, 2014

It’s that time of year again when parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles go out in search of new toys for their youngest relatives. I’ve written before about tips for choosing toys, always at this time of year it seems. (Top Toys for Toddlers and How To Choose Toys That Encourage Development Through Play). And here I go again.

This year, I’m focusing on toys that encourage symbolic and/or pretend play. Language and play develop along similar paths, so as children’s play becomes more complex, so does their language. The toys below lend themselves to children narrating what they are doing. For some little ones, this will be in complete sentences, while for others, they may just use single words or two-word phrases. Regardless of the complexity, it’s important that children be able to use language to comment about what they are doing, rather than just for labeling pictures and requesting desired items.

Parents and caregivers can support language development by reflecting back what the child says and expanding on it. For example, if your child is playing with a farm set, puts the horse in the barn, and says “Horsie night-night,” you could respond by saying “The horse is going night-night,” or “The horse is going to sleep.”

So here are a few toys that encourage symbolic and/or pretend play. None of them require batteries, which saves you money, saves you from listening to annoying toy sounds, and allows your child to use his or her imagination.

Fisher Price Little People Mini Farm – This one has no batteries. If you choose the Fun Sounds Farm, do yourself a favor and never put the batteries in. If you put the batteries in, your child may learn that a cow says oink or a sheep says moo because the toy does not know which animal figure your child is playing with as s/he puts it on a spot that activates the sound.

little people farm

 

Tea Set – There are lots of tea sets out there with batteries, but this one doesn’t use any. It’s simple, which will encourage your child’s creativity. Pair this with some dolls or stuffed animals, and your child can host a tea party.

tea set

 

Doctor Kit – This is a great toy for acting out adult roles, as well as playing with others. Children can take turns being the doctor or the patient. Playing with the doctor’s tools can help desensitize children to them, so they are more comfortable in the doctor’s office.

doctor kit

 

Cooking Set – Children can play restaurant or house with this set of cookware and food. They don’t even need a play kitchen to make believe they’re cooking like mom or dad.

cooking set

 

Baby Doll Set – Both feeding and clothing the baby are great for pretend play. Additionally, dressing and undressing the baby require the use of fine motor skills. All kids, not just girls, are likely to enjoy taking care of a pretend baby.

baby doll set

 

I have intentionally left out toolbox sets. While some children engage in pretend play with hammers and screwdrivers, many children only use them for banging. Since we are looking for higher level play than just banging, I recommend choosing a different play set.

I receive no financial benefit from promoting these toys. I just think they are great toys for young children. All of these toys can be found on Amazon, which is where the links will take you, but the same or similar toys can be found in any toy store. Happy shopping!

 


Top Ten Uses for Plastic Drink Bottles

July 15, 2014

Many communities have recycling programs for used plastic bottles, but whether yours does or not, you can upcycle your used plastic drink bottles for some fun activities with your kids. Here are my top ten uses for plastic bottles and some skills you can address while you play.

1. Once you have a collection of at least three bottles, you can set them up like bowling pins and have your child roll a ball to knock them down. One or two-liter soda bottles work best for this, but you could use water bottles instead.

  • Talk about the concepts of up and down as you set up and knock down the pins.
  • Work on sequencing: first we put up the pins and then we knocked them down.
  • Practice taking turns.

2. You can fill bottles with a variety of different small objects and then super glue them shut to create sensory bottles. A quick search on Pinterest will reveal hundreds of ideas for what to put in the bottles. Here are a couple of ideas that I like for working on basic concepts. Small Gatorade bottles work well for this because they are sturdy and have a wide openings, but you could use any clear plastic bottle you have.

  • Fill each of several water bottles with items of a different color. Then talk to your toddler about each color and the items that are in the bottles. You can add water to the bottle to make the items float freely.
  • Fill several bottles with items that make different sounds (jingle bells, dry rice, cotton balls). You can talk about loud and quiet.

Orange Sensory Bottle

3. Create a tornado in a bottle by filling it with water and adding a little bit of dish soap. Seal the bottle closed with super glue. Then shake it up to see a tornado.

4. Use a collection of empty and cleaned plastic and cardboard food containers to create a play supermarket.

  • You can name the items for your toddler as he puts them in the basket.
  • Talk about the sizes of the containers. (The soda bottle is bigger than the water bottle.)
  • Engage in pretend play with your child. One of you can be the customer while the other is the cashier, and then switch roles.

5. Put colorful items inside a two-liter bottle, seal it with super glue, and let your crawling baby roll it across the floor.

6. Save the caps from a variety of bottles and let your child sort them by size or color. Not only can you work on the concepts of color and size, but as you sort, you can work on same and different.

7. Your empty plastic bottles can become bath toys as you allow your child to practice pouring water from one bottle into another.

8. Have your child work on his fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination by picking up raisins, Goldfish crackers, or Cheerios one at a time and putting them in an empty and dry water bottle or soda bottle with a small opening. Then let him dump them out and do it again.

9. Use toothpicks or  uncooked rice or beans inside a plastic bottle to make a shaker toy for your toddler. For preschoolers, see if they can copy a rhythm pattern after you.

10. Give your child age-appropriate art materials to create an animal or a vehicle out of a bottle. Again, you can find plenty of such projects on Pinterest. Or you can let your child’s imagination run wild. Your child can work on sequencing by telling the steps to complete the project in the correct order.

Before you throw away your next plastic drink bottle, think about how you could use it instead to play with your child. You’ll be keeping some trash out of the landfill and some money in your wallet as you create some free toys.

Do you have any other ideas for using plastic bottles for play? If so, leave a comment to tell us.


Bubbles Aren’t Just for Blowing Anymore

February 10, 2014

In one of my previous posts, “Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles!” I listed several speech and language skills that could be targeted while blowing bubbles with a young child. In this post, I have a few more skills that can be addressed while blowing bubbles.

Encourage your child to pop the bubbles in different ways:

  • Poking the bubbles with the index finger will encourage an isolated point, a fine motor skill. Once the skill is achieved, the child can more effectively point to indicate wants and needs and engage in joint attention.
  • Pinching the bubbles between the thumb and index fingers will encourage the use of a neat pincer grasp, another fine motor skill. Young children need this skill in order to efficiently pick up small objects and will one day use it to hold a pencil correctly for writing.
  • Stomping the bubbles while standing up encourages use of the gross motor muscles.
  • Clapping the bubbles between the two hands encourages the child to bring his hands together at the midline of the body, which requires the two sides of the brain to work together.

You can use these motor activities when playing with bubbles and integrate some additional cognitive and language skills.

  • Motor imitation – Have your child copy your action: poking like a bumblebee, pinching like a crab, stomping like an elephant, or clapping like a seal.
  • Following directions – Give your child a verbal direction without modeling the action to be done.
  • Imitating 2-word phrases – As you and your child pop the bubbles in a variety of ways, use 2-word phrases to describe what you are doing, and encourage your child to repeat them. “Pinch bubble,” or “Clap bubbles.”
  • Using verbs – You perform the action and have your child narrate what you are doing. “You poked the bubble,” or “You stomped on the bubble.”
  • Engaging in pretend play – Your child can act out how one of the animals listed above would pop the bubbles or he can think of an original one to act out.

Bubbles

In my previous bubbles post, I discouraged the use of a bubble machine because the key to the activity was the interaction between the adult and the child in requesting bubbles. However, for this set of activities, I think the use of a bubble machine is fine, since the goal is not requesting. The adult and child still need to be interacting for it to be effective, but a bubble machine could free up the adult’s hands for some good clean bubble popping fun.


How To Choose Toys That Encourage Development Through Play

November 5, 2013

Children learn through play, so with the gift-buying season fast approaching, I thought I’d give you some tips on what to look for in a toy. These tips apply to children of all ages, though the toys listed as examples may not be appropriate for all ages.

  1. Choose toys without batteries. The more the toy does, the less your child does. Toys that run on batteries limit your child’s ability to be creative and use his imagination during play. For example, the latest Fisher Price barn is battery-operated. When your child opens the barn door, it makes a horse sound. Not only does it potentially teach your child that doors say “neigh,” your child misses out on the opportunity to make the animals “talk” on his own. By choosing not to put the batteries in the toy, your child will have more opportunities to engage in pretend play.
  2. Look for toys that can be used in a variety of ways. Your child will be more likely to enjoy the toy as he grows older. A great example is play food. Your 2-year-old may enjoy just putting it in a play kitchen. By age 3, he may use it to feed his stuffed animals or offer it to you on a plate. A year or two later, he can use it in dramatic play, while playing store with a friend.
  3. Choose toys that are safe and durable. If your child still puts everything in his mouth, small figures are a choking hazard. A better option are Fisher Price Little People. They are big enough that they can’t fit in your child’s mouth, and there is not much kids can do to break them.
  4. Look for toys that allow your child to learn naturally through exploration and encourage problem solving. You don’t have to choose toys that are labeled “educational;” children can and will learn their shapes, colors, numbers, and letters through natural experiences. Preschoolers love the game Candyland. If you sit down and play it with your child, he will benefit from the social interaction with you and learn about taking turns, following directions, following through on undesirable activities (i.e. having to go back to the beginning of the board because he picked the candy cane), and being a good sport whether he wins or loses. And or course, he’ll get practice naming and matching colors naturally as part of the game.
  5. Choose toys that spark your child’s imagination. When you walk through the Lego aisle of a toy store, you’ll see that Legos tend to come in sets. There are picture instructions and just the right Legos in the box to complete a vehicle (or dinosaur or super hero or Star Wars scene or… you get the idea). Not much creativity involved there. However, if you got your child an assortment of Legos (like they sold them back when I was a kid), he could use his imagination to build whatever he wants.

Last fall, in my post Top Toys for Toddlers, I listed several toys that meet these criteria. Another toy I’d like to add to this list is nesting cups or boxes. This is a toy that truly can be used in a variety of ways.

nesting cups

Of course your child can work on problem solving while trying to figure out how to nest the cups. He can also stack the cups upside down and knock them down and learn about “up” and “down.” He can match the colored cups or use them to sort other toys by color. The cups can be used in pretend play in a kitchen. Many plastic nesting cups have raised pictures or shapes on the bottom that can be used as stamps to use with Play-doh.

The most important idea to keep in mind is that the more your child has to use his own mind and body while playing, the more he benefits from playtime.

Adapted from Cari Ebert’s seminar – The Power of Play: Effective Play-Based Therapy and Early Intervention


Language development? There’s An App For That.

July 8, 2013

At the end of a recent speech and language therapy session, I was allowing a preschool-age child to use my Android tablet as a reinforcer for having worked hard throughout the session. I opened an app that I recently added for my daughter to use and suddenly had a great idea. The app, PBS Kids Photo Factory, can be used to target location concepts, facial body parts, and size words.

Here are the steps to follow once you’ve downloaded the app:

  1. Tap the camera button in the app.
  2. Select “Take Photo” to take a picture of your child using your phone or tablet’s camera.
  3. Once you’re satisfied with the photo, tap the checkmark.
  4. Tap decorate, and select a show your child enjoys.
  5. Choose one of the characters by tapping it.

To target the comprehension of location concepts and facial body parts, you can have your child move the character around her face to different spots you tell her. Examples include:

  • Put Elmo next to you.
  • Put Elmo under your nose.
  • Put Elmo on top of your head.
  • Put Elmo between your eyes.
  • Put Elmo below your chin.
  • Turn Elmo upside down.

For the expressive use of these concepts, the adult can move the character around and ask the child, “Where is Elmo now?”

Elmo between the eyes

The characters can be made smaller or larger by either pinching or stretching them. Then, they can be used to work on size words. To target receptive language, you could give commands like, “Make Super Why bigger,” or, “Make Clifford smaller.” For expressive language work, the adult would change the size and ask the child, “Did Caillou get bigger or smaller?”

The one caveat is that your child cannot just be left alone with the device and expected to learn these concepts. As always, it’s the interaction with another person that counts. The device is merely a fun tool.

This activity is appropriate for older toddlers and preschoolers, as well as elementary-age children with language delays.

This app is available for iPod Touch, iPhone, Android phone, Android Tablet, and Kindle tablet.

What other apps do you know that can be used this way? Leave a comment to tell us!