9 tips for a child with social communication issues. The Iris Speaks Christmas Survival Checklist

9 tips for a child with social communication issues. The Iris Speaks Christmas Survival Checklist

Your Christmas Survival Checklist for Children with Social Communication Difficulties

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… isn’t it?  For children who find social situations a challenge, the holidays can be a very mixed blessing!  All children find themselves getting over-excited and having a few meltdowns at this time of year, so let’s spare a thought for children who find changes to routines challenging, or find social situations tricky.  But some simple pre-Christmas preparation can make all the difference:

  • Get a child-friendly calendar

Not the chocolate-filled variety, but the kind you write activities on.  Write down key events, such as family visits or trips out.  Also put on ‘down time’ activities (such as an afternoon in watching a film) so these become non-negotiables, and your child knows when they will get some vital time out.  Put the calendar somewhere your child can look at whenever they need to, and look at it together regularly so you can talk about upcoming events.  Remember to update it if plans change!

  • Consider your daily routine

Maintaining some normality is reassuring for all children.  You know your child best, and the parts of their routine they particularly rely on.  It may be that you stick to your bath and bedtime routine, or it may be that your child needs some quiet time with a snack mid-afternoon (similar to their routine after a busy school day).  Then work out how you can incorporate these into Christmas plans.

  • Prepare quiet activities before family visits
  • Plan escape places before family visits

As much as we love (!) our nearest and dearest, haven’t we all felt that sense of relief when we can wave goodbye and have some down time at the end of a visit?  You can give your child this crucial down time during visits, by taking along some calming, individual activities (such as colouring, listening to an audiobook, or playing with a fiddle toy), and allowing your child to go off to another room on their own to ‘chill’ (or under the table!)  A quiet word in the host’s ear so your child is not disturbed during these times may also be helpful.

  • Set your watch ten minutes fast – or do whatever it takes – to arrive early

For children who find social situations daunting, arriving early and being one of the first there, with other family members or friends arriving gradually, can be easier than walking in to a group of children or adults.

  • Amend Santa’s wish list

You know your child desperately wants a toy that is going to hype him/her up completely, and probably cause squabbles between siblings when everyone wants a turn.  What do you do?  Consider when you child gets this toy (i.e. at a time when they are actually able to play with it, and not when they are with a group of other children).  Know in advance any ground rules you are going to set that go with the toy, such as if there is a time limit for playing (such as with video games) or rules about sharing.  This could be written down as a message from Santa.  As well as the highly motivating, stimulating toy, include calming and one-player toys that can be enjoyed straight after opening – depending on your child this could be a colouring book featuring your child’s favourite cartoon character, a construction toy or some play putty.

For more ideas sign up to our free social communication inbox course
  • Arm yourself against arguments

Times spent with other children, be them friends, siblings or other relatives, will no doubt lead to bickering and fall-outs at some point over the school holidays.  Being realistic about this means you can be pre-prepared!  Take a look at our squabbling siblings blog post (link) so you have some tricks up your sleeve.

  • Check your own expectations

If your child doesn’t normally like shopping because of the crowds and the noise, they are even more likely to dislike shopping at Christmas time!  Even if you both know Santa is in the grotto on the other side of the department store.  If your child doesn’t like talking to new people, they are unlikely to give it a go on Christmas Day when they meet a relative they haven’t seen in years.  Be kind to yourself and your child, and make sure you have realistic expectations of what your family will be able to get out of an activity before you start.

  • Ask your child – and yourself – what they really want to do

This is your holiday!  It can be however you want, and doesn’t need to include raucous Christmas parties if you don’t want it to.  It could instead mean a day dressed up as Spider man or an hour looking at pictures of tanks together.  Christmas is about family, so give yourself permission to spend it in a way that suits you and your family, rather than a way that suits your Instagram feed!

Wishing you an enjoyable, relaxing Christmas from everyone here at Iris Speaks

More information about helping children with social communication difficulties at Christmas can be found here:  http://www.autism.org.uk/about/family-life/holidays-trips/christmas.aspx

Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

Access the best UK based speech and language therapists from anywhere in the world 7 days a week online and at home. Visit irisspeaks.com/consultation to book to speak to us now.

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Clusters at Christmas – practice speech sounds with your child at home

Clusters at Christmas – practice speech sounds with your child at home

Clusters at Christmas

Practicing speech sounds with your child is fun all year round but the Christmas season brings with it the opportunity to practice lots of festive words! Check out clusters at Christmas!

What is a cluster sound?

Words with cluster sounds (also known as blends) require that your child says two or more consonant sounds together e.g. ‘sp’ in ‘speak’ or ‘tr’ in ‘tree’ or ‘spr’ as in ‘spray’.  Understandably these can be tricky to learn and for little tots to get their tongues around. Up until around age four you may find that your child misses out one or more of the sounds in the cluster. For more on speech development see our free speech course. Speech and Language therapists call this ‘cluster reduction’. So instead of saying ‘speak’ your child may say ‘peak’ or ‘seak’, instead of saying ‘spray’ they may say ‘pray’. It can take time for children to become confident with cluster sounds. Like any other area of speech, practicing them as often as possible will support your child in knowing how to combine these sounds successfully.

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The festive season puts everyone in a good mood! Below are some ideas to keep that spirit up while practicing clusters!

How to work on cluster sounds with my child?

Before you attempt to work on cluster sounds, make sure that your child can produce the sound by itself first. For example, if your child can’t say ‘sneeze’, check that they can produce an ‘S’ sound. If they can’t you will need to work on the sounds by themselves first.

It’s always important to work at a level that your child can manage.

Let’s take the cluster sound ‘sn’

  • If your child is struggling to say the cluster as part of the word, you may need to make it easier for them e.g. request ‘sn’ instead of ‘snow’ or try breaking it up as demonstrated below.
  • Your child may be able to say ‘s’ and ‘n’ separately. So, in a word like ‘sneeze’ they may need to have a pause between the S and the rest of the word e.g. ‘s’ PAUSE ‘neeze. pausing makes it easier to plan the word and splits it in to manageable chunks for your child
  • Your child may be able to use the cluster ‘sn’ but are not using it consistently yet i.e. they can use it successfully in some words but not others, so you can try practicing with a mix of ‘sn’ words e.g. ‘snow’,’sneeze’, ‘snip’
  • You could also help your child produce the cluster more consistently by making it visual i.e. having a pair of pictures that differ only by the presence or absence of the cluster e.g. ‘snow’ and ‘sow’. Help your child to collect the right pictures by saying the right sounds. There is more on how to make it visual below.
  • Once your child is using the cluster sound well in words, you can try short phrases and sentences e.g. ‘I am building a snowman!’

Christmas clusters!

Decorate the cluster tree
Everyone loves decorating a tree, right?! Using a drawing or a printed-out picture of a Christmas tree and cut out baubles with the cluster written, take turns to practice the cluster then ‘hang’ it on the tree. This works well if you want to practice saying the same cluster sound many times e.g. ‘sn’. The more baubles, the more attempts your child has! If your child is more confident with cluster sounds you can try mixing it up so they have a some ‘sn’ sounds with ‘sp’, ‘sk’ etc. If your child is working on saying ‘st’ then you can practice hanging the star at the top of tree, saying ‘st’ or ‘star’ each time.  You can use this game for any cluster sound but remember, if your child is struggling, it is best to keep things simple with one sound to start with.

You can also use this to practice ‘tr’ for ‘tree’. Each time they hang something on the tree they must say ‘tr’ or ‘tree’ depending on how confident they are with the cluster

Make a snowman

Make a snowman, by drawing, colouring, gluing and sticking or collecting real snow outside!
For each turn in making it, have a go at saying ‘snow’.  Your child must say ‘snow’. If they say ‘no’ then shake your head playfully and repeat back ‘no? or snow?’.

Presents!
You can be as creative as your like with this one.  Wrap up pretend presents with many layers and each time you take off a layer you can have a go at saying the cluster sound you are working on e.g. ‘pr’ for ‘presents’. Get the rest of the family involved and pass presents each other as your say all say the sounds.

Stockings!
Fill up and empty real or pretend paper stockings with pictures. Practice the ‘st’ cluster for ‘stocking’ each time you take something out or put it in. You can try this with pictures for things that have the cluster sound that your child is working on e.g. ‘star’, ‘stable’ if they are working on ‘st’ or simply use this game with pictures of anything and practice any cluster your like.

Sleigh!
Make a picture of Santa and his sleigh. Take turns to add reindeers, colour, stack presents or simply move the sleigh around whilst practicing ‘sl’ for sleigh!

Crackers
Use real or homemade crackers, Jamie Oliver has some ideas for making them at home here https://www.jamieoliver.com/news-and-features/features/homemade-christmas-crackers/.

Whilst making them practice saying the ‘cr’ cluster or the full word ‘cracker’. You can then take turns cracking them open and making lots of ‘cr’ noises!

For extra practice, talk about what you have made, how you have made it or ask your child to explain it to someone else!

  • CLUSTER BUSTERS – tips for working on cluster sounds
    clapping out the sounds
  • This can help your child to recognize how many sound parts there are in the word e.g. ‘snow’ would be clapped s/n/ow. You can also try this by separating the word in to the cluster and the rest of the word, this may be easier e.g. sn/ow. Play games where you take turns to clap out the word. Can you put the word back together?
    Use tokens or coins
  • Use these to represent the number of sounds heard. Each time you or your child says a sound you get a token. Who can win the most tokens?
    Make it visual
    If you can, collect pictures of words with the cluster sound that your child is working towards e.g. if your child is working on ‘fl’ collect or draw pictures of a ‘floor’. If your child is saying ‘f’ instead of ‘fl’, ‘floor’ will sound like ‘four’. Have pictures of the number ‘four’. Play games to see who can collect the most pictures of the floor, or get the most turns at colouring the ‘floor’ not the ‘four’. This is a fun and visual way to help your child learn the cluster.
    – Jump!
    Using hula-hoops, or home made stepping stones (bean bags, coloured circles), jump or move along the corresponding number of sounds in the cluster e.g. jump twice for ‘sp’, ‘s-p’, then try and put the sounds together at the end ‘sp!’. If this is too easy for your child you can try splitting it again in to the first sound and the rest of the word e.g. ‘s/peak’.
    Act it out
    Making up actions for parts of the cluster is a useful memory strategy and can be lots of fun E.g. for ‘snow’ you can try making an ‘s’ sound and pretending to be a snake then for ‘no’, shaking your head. This way you have two actions for two sounds and your child is more likely to remember the parts. Make it as silly as your like!
    Find the words within the words!
    You can try breaking the word up in to memorable chunks by finding existing words e.g. for ‘sneeze’ try make the ‘s’ (snake sound) and then tapping your knees while saying S/KNEES. You can also try this for longer words e.g. ‘Christmas’, try ‘k’ and tell your child ‘K’ is a camera sound or kangaroo sound (you can use pictures for this if you like). Then try K/WRIST/MAS, don’t worry too much if this doesn’t sound like the word just yet, as your child gets confident in putting the parts together a little faster it will sound like ‘Christmas’

Happy Ch/rist/mas!

Written by Carolyn Fox, Children’s Speech and Language Therapist

Access the best UK based speech and language therapists from anywhere in the world 7 days a week online and at home. Visit irisspeaks.com/consultation to book to speak to us now.

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Unclear speech and how to tell developmental verbal dyspraxia

Unclear speech and how to tell developmental verbal dyspraxia

Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia

Every time we produce a speech sound or string of speech sounds in a word, we rely on the cooperation and coordination of certain speech muscles and oral structures. To produce sound we coordinate our lips, tongue, teeth, palate, jaw, breathing etc. For more information on what speech involves see this article. When these tools that we need to produce fluent speech struggle to coordinate, clear speech becomes very challenging. One way to describe what happens in the process of producing speech, may be to think of your brain as the messaging application on your phone. You know what you want to say, you start to type it in and then you click send. Somewhere in between deciding on your message and clicking send, the predictive setting has another idea and it sends entirely the wrong word or a similar word but not the one you wanted! We have all been there! Your message was interrupted at the planning stage. Children with developmental verbal dyspraxia have difficulties at the planning stage and struggle to coordinate the movement of the muscles needed to produce speech. You may have also heard the term Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS). This term is used to describe the same speech disorder but is more common in America.  Having verbal dyspraxia can make speech very hard to understand and of course, is very frustrating for the child, who often knows exactly what they want to say.

How do I know if my child has developmental verbal dyspraxia or something else?

In general, verbal dyspraxia has a low prevalence rate* (1-2 children per 1.000). There are many reasons why your child may have unclear speech but if verbal dyspraxia is suspected it is vital to rule this out. There are no universally agreed criteria for diagnosing dyspraxia, however your speech and language therapist will look for the presence of some of following characteristics.

  • Early on in development there may be limited babbling e.g. ‘ba,ba’, ‘ga,ga’.
  • There may be a limited variation of babbling sounds e.g. only one consonant.
  • Saying the same syllable or word differently on each attempt e.g. ‘phone’ said by the same child may sound like ‘tone’, ‘none’, phod’ etc.
  • Speech may sound staccato.
  • As words get longer there may be difficulty putting the syllables together, syllables may change or go missing.
  • Vowel sounds may sound different and a little unusual compared to the vowel sounds you produce.
  • Words that were previously mastered, become hard to say.
  • May have a few consonant and vowel sounds
  • Speech is hard to understand.

In some cases, you may notice challenges with voluntary movements such as smiling or puckering the lips. If you suspect that your child has verbal dyspraxia, speaking to a speech and language therapist as soon as possible is recommended. Children with verbal dyspraxia commonly need intervention to improve and accessing support earlier is linked to better outcomes. Verbal dyspraxia impacts on each child’s speech differently. For one child it may mean they have very limited verbal communication, struggling to produce many individual sounds and for another it may mean they only struggle to produce longer words e.g. ‘helicopter’.  In addition, as your child changes, so too does the influence of verbal dyspraxia on their speech. It is always best to seek out an initial assessment if you are in any doubt. How to help a child with verbal dyspraxia Tailored, intensive therapy is often recommended. Support is needed to help children at the planning stage of speech. Helping them to teach their muscles to how to produce individual speech sounds and sequence them. This requires daily practice and lots and lots of repetition.  Collaboration between parents and the speech and language therapist is therefore key as children will benefit from practicing their goals at home and in all the environments in which they communicate. For some general tips on how to support your child’s speech look here speech strategies article.

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Some more ideas are below:

  • Repetition of words and sounds is very important. Encouraging your child to have multiple attempts at the word or sound will increase their success. For ideas on games to play whilst doing drills with your child, have a look here 
  • Using repetitive books is a good way to practice the same targets over and over again. It may be that your child can only say the last word in the sentence, or part of the word. This is ok, go at your child’s pace. Use the book repeatedly, helping them to say what they can multiple times. Check out this related article.
  • Beat and rhythm can help. Try drumming or clapping out a word slowly, e.g. ‘car/pet’. Then see if you can bring the word back together ‘carpet’
  • Create fun images e.g. for the word ‘carpet’ draw a ‘car’ and a ‘pet’. Where you can do this with words, it will give your child another hook to remember the word and is also lots of fun.
  • Write down words in a notepad that are meaningful for your child, e.g. things they like, or names of friends. Practice these daily and keep going back to words that they mastered on previous days. Help them to feel successful

In the end, whether it is through speaking, drawing, pointing, acting it out or using signs; the goal is to help your child communicate. Do what works best for you and your child in order to have meaningful and successful communication exchanges.

For more information and support https://www.apraxia-kids.org/

*Shriberg et al., 1997

Written by Carolyn Fox, Children’s Speech and Language Therapist

Access the best UK based speech and language therapists from anywhere in the world 7 days a week online and at home. Visit irisspeaks.com/consultation to book to speak to us now.

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Reward Games in Speech and Language Therapy – 4 Top Ideas

Reward Games in Speech and Language Therapy – 4 Top Ideas

Reward games

None of us go through the experience of taking a Ryanair flight (with children), without the promise of the warm sunny destination at the other side. We don’t put in the elbow grease required for making cookie dough, without the promise of the sweet, soft and crumbly cookie at the end! Speech and language therapy practice for children is no different. Although less like the Ryanair flight and more like the cookie! our little workers need the promise of that reward at the end. Something to keep them motivated, engaged and encourage them to keep going.

What is a reward game?

When working towards any speech or language goal, you can keep things interesting by incorporating games. For instance, your child may be working towards saying ‘P’ or they may be fine tuning their ability to use ‘he’ and ‘she’. Each attempt is followed by a turn in a game. This can make working from a worksheet a little less boring. It also means that you can create games and practice when you are out and about, for instance in the car playing eye spy, practice and guess.

Reward games are fantastic way to combine play and practice, supporting learning and fun at the same time!

Why play pays


Using some of your child’s play time to do speech and language work not only helps them work towards their current targets but playing has many other benefits too.  Play builds creativity, encourages general language development, facilitates problem solving, reduces stress levels and strengthens social and memory skills! *

How can I use a reward game with my child?


When using games to practice goals with your child there are few key things to remember. Keeping the following in mind during play practice will ensure sustained attention and cooperation!

  • As with all practice, keep it positive! If your child Is very young or under confident you may want to t reward every attempt they make to keep them engaged and motivated. Let them know how they have done though by offering feedback e.g. ‘good try’ or ‘remember, lips together like this for ‘P’’ See our advice on speech strategies for more information of this kind. If your child is a little older and more confident you can try only rewarding the correct attempts with a turn in the game, but continue with the encouraging feedback!
  • Take turns! Make sure you take a turn too. Take a go at working towards your child’s target. This gives you the opportunity to model the right answer or make silly mistakes and have a giggle together.
  • Don’t wait too long to reward your child once they had a go at practicing.
  • Depending on your child’s attention level, you can speed things up or slow things down, so they get rewards nice and quickly. This may be a good idea for a child that is resisting practicing. Begin by giving rewards quickly and as your child learns what to expect you can attempt to leave more time between rewards e.g. can they practice their ‘p’ sound once before a reward, then can they practice ‘p’ five times?
  • Set some ‘cool rules’ before playing so your child knows exactly what they have to do before they can have a turn in the game. Refer them back to these rules as you play e.g. ‘I am waiting for you try ‘P’ before you can put the sword in the pop up pirate! Or ‘can you remember what we have to do first?’

If it already has your child’s vote, practice can become rote!

The best thing about reward games is that you probably already have everything you need to get going!

Think about what motivates your child. There will no doubt be an endless number of things that your child likes to do that are not listed below. Use anything you think your child finds rewarding!! To give you some ideas, you could try taking turns to:

-Hug!
-Tickle!
-Make lots of noise through clapping, stomping, banging!
– throw or pass a ball
-colour in or paint part of a picture (you may need a timer for this, so it doesn’t take too long or count to 10/20 seconds)

The games cupboard.

You can use almost any boardgame as long as the turns are not too long (you won’t get much work done!). Here is a quick look at some of the games inside a Speech and Language Therapists cupboard:

1. Sneaky snacky squirrel.
I have never worked with a child who didn’t want to help the cute little squirrel collect acorns and store them the tree trunk. Anything can happen from one minute to the next. Just when you think your squirrel has collected all the acorns it needs; an acorn storm comes along and blows them all away. Sometimes your squirrel component steals one of your acorns and you must work to win it back! Short turns make this game ideal for goal practicing. As a bonus there is a lovely acorn grabber that you must use to pick up the squirrel’s treat!

2. Velcro dart board and balls.
Take turns to throw balls at a Velcro dartboard and then tally up your points. You can make this harder or easier depending on where you position the board. Normally this game inspires lots of competition and giggles!

3. Pop up dragon.
Putting the flags in to the dragon’s castle and waiting for him to pop up, normally ensures lots of turns! If the Dragon pops up on the first go, it works as a good demonstration of what your child is aiming for in the game (if they haven’t played before). Keep going and try to make him jump again whilst getting in more and more practice.

4. Cheeky monkeys
Take turns to hang a monkey or a gorilla on the tree. Children love the buildup of anticipation as they wait for the tree to get so heavy it falls in the pool of crocodiles!

The games above represent a small sample of the structured games that you can use as reward games. You may have many of your own already at home.

Remember: keep turns: short, positive and fun!

Written by Carolyn Fox, Children’s Speech and Language Therapist

Access the best UK based speech and language therapists from anywhere in the world 7 days a week online and at home. Visit irisspeaks.com/consultation to book to speak to us now.

*John Medina ‘Brain Rules for Baby

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The Colour Monster – A great book for emotional awareness

The Colour Monster – A great book for emotional awareness

It is not an easy task for a small child to understand their emotions. That is why we love this book ‘The colour monster’ by Anna Llenas.  The story of this cute little creature’s day aims to help our own little monsters raise their emotional awareness and make facing their feelings just that little bit less of a monstrous task!

Why get emotional about it?


Understanding our own emotions and the emotions of others is called Theory of Mind (ToM).  With research highlighting links between ToM and language skills, it has become a hot topic within speech and language therapy. ToM starts to develop quite early on and can be encouraged by talking to our children about their emotions and the emotions of others. From around 4 years of age children might start to develop skills in thinking about how another person feels. Using books at this stage can be lots of fun and help them on their way to understanding emotions.

The colour monster

We meet the colour monster at the start of a day that is threatening to be rather confusing for him. This baffled little monster is in a bit of a frenzy over his feelings.

His emotions are cleverly depicted by colours. This little stumped soul is bemused and wearing all his emotions (colours) at the same time. The colours are intertwined and swirled together in a jumbled-up mess.  Picture your child’s face and hands after a painting session.  It is quite clear that this little guy needs a bit of help and along comes a trusted friend to lead the way.

She takes each colour, one by one and talks it through with the troubled guy.

Whilst giving the feelings a name, she explains what the feeling might make you want to do e.g. “anger can make you want to stomp”, thus helping children to recognize and identity with the different feelings.  This could act as a great prompt to get your child to talk about what anger or another emotion makes them want to do.

This clued up companion goes on to say what you can do when you feel a certain way. When addressing fear, she says “If you are scared, tell me why and we will through the forest together”. Thinking about why we feel a certain way and what we can do about it can be a little tricky. With the monster sharing his emotions first and leading the way, we can then go on to attempt the same dialogue with our children.

What started out as a daunting day, turns in to a vibrant and educational journey for the colour monster. Together with the little girl they have organized his emotions and they are no longer tangled up. His world is much clearer.

For little ones and adults who enjoyed the movie Inside Out, this book is a must!!

Carrying over the colour of your emotions!

The colour monster book provides a lovely fun read with lots of talking points. You can try some of the below:

  • Guess how the colour monster feels. As you look at each page see if you and your child can remember how the colour monster is feeling by looking at the colour.
  • As you go through the story ask your child when they have felt sad/happy/ etc.
  • What does it make them want to do?
  • Are they the same or different from the colour monster?
  • What about other people? Together can you think of how other people in the family feel and how they show it? What colour are their emotions?
  • Together can you think of other emotions that the colour monster might have but has not shared in this story? What colour might they be?

Other fun activities

-Draw and colour pictures of how you are feeling today, what colour are you?
– Can you remember what emotions go with what colours? Use different colored tokens, or paper and match the right colours to the word for the emotion.
– create a mood map of the monster’s day by putting different coloured pieces of paper/tokens, or colouring in squares on a piece of paper in order e.g. morning, afternoon, evening.
– Share mood maps of your day. What colour did you feel in the morning, afternoon, evening.

Written by Carolyn Fox, Children’s speech and language therapist

Access the best UK based speech and language therapists from anywhere in the world 7 days a week online and at home. Visit irisspeaks.com/consultation to book to speak to us now.

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Iris Speaks Top 5 language apps

Iris Speaks Top 5 language apps

Language Apps for your child and you!

There’s an app for everything these days (except one that will do your laundry). From banking to shopping, keeping track of your fitness and even sleeping!

According to Techcrunch.com May 2017, we are using nine apps a day and 30 a month.

Children’s App creators are well aware of the power and lure of the shiny screens, reinforcing beeps and blips and colourful images. It is no surprise then that children’s educational apps make up a large portion of the app pie.

To help you navigate the sea of children’s language apps, we have put together a list of our top picks.

SPLINGO

Cost 2.99

What we like about it
This app focuses on how much language your child is understanding. To them however they are completing the steps to build a rocket ship and send an alien into space. The friendly alien gives instructions on each turn and will repeat what was said if you tap it. This cute little ET also provides lots of encouragement with lovely positive feedback. Once the rocket has been built, the next tasks are to add food, fuel and passengers. The ultimate reward is watching the countdown and then the rocket takes off and flies away!

What can it help with?
The great thing about this app is that you can make it easier or harder depending on how much your child understands. Starting with very simple instructions, following just one key word e.g. ‘show me the apple’ up to four key words e.g. ‘give the red balloon to the girl who is jumping’. For more information on key word levels check out our language email course here. On this app, children around one year of age are expected to follow instructions at level one, children of two years, at level two and so on. The app focuses on many different aspects of language such as prepositions (in, on, under, behind, next to), pronouns (he, she, they), adjectives such as ‘new, old, wet, dry’ and many other language structures.

As there is a reward at the end, tiny tots might get tempted to swipe away until they get the right answer without processing the information. It is a good idea to sit with your child, repeat back the instruction or encourage them to listen to the alien again and take their time responding.

MY PLAYHOME

Cost 2.40

What we like about it
This app is a winner with very young children and creates a lot of interest with older children too, it is even APP-ealing to adults!
There are many different scenes detailing the inside and outside of a house, including kitchen, bathroom, garden. The scenes are extremely interactive. Children can enjoy moving around the house and manipulating objects and adding different family members to the scene.

What can it help with?
It’s better to ask: ‘What language can this app not help with?’.

Everyday objects are found in each of the scenes, providing enrichment of daily vocabulary. You can also make characters ‘sit’, ‘stand’, ‘eat’ and you open and close the fridge and eat healthy or unhealthy food. You can ‘feed’ the characters or the fish and ‘watch’ the television. Changing the scenes from day to night and back to day again is fun and could stimulate more complex vocabulary such as tomorrow, later, yesterday and the days of the week. In the garden you can have fun ‘jumping’ or ‘swinging’ and talk about the weather. You can go ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’. The app provides almost as many opportunities for language development as everyday life does.

You could try creating different situations and ask them what they think might happen in the scene. For ideas on appropriate question levels, see our blog on Blanks levels of questioning here.

The only thing the characters don’t do is talk, leaving all the conversing up to you and your child!

ACTIONS IN VIDEO

Cost: Starts at 2.99

What we like about it
This app is based on the Colourful Semantics method that some Speech and Language Therapists use to support vocabulary and teach sentence structure. Colourful semantics supports children in making sentences by using colours to represent each part of the sentence. Children are therefore able to use the colours in a repetitive way to predict what part of the sentence is needed and can eventually move on to creating sentences independently with no colour support.

It is a fantastic app, with 154 short videos of different people doing every day actions. The videos show real people, making it easier for our little language learners to relate it to their own lives. Once the video is over the child is prompted to choose the correct parts of the sentence by dragging up the pictures to the sentence strip e.g. ‘He is washing’ or ‘She is running’. The activity can be made harder or easier by adding or removing the aid of the colours that correspond to different sentence parts.

What can it help with?
The app follows a Look, Match, Listen and Say structure. It can help children with attention and listening whilst developing their knowledge of pronouns (he, she) and vocabulary for a range of verbs (washing, running, cleaning).  The app supports children in using the correct word order and eventually in expanding their sentence length, e.g. they may start with ‘he is washing’ and build up to saying, ‘he is washing his face/the dog/’.

As an added bonus, you can record yourself saying the sentence once you have made it. So it makes taking turns and listening to each other lots of fun! 

TOCA KITCHEN MONSTERS

Cost FREE

What we like about it
Cooking with your child can be lots of fun, this app provides a great way to reap the benefits of the language exposure when cooking but with slightly less mess!

Cooking for these two monsters is quite simply hilarious. Even though you don’t have any yummy muffins or cookies to eat when you are finished, the monsters make adorable little noises as you cook up a meal for them which makes the app lots of fun. For those muffins and cookies, you may have to have some real kitchen time when screen time is over!

What can it help with?
Just like when you cook or bake for real, this app promotes the vocabulary for a range of food and actions such as ‘chopping, slicing, frying, blending, boiling’. It also stimulates a discussion around what utensils you need to cook e.g. frying pan, knives, blender. The monster will let you know if it appreciated your culinary skills and this can spark a discussion about what you could change or add so the monster finds it more palatable!

TALKING LARRY THE BIRD

Cost FREE

What we like about it
We often feel uncomfortable when we hear our own voice repeated back to us. Talking Larry repeats back what we say in his own unique voice, encouraging children to practice talking and listen back to themselves and others via this funny bird. As an extra reward, children can interact with the bird by tapping him on the head or feeding him

What can it help with?
Anything at all! Although this app does not focus specifically on one aspect of language, it will perhaps encourage those children who are slightly less willing to practice their language targets to give it a go! Use this app to talk about what you see in your environment, name as many things as you can within a category e.g. ‘fruits’ or play association word games where you link words together e.g. ‘apple, banana, yellow, paint’. The bird will chat away till your hearts are content.

 

Making virtual time valuable

In our blog on Screen time, we talk about sensible exposure to screens such as iPad and computers . Below are some additional things to keep in mind when using language apps to encourage language development with your child.

  • Taking turns will make playing with apps more interactive and ensure that your child isn’t passively playing a game.
  • Play out loud! Repeating your thoughts as you play will encourage your child to think about how they play too, e.g. ‘I will get the book for the girl to read’
  • Naming some of the things you see on the screen will encourage your child to learn the names of things.
  • Playing the same thing a few times will support the learning of new vocabulary and sentence structures.
  • Modelling back the correct words and sentences for your child will ensure that they are actively learning e.g. child: ‘She have a book’, Adult: ‘Yes! She has a book’. You can also try expanding sentences e.g. ‘She has a red book’

Playing with apps with your child can be a fun and rewarding activity.

Happy app time!

Written by Carolyn Fox

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