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Getting Messy in Speech Therapy


 So I was sitting at home and getting ready for the preschool classroom and thought that others might be interested in the sensory bin I'll be bringing in.  I love to use sensory bins.  There are so many opportunities to comment, describe, request and build vocabulary. I have used it to expand sentences and following directions.  Seen as Halloween is right around the corner, it's a great activity to do with your students.

The basics for this bin are water beads and shaving cream.  You can add other objects if you like. In the past, I've added some objects to help with artic. During Halloween, we have added bats, spiders and pumpkins.  This time we'll have kitchen utensils out to help make potions.


I usually soak the water beads over night in water. They normally take about an hour to fully absorb the water.  I then drain the excess water.



After this I get the kids to help make the "potion." I have the children take turns squirting out the shaving cream then pour the water beads into the pot or vice versa.  The children then mix up the potion and it is ready.  This is great for helping children follow directions. I usually make a couple of bowls so that more children can play at once.


This sensory bin is great for describing.  You can talk about 
  • the feeling of the mixture (slimy or sticky), 
  • their hands/objects being clean or dirty, 
  • if they like the feel, 
  • if they like the smell of the shaving cream
  • what they made with the potion.
  • how they are making the potion.

This is always a hit.  This is a messy activity and should be closely supervised by an adult.  I also keep a towel close by to help clean the children off when they are done.  

How do SLPs play? Toy Selection

Last week, I talked about "Why SLPs play?"  This week I'm going to describe a little about how SLPs play, specifically how do we choose what toys/materials to use. I work with preschoolers so this post will have a bit of focus on younger children but the same principles apply to older children as well. 

It may seem that the SLP comes in and they start to play.  It usually looks easy.  SLPs don't just pick any old toy and then magic suddenly happens.  There are many variables to consider when picking toys to use in therapy. 


1. Where developmentally is the child?  An SLP is not going to expect a child to play with boardgames, if the child is developmentally at the stage for people games such as "peek a boo." The same goes that they are not going to play "peek a boo" when the child could play boardgames.

2. Where developmentally is their play?  Does the child like to play by themselves?  Will the child allow people to play beside them but not yet ready to play with others?  Do they play with others?  Do they have pretend play skills? This will help the SLP to narrow down appropriate choices in toys.

3. What are their goals?  The types of goals the child is working on can really determine the kinds of toys an SLP will bring into the therapy room.  They might bring in barns and farm animals if the child is working on prepositions.  They may bring in wind up toys if a child is working on requesting objects.

4. What are the child's favourite toys?  Part of therapy is that it should be fun.  SLPs consider what kinds of toys the child likes to play with.  Sometimes they will use their favourite toys and other times they may intentionally choose different toys.

5. What is the child's attention span?  Can a child focus on an activity for 10 minutes or more?  Can the child only focus on an activity for a minute or more.  This will determine how many toys to bring to therapy and helps determine the kinds of possible toys available.  If a child has a short attention span, then a toy that takes time to set up would not be appropriate.

6. What are the themes at school or occur naturally at different times of the year?  Does the child go to school?  What are they learning about?  What is a natural theme that would occur at the time of the year?  If it is October, then talking about fall or Halloween would be appropriate.  This allows the SLP to use vocabulary that the child will hear in other context and this helps the child in other settings and with generalization. 

7. What are the philosophies of the parents/school?  Some people might no think about it but this is an important piece of the decision making process. I used to work at a more fundamentalist Christian school.  Bringing in toys about ghosts or Halloween would not have been appropriate.  Incorporating yoga into my sessions would also not have been appropriate. Working at a school that has a more artistic focus might mean that the children there do more crafts.

8. Does the SLP travel?  If an SLP is moving from location to location then that can determine the types of materials (aka toys) they can carry/transport.

9. Is it going to be one-on-one therapy or a group session?  If it is a group, then you have to think about all of the above criteria for each child then come up with common toys to use with the group.

These are just some of the decisions SLPs make multiple times a day when choosing appropriate materials to use in therapy.

Why do SLPs play?

I had an interesting question the other day from a friend of mine,  "Why do SLPs play?" She is not an SLP and heard me talking with another friend of mine who is an SLP.  My friend doesn't really understand how we do what we do.  What followed was an hour long conversation and this is a synopsis of that conversation. By the way my friend knows about this post and has okayed me writing about it.




Great communication occurs when playing.  An important job for an SLP is make people communicate better. A great way to work on communication is during natural situations. For children, especially young children, this means during play. If you want to know how a child can truly (functionally) communicate, then play with them.

When you have fun you learn more. I was first introduced to this concept when I was in high school.  I had two teachers that marched to their own beat.  I would both anticipate and dread going to their classes.  I never knew when I would have to sing some song in a Shakespeare play or be re-enacting battle scenes.  One day another student asked, "Why do you make us do this stuff?"  The teacher answered, "You learn more when I make it fun and interesting." He was right.  We were more attentive and we all knew the information cold, even the students who struggled in school. This is the same idea.  Kids having fun will learn what we are working on faster. They have longer attention spans and will work hard, even when what they are working on is difficult for them. 

Kids' job is to play and explore.  We, as a society, are moving more away from this concept but I truly believe that a child's job is to interact and explore their environment.  That means play.  Kids learn how to cook by playing with spatulas, bowls, toy food etc...  SLPs use that curiosity to build skills that are weak and/or missing.  Playing is a great way to build all sorts of skills including building vocabulary, helping children make longer sentences and following directions. It can help with sequencing activities, problem solving and using their imaginations to create stories. It is even great for improving a child's pronunciation. Some children don't know how to play and then miss all those amazing opportunities to do "hands on" learning.  So yes, we even teach some children how to play.

We help children with social skills.  This has been a big push in the last few years.  You don't get very far in life if you don't have people skills.  Children learn and start developing these skills when they are playing with other children.  It is not uncommon for children with speech and language delays to need help with their social skills.  Some of the best ways to do this is when they are playing.  Having an SLP coach a child to negotiate during play can help that child learn what to do when that situation occurs again.

It helps with generalizing skills.  SLPs talk lots about "generalization." This is where a child uses a skill across multiple settings and situations.  When a child is exposed to a skill in different contexts where the situation is slightly different each time makes generalization easier than doing the same activity the exact same way every time. It is really hard to make play the exact same routine every time. In fact, we work with children to expand their play if they want to do the same thing, the same way every time.

There are other reasons why SLPs play but you don't need or want to read a 50 page report, these are just my top reasons.  So next time you see an SLP playing, know that it is not just for fun, there is a reason why we play.  Next week I'll talk a little about how we choose the toys/games to use.