Lego therapy love
I love it when research finds that something my students love doing is also really beneficial. Lego has been one of my favourite toys since childhood (I loved my pirate island), and a key part of my therapy toolkit since I qualified. But how can I claim Lego and lego therapy is so much more than a bit of fun?
Lego therapy groups are an evidence-based (LeGoff and Sherman 2006 , Owens, Granader, Humphrey and Baron-Cohen 2008), highly motivating and practical way of working on social communication skills. They are enjoyed by children and young people of all ages (although this post will refer to ‘children’ throughout for ease). I have even heard of some corporate away days using similar activities to develop team-work skills! They are also much more reflective of the actual play or social scenarios the child is likely to experience, compared to other social skills group formats.
Lego therapy sessions develop a lot of different skills:
- Team work, as the children have to work together to achieve a completed model
- Accepting your role, and practicing taking different roles within a group
- Listening and following instructions from others, particularly for the supplier and builder roles
- Giving instructions containing a range of vocabulary and language structures, such as adjectives (e.g. the size and colour of pieces) and prepositions (e.g. ‘at the side of the spaceship’, ‘behind the green square’)
- Communicating clearly (e.g. at the right volume and speed, giving enough information), and ensuring the other group members have understood
- Strategies to ‘repair’ a conversation if something goes wrong, such as asking for clarification if you don’t understand an instruction,
- Practical problem solving and flexibility of thought, e.g. what to do if you can’t attach the piece in the way described, or if the piece you need is missing from the box
- Expressing ideas clearly, listening to other’s ideas, and negotiating when building “freestyle”
This is how lego therapy sessions work…
There are normally three group members:
- An engineer (who has the instructions)
- A supplier (who has the bricks)
- A builder (who builds the model!)
Children can swap between the roles within the same session, or keep the same role for the whole session. Children agree to follow the ‘Lego group rules’, such as ‘if you break it you have to fix it or ask for help to fix it’, ‘do not put Lego bricks in your mouth’.
Children start by working together to build small models from instructions (I choose models that can be completed in one session), then can move on to building larger models with instructions over a series of group sessions. You can also have sessions of “freestyle” building where the children have a challenge (e.g. build a car), but no instructions to follow.
An adult is present during the session to help the group run smoothly, but crucially not to solve the children’s social problems for them – instead they just draw the children’s attention to a problem, and help them come up with their own solutions.
Adult: “There’s a bit of a problem here, does anyone know what it is?”
Child: “Sam got the wrong piece out of the box”
Adult: “How could you make sure he gets the right piece?”
Child: “Sam, I need a big red piece”
Adult: “That was a good idea – what did you just do?”
Child: “Said it again”
Adult: “Did Sam get the right piece that time?”
Adult: “Your idea worked! How do you feel now?”
Once the group have identified a good strategy, then this can be practiced in future groups until the children are using the strategy independently. I like to remind the children of useful strategies they have identified and been practicing at the beginning of each session. In this way, the children identify strategies they are happy using, and can start to reflect on the impact of their communication skills on other children.
So Lego therapy groups can be a really powerful way of developing social communication skills. If your child’s school suggests your child joins a Lego therapy group, you can be sure they are doing so much more than just ‘having fun’ (although it is a lot of fun too!). For more information about the benefits of play for children of all ages, see our ‘child’s play’ blog post. Lego can also be used in Speech and Language therapy sessions to help practice a range of other communication skills, such as extending sentence length (e.g. moving from ‘blue brick’, ‘there’ to ‘put the big blue brick on the flat red piece at the front’) or as a motivator in speech work. Lego is truly a versatile and fun therapy tool!
A word of warning
Some schools run ‘Lego clubs’ which are opportunities for children to play with Lego without the structure of a Lego therapy group. They can build whatever they want, on their own or with other children, and usually don’t have instructions to follow. Whilst this can also be useful to help some children learn to play alongside others, this is very different to a Lego therapy group. You may want to check with your school whether they are running a ‘Lego club’ or a ‘Lego therapy group’ if you think Lego therapy is the best option for your child.
Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist and proud owner of a Lego Pirate Island
Why are nursery/school bothered about play skills?
Happy families – how to help siblings get on. Tips for fun playdates.
The importance of rhyme, song and repetition
How can speech and language therapy help my child?
Speech and language therapy can help by providing treatment, support and care for children who have difficulties with communication.
Speech and language therapists are qualified health professionals who can support children with primary speech, language and communication difficulties, such as stammering as well as speech, language and communication difficulties that are secondary to other conditions such as learning difficulties and hearing problems.
Speech and language therapists also support premature babies and infants with conditions such as cerebral palsy, cleft palate and Down’s syndrome from very early in life. They may have difficulties with drinking, swallowing and early play and communication skills.
17 areas speech and language therapists help with
Here are just some of the important ways that speech and language therapists can help your child:
– Pre-school language problems
– Delayed development
– Trouble understanding meanings, gestures, directions or answering questions
– Problems identifying words, objects and pictures
– Problems putting words into sentences or learning new vocabulary, songs or rhymes
– Having difficulty understanding what others say
– Poor pronunciation
– Speech and language delays
– Stammering or speech difficulties
– Falling behind in learning numbers, letters, spelling or telling the time
– Learning disabilities
– Not being able to form words (Apraxia)
– Early play and communication skills
– Asperger Syndrome
– Hearing difficulties
The list is not exhaustive – and speech and language therapists can help your child in a range of other ways.
The important thing to remember is that every child is different and that is why a qualified speech and language therapist will assess your exact needs and development goals to come up with a plan to help meet these vital communication needs.
Iris Speaks provides an initial consultation to determine if your child could benefit from speech and language therapy. Then, if you feel a speech and language therapist can help, we undertake a full expert assessment of your child’s exact needs and organise a personalised and flexible ongoing programme of support just for you and your child.
How to tell if your child has a speech or language issue
How can I access speech and language therapy for my child?
5 common myths about online speech therapy
How can I access speech and language therapy?
Speech and language therapy can be a vital way to help improve the quality of life of your son or daughter by helping them communicate, learn, develop their language and achieve their true potential.
Expert therapy is carried out by qualified Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) who are trained to help children and adults improve their communication abilities and skills.
SLTs usually work with children, and their parents, on an individual basis to provide a customised programme of support to meet specific needs and goals. This is usually based on a development plan that identifies key communication, language and learning difficulties and how to help overcome these and reach important goals and milestones.
Speech and language therapy can be accessed free of charge on the NHS. You can contact your local NHS Speech and Language Therapy service, or speak to your GP, Health Visitor or school staff about a referral. Some schools also employ specialist speech and language therapists where demand is high with many children needing urgent improvement in their learning and language skills.
If you get referred to the NHS you will normally be put on a waiting list to access speech and language therapy.
However, waiting lists can be long. According to a survey by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists some children have had to wait a year to see a therapist. The institution suggests quality of care has been impacted by NHS cuts as half of services across the NHS, schools and local authorities in the UK have had budgets significantly reduced.
Private speech therapy
The alternative to the NHS waiting lists is private therapy with qualified speech and language therapists. You can contact speech and language therapists directly without an NHS referral. You will need to pay for any therapy. But the advantage is you can start assessing and addressing your child’s communication problems much sooner and seek improvements when it can matter most.
As well as Iris Speaks, which provides access to affordable speech and language assessment and therapy in your own home, you can contact the Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice to find your local independent therapists.
This sort of service also allows you to make appointments at times to suit you and your child and see therapists more frequently to maximise the impact and improvements for your son or daughter.
You can top up your NHS therapy
And remember accessing an independent speech and language therapist doesn’t have to mean you lose your place in the NHS queue.
You can see a therapist before you get NHS treatment and continue, if you wish to, in conjunction with, or after any help you get from the NHS.
Whichever route you choose, timely and effective speech and language therapy can have a vital impact on the communication and quality of life of your child.
Iris Speaks helps parents by providing quick, affordable and flexible access to qualified and highest quality speech and language therapists for children in their own home.
Royal Collegeof Speech and Language Therapists
Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice:
ICAN – The Child Communication Charity:
What is speech and language therapy?
How to tell if my child has a speech or language issue
How can speech and language therapy help my child?
Engaging children after a long day at school, finding out about their day and how they feel about certain activities can be challenging at best! However, getting the conversation started and keeping it going can make you feel closer, support their language and help them to consolidate what they have learnt during the day. To get your little one talking, you can try some of the ideas below!
Make it visual!
When we return from our holiday or an interesting day out, we may share photos with our friends. These act as a prompt to help us remember key people, events and stories. Now, school may not be a nonstop holiday but using visual information from part of child’s day will help to get them talking. For example, pull out a picture from their bag that they drew or painted and comment on it. Rather than asking your child ‘what did you do today?’ use the picture to prompt them to tell you how they made it or why it is important to them.
Children who are prompted by objects from school like paintings, drawings and photos will refer to recent events at school much more than if these objects are not present (Marvin and Privratsky 1999)
It is really tempting to ask your child ‘How was your day at school?’. This kind of question style is after all how we communicate with others and normally what follows is a detailed explanation of events. For children, this question can be too open, have too many answers and require them to use skills to zoom in on one part of the day that stood out. To help them along, ask a specific question such as ‘Who did you sit next to today?’ ‘What happened today that was funny/scary?’, ‘What game did you play?’ This should help to trigger their memory to tell you a story.
Everyone likes to talk about themselves, children especially! So next time you are struggling to find out something about their day try asking them what they thought about something. So much can happen during the day and your child is bound to have something to say about it! Ask something like, ‘what is the best thing that happened to you today?’, ‘Who is the kindest person in your class?’ ‘Who did you share your snack with and why?’ ‘What teacher do you like the best?’
For older children, stimulate their imagination by asking them hypothetical questions. This can act as a fun and interesting way to find out more about what your child would like to change or things that they hope for. Try questions such as ‘If you could be the teacher what would you do?’ ‘If you could be friends with anyone at school who would it be?
Getting out pens and paper can be a fun way to share some experiences from your child’s day and yours. Drawing what happened in your day can be more interesting than telling your child. Point out the people you met, spoke to and places you went to. From this, they may be encouraged to draw their day too and explain it to you.
To find out more about how child achieved something or created something at school, you could ask them to take you through the steps e.g. show me how you did that. Giving them the role of the teacher once home can be a great way for them to consolidate what they learnt and share information with you too!
Talking about our interactions with others offers a great opportunity to develop Theory of Mind. For older children, you can ask them how they think their teachers or friends see them. Offer choices for answers if your child struggles with this, it can be hard to come up with ideas themselves. Questions like ‘Do you think X thinks you are kind/friendly etc.?’. ‘Why do you think they may say that?’ This will provide chances to talk about times where your little one shared something or helped someone.
Model sharing information.
Above we talked about drawing your day to encourage your child to illustrate theirs too. Just talking about your day will provide a prompt too and sharing your interests and activities will give them the template that they need to share theirs.
Listen, listen, and listen.
When the conversation is up and running, one of the most important things you can do is listen! Don’t worry about asking more questions. Take time to pause, listen and reflect with your child. This will ensure that you keep the conversation going!
What is Theory of Mind?
Activities for Theory of Mind
Theory of Mind for older children
How do you know what to do with a speech error?
In a previous article we discussed the difference between speech and language and how to spot potential difficulties with each. It can be hard to know what do when your child makes a speech error, do you ignore it so as not to draw attention to it? Or do you correct them? These are questions that parents often ask. Here we will talk about how you can provide some feedback on your child’s speech while continuing to give them the confidence to say what they want to say.
5 ideas on how to give feedback to your child for a speech error
- React to what your child says, not how they say it! In the end, it is the message that your child is attempting to pass that is most important. Most of the time, they will be unaware that they have made an error and it can get frustrating if they are being corrected while they are trying to tell you something. Offering feedback just a few times a day, rather than every time your child communicates with you will ensure that they remain confident communicators.
- Model back the correct way of saying a word. For example, if your child says, ‘I love tarrots!’, repeat back to them ‘ yes, you love carrots’. This keeps the conversation going, acknowledges what they have said and offers invaluable listening practice for them.
- Sometimes children can say the sounds they need for a word but when they put it together it will get mixed up. Tapping and clapping it out slowly can be lots of fun and really help with the clarity. For example, ‘pisghetti’. You can split this up in to three parts /spa/ /get/ /i/. Sometimes we can create images for this too for example the word ‘needle’ If a child needs some help with this you can point to your knee and some dill! Creating images will help them to say the word in the future and can be lots of fun! If you are a fan of catch phrase then you will enjoy this strategy!
- When we learn, feedback is so very important. Without it we won’t know what we are doing that is not quite right and without constructive feedback it can be very hard to change our ways. This is the same for children when they make a speech error. So, finding ways to talk to your child about their speech in child friendly terms will give them the tools they need to start improving. This may be as simple as pointing out what you can see. For example, if your child says ‘s’ with their tongue outside their mouth, you can offer feedback by saying ‘I saw your tongue escape’, can you try that again with your tongue inside? Looking in a mirror together whilst doing this can be a great way to offer visual feedback too. Depending on what sound your child is working on, this feedback will change. If your child is seeing a Speech and Language Therapist, then talk about their speech sounds in the same way. For example, as /t/ is produced at the front of the mouth and /k/ is produced at the back, many Speech and Language therapists refer to the /t/ as the front sound and the /k/ as the back sound. If your child struggles to say /k/ but says /t/ instead, feedback might sound like this ‘Oh I heard your front sound, can you try again using your back sound? Depending on what stage your child is at in the learning process, they may need more practice listening to you produce both these sounds and telling you what they heard. It is important to make this a game as it may be something that your child will find very hard to start with. Take turns, make errors yourself and ask your child to listen and let you know when they hear a mistake. For a child friendly, fun way to offer feedback, look at The Monkey Tongue picture, available in the Speech email course.
- One thing that both parents and professionals find hard is knowing what to do when they just don’t understand. Try not to pretend that you have understood. It is likely that children will know you haven’t. Instead ask more questions, get them to show you if they can and obtain more information. This normally helps to fill in any gaps and puts you both on the same page.
Remember than conversations are about messages and exchanging information. Encourage this as much as possible in the presence of speech errors whilst offering subtle and fun ways for your child to learn!
Written by Carolyn Fox, Children’s Speech and Language Therapist
Top 5 myths about online speech and language therapy
What on earth is glue ear?
How to tell if my child has a speech or language issue
Squabbling siblings – we’ve all been there
Brothers and sisters – can be best friends and worst enemies, all within the space of 5 minutes. Throw a communication difficulty into the mix, and things can become more challenging and you have squabbling siblings. Your child might not have the language to clearly explain what they want, or what has gone wrong when they have a disagreement. Alternatively, the social skills of turn taking, sharing, negotiating and pretend play might be skills your child is still learning. Although these tips have been written with children with speech, language and communication difficulties in mind, you will see many of them draw on the parenting skills all Mums and Dads use!
Squabbling siblings mediation – Some basic principles
- Agree your family rules, at a time when everyone is calm and listening. For younger children, use the most simple language you can with pictures to explain them (See picture above) . Role playing together the behaviours you like to see, and praising this, will also help your child understand what’s expected.
- For slightly older children, have clear rules about the kinds of problems they need to include an adult in (if someone is hurt, in danger, or the problem keeps happening), but also encourage them to try to sort out some of the simpler problems independently, or with you ‘refereeing’.
- Teach and encourage turn taking and sharing in activities when you’re able to stay and join in with the game. Simple games such as Pop up Pirate are great for practising taking turns with an adult present, who can then gradually slip away when the children have got the hang of taking turns.
- Work towards a joint reward. For example, children could win a marble to put in the jar every time they share a toy, or do a job around the house as soon as they’re asked, with a full jar of marbles leading to a family day out. This can be a way of bringing competitive siblings together.
Squabbling siblings mediation – In the heat of the moment
- If you have to intervene, listen to both/all children equally when they are telling you what happened. Give time for your child with a communication difficulty to explain what it is they want, or what has happened, so they don’t always get shouted over. Drawing what they say has happened, or allowing them to draw this (with simple stick men as above) may help them explain and understand.
- Modelling and role play – you acting like the child – may diffuse the situation, is good for showing how silly some squabbles are
- Some children won’t be able to explain what has happened straight away. You might instead try distraction – with fun, silliness, a movement break (think bouncing on the trampoline for one and a race around the garden for the other) – might be needed until everyone has calmed down a bit
- News reporter – a way of diffusing the tension, and explaining to your children what has happened. “Michael just stuck his tongue out at Selina, and that made her feel sad. It looks like Michael stuck his tongue out because Selina snatched the pen off him.” Hold your fake reporters microphone, and put on a silly voice!
Squabbling siblings mediation – Advance planning
Give your children something fun to do during known ‘melt down’ times, such as when you’re making dinner.
- Treasure hunt – hide an item for each of your children to find
- You want them to practise doing as many bounces of a ball/goes round with a hula hoop, they can count for each other, then come and tell you how they’ve done.
Joint challenges are another way of helping your children learn to play together. With some of these activities, try to supervise to start off with, then gradually play a less active part:
- Can they make up a silly song with some musical instruments?
- Can they make up a play with a small selection of toys, then perform it to you later?
- Can they make a tower of bricks or Lego taller than a certain piece of furniture?
- Two against one (or adults against children) – get your children to work together and ‘gang up’ on you! It could be a pillow fight, a relay race around the garden… Let them win in the end, but put up a good fight so they feel a sense of joint achievement.
It’s not always going to be ‘happy families’, but siblings actually teach each other important social communication skills, and can end up being a friend and ally in the end!
Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist
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