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Why Children Thrive on Routines

I had a friend say the other day, "Why do you talk so much about routines and being consistent?" We had been brainstorming ideas how to help her little one be more successful in preschool.  I'm a big advocate of consistency and routine regardless of whether they have a speech and language delay or not. Here are some of my beliefs.

1.  Children thrive on predicability.  Really who doesn't?  My day always run more smoothly when I know what is going to happen that day.  When I get to work, and everything has changed, and I have to react, I tend to become grouchy. 

2. Routines allow children to focus less or stress less about what is coming next.  Consistency allows them to concentrate on learning, playing, building language, or improving their speech.   

3. For children working on developing their language skills, routines allow children to hear and or practice vocabulary,  concepts,  frequently enough that it will help active their goals and help with generalization.

4. Routines, structure, and predictability allow children to test boundaries in safe ways.  All children test boundaries; it is a part of growing up and becoming more independent. BUT we want them to be relatively safe when doing so. We want the consequences of their tries to be successful.  Meaning that they will have pushed a boundary out and have gained more independence or they will learn that that boundary is firmly in place.  

5. Establishing routines, structure, and consistency at a young age helps children as they grow.  In school, children need to function in a classroom. They are in a group of many other children with only one or two adults in the room.  They need to be able to follow someone else's agenda and not have meltdowns because they are no longer in charge or have rarely heard the word, "No" and do not know how to handle it. In therapy, it means that they have to know that they are are going to follow the directions of the Speech-Language Pathologist and are not going to be upset when you are playing a different game today or worse yet, not playing a game at all.

So what can we do to help children establish routines?  

1. It is important to be consistent which can be tough if the routine you are introducing is unpopular.  It sometimes helps to have a game plan and write down what the new routines are going to look like and how you are going to react if the child(ren) you are with are not happy with the changes.

2. Use visuals.  They really do work, and I'm probably preaching to the choir.  Here is a blog post I wrote about why you should use visuals.

3. Keep in mind who and why you are creating the new routine.  Especially a the beginning try to use activities, games, rewards (if you use them) that the children enjoy.  They will be willing to participate if it is fun, or they are getting something out of it. 

Establishing routines can be hard, but the effort is well worth it and will help everyone function better in the classroom, therapy room or home much better.

Using the Game "Tummy Ache" in Therapy

As you have seen, I love using Orchard Toys in therapy.  They have great, educational games that children seem to love playing (as usual, no affiliate links).  This time I thought I would talk about the game that boys (aged 4-8) request the most, Tummy Ache.  The idea is to gather a full dinner by picking up different cards.  Some of the cards have the usual foods you would see at dinner (e.g. rice) and some cards have food but they are covered in creepy crawlies (e.g. maggots on a pizza).  If you play the game as it is supposed to be played, the first person with a complete meal wins.  I never play it this way.  I continue to play it until everyone has a full meal. Here are how I use it in therapy.

1. Building Vocabulary:  This game contains a wide variety of foods from steak to chicken, from rice to beans and juice to smoothies.  If the children are not familiar with some of the food, I will sometimes bring them it for them to taste test.  The game also includes a wide variety of bugs that I have used to build up vocabulary. 

2.  Categorization: I have used this game to sort food or the creepy crawlies.   I have also had children name the category of the food that they have picked up.  

3.  Describing:  The children have to describe the food and/or creature that they have picked up. 

4. Expanding sentences and pronoun use:  It is great for practicing longer sentences such as, "I have _________."  "I like __________." "I don't like _________." "You have _____."  "Yuck, I have _____." or "The _________ goes in the garbage." 

5. Commenting:  This is a great game for teaching social language skills.  Often conversations are started around what food they like and don't like.  It is a great way to talk about appropriately responding to comments when you agree or disagree what the other person has said. It is also a great way to ask why a person likes/dislikes a particular kind of food.

6. Learning about others:  Everyone has food they like or dislike.  This game naturally brings about discussion regarding favourite kinds of foods.  It is a great way to work on initiating a conversation.  

7. Teach about trading, sharing and negotiation:  I will often play the game that if they don't like the food they have picked up, they could ask another person to trade with them.  This can sometimes get a little heated as some foods are more desirable then others.  Some children will say yes or no right away but others will start negotiating by offering to trade another food or will want another piece of food thrown into the deal.  This is also a great way of having children work on asking questions.

8. Lastly we work on some play skills as we pretend to eat the food when everyone has a full plate.  

This is a game that children request again and again. It is a great motivator and reward for the children's hard work.  If you are interested in some of the other Orchard Toys I use, check out this blog post.  Do you use this game in therapy?

5 Benefits of Incorporating Movement into Speech and Language Therapy

Speech Language Pathologists sometimes find themselves doing therapy or assessments in all sorts of different places. One of my favourite places outside of class or a therapy room is in the gym.  It is a great place to incorporate movement into therapy.  If not in the gym, I still build in movement as much as possible.  Why?

1. There is a growing body of research that says improving a child's fitness can help learning.  So why not incorporate some movement activities into therapy if it will help learning instead of more sedentary activities.

2. Children are moving less and less these days.  Some schools, districts or countries are sacrificing gym and/or recess to focus more on academics. Even in preschool, children are expected to sit longer, do table work and pay attention longer.  This can be a struggle for many children who have a hard time keeping their bodies still and pay attention.  With those children, I find those children have better focus and work harder when I get them to move.

3. Gym activities and games are a great way for children to functionally build their knowledge and use of verbs and prepositions.  Children need to physically experience different prepositions and verbs to better understand their meaning.

4. Gym activities are also a great way to functionally work on following directions. Children are given many directions during gym class. Work on activities that support what they are doing in gym class.  

5. Many movement activities can be quickly done (e.g. run to the wall and back).  This allows for many opportunities to practice their speech and language skills. These activities are typically easy to prep. If you are curious about the activities I use, check out this blog post. 

Overall this has been very successful and just as importantly the children have fun.