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Tips and Tools for Speech Therapy: Low Cost and High Fun

For the past 21 years, I have been in the educational field.  I have served as a preschool teacher, preschool director, self-contained special education teacher for children with behavioral, emotional, and cognitive impairments, speech-language pathologist assistant, and as an ASHA certified Speech-Language Pathologist.  Over the years, my experiences have taught me a lot but I have also learned from others in the field and picked up many trick and techniques to include in my therapy bag of goodies.

It’s the Little Things:
I have often packed up my more elaborate bag of goodies and games and made my way to my client’s home or to the classroom to get my student, only to find that the child had greater buy in with my scented bubbles.  So now, I always have access to certain ‘little thing’ as alternatives for my lessons.  Sometimes, I use them as just an incentive, other times they become the catalyst from making an okay session into groundbreaking!  My most common ‘little things’ include: bubbles, wind-up toys, slinky, sensory balls and tubes (squishy, light up, spikey, glow in the dark, basic), rain stick, puzzles, play-doh and mats, and reusable sticker pages (such as those by Melissa & Doug).
Semantic Features: Mash and Mark

I know that it sounds like a lot and that my therapy bag would be dragging behind me on the floor as I walk.  The important thing is to have access to some, not all, of them at one time.  If you bring them all, your bag would be way too heavy.  Plus, these items should be used in moderation and need to be switched up.  Otherwise, if a child has access to his number #1 motivator ALL of the time and it is used all of the time, sooner or later it will lose its “magic” and will no longer be motivating for the kiddo.

I have Rhythm and the Moves:
Research over the past 20 years has demonstrated a strong link to rhythm and movement to learning and language development.  I play with that!  I sing HORRIBLY.  In fact, I cannot stand to hear myself sing. I’m so bad that I think when I purposely sing off key it sounds better than when I actually try to sing on key!!  Kids do not seem to care.  They naturally appear to enjoy music and rhythm (even bad music).  Therefore, I try to teach some lessons by making up an easy song that the kids can learn and sing to themselves when I’m not around.  The songs all vary and are dependent upon what targets the students are addressing: social skills, sound production placement, grammar rules, basic vocabulary building, etc…  I even throw in a silly dance and get the kiddos to dance with me while we sing the song.  I bet if my administration polled my kiddos, they would find that half or more thought I was crazy.  However, I feel like I’m doing my job  when my students make progress, laugh and make jokes with me during the session and want to come to speech.

We Play with Intention:
It would be easy to rely on games. Some of us let the kids play a game the last 2-5 minutes of the session as reinforcement for a job well done.  Some of us incorporate the game into the session itself.  I do both and it is completely dependent upon my kiddo (or group) at the time.  If my students are only able to say that we play games in speech and do not know what it is we are actually working on, then I tend to shy away from games for a while.  I stress to my students that we “play with intention.”  There is an end goal and that is to address their needs and targeted goals.
Diner: Dramatic Play and Speech-Language Therapy

Dramatic Play & Role Play:

My littler kiddos (Prek-2nd) LOVE dramatic play and role play.  Who wouldn’t?  It is an opportunity to explore open-ended play, new vocabulary, and support generalization of previously taught skills.  It is also a great opportunity to observe and informally assess student’s current skills such as sentence format, speech sounds, fluency, asking/answering questions, receptive and expressive vocabulary, descriptive language, etc… My students love when I transform my speech room into a campsite, a pet shop, a diner, or a Veterinarian’s office using my Dramatic Play Sets. They get to use their imagination, move around, and I get data on how they are generalizing their skills.
Let the Child Set the Tone:
This is one of the best tips I ever learned! When I first started working with students, I had a few courses under my belt and I really wanted to make a difference.  Well, in my classes, “make a difference” meant meeting standards, and teaching kids specific skills in a specific manner without deviation.  What it meant to me was feeling like a failure because not all kids bought into learning in that specific manner and required deviation.  It meant tears or frustration from me and the children.  It meant NO FUN.  It surely was NOT FUNCTIONAL.  More times than not, the kids did NOT make progress.  I was overwhelmed, and thought maybe I just really was NOT meant to work with kids.  I was wrong.  I was meant to “make a difference.”  I was meant to work with kids, adults, whoever!  I was just NOT meant to do it by the book and following a specific path.  The first time I let the child set the tone and we worked at the kids pace, we deviated from the plan but continued to tie our activities to the lesson and the kids smiled and laughed.  They had fun.  I had fun.  They made progress.  We all felt successful!
Let your Inner Child Play:
I learned this lesson around the same time as the lesson about letting the child set the tone.  Learning to communicate should be empowering to children.  It should be fun!  The easiest way to encourage children to play and have fun is to let our own inner child out to play.  If you are not enjoying it, chances are the child is not enjoying it.  From there it is a downward spiral.  If they are not having fun, then they are not likely to want to come back.  If they do not come back or they come back but their participation is reduced, they are not likely to learn the POWER of COMMUNICATION.  Words have power!  Communication, in any of its forms, has power. 
 What tricks and techniques do you have in your Super Speech Bag of Tricks to teach the power of communication?

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