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Communication Through Music

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When music casts is magical spell on us, it can impact our feelings, make us have fun, trigger memories, and it can facilitate language development. The power of music is well-documented and well understood by those who have experienced it.   In my experience as a speech language pathologist, I have seen the positive impacts of music in all aspects of my career. From infancy to elderly, music is powerful.  I have further proof of this having been privileged to work in one of the S June Smith Center of Excentia’s preschool classrooms. We have the great honor of working with Certified Music Therapist, Katie Eshelman, over the past few years.  And because of the obvious benefits of music, I implement it in my therapy and coaching with families daily.  Below I will share a few ideas for how music can be used to support communication development.   1. Fun: One reason why music works for learning, is because it’s fun. There are affordable resources available such as youtube.com or Pandora Radio.  You can have fun with your child by watching videos on youtube.com or listening to music together. This removes you from the demand of teaching your child, and enables you to create fun, silly, dancing, sound-making memories with your little one… who will most likely learn to request or remember parts of the song because they will have so much fun doing the activity with you. Pandora Stations to create for children: Raffi, Toddler, Family Road Trip. Youtube videos to watch together: Laurie Berkner Band, The Wiggles, Barney songs, movie clips from a favorite movie (I have watched the Frozen song video for “Let it Go” with many families!), or any band or song your child seems to like.   2. Repetition: Repetition facilitates learning, and repetition is much more fun in the context of song! Use song to repeat ideas and build vocabulary. Sing the same sound or word repeatedly to the tune of a familiar song. (i.e. To the Tune of B-I-N-G-O sing- “Sarah puts her jacket on, she puts her jacket on, jacket on on on, jacket on on on, jacket on on on and now her jacket’s on!”) Sing repetitive songs (Old McDonald, 5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, etc). Make a song up using 1 or 2 words to whatever tune you want!   3. Gestures: Pairing movements with song/sound can often help facilitate sounds more easily, make the use of sounds more fun, and increase the child’s attention to the words/sounds. Use of gestures is also helpful for children already using or learning sign language. Singing songs that incorporate gestures is a great way to develop these skills. Songs that are easily paired with gestures include: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Itsy Bitsy Spider, Head Shoulders Knees Toes, Wheels on the Bus.   4. During routines: Singing about what we are doing throughout the day makes learning the narratives and vocabulary of our routines more exciting. Any routine can be made into a song. Bed time, bath time, waking up, potty, washing hands, etc. (Again, use words to the tune of a familiar song, or make a song up!)   5. Sentence Completion: You can help your child increase their independent ability to produce words and sounds by using a “sentence completion” approach with repetitive songs.  The steps for using this approach are as follows: Sing a familiar and enjoyable song with your little one enough times that you become confident that they have learned it. Continue to sing the song with them, but begin to implement an occasional pause at a familiar part that you know your child likes. (I.e. “The Itsy Bitsy Spider went up the water spout, down came the rain and washed the spider __pause___”) Look at the child with an expectant, excited face… and wait. If they do not respond, you can model the correct word “OUT” with over emphasis and exaggeration. And try again. Eventually, your child may learn to complete the sentence on their own!   Hopefully, you will find some of these ideas helpful and maybe even find that you will also have fun in the process of using music to help children with communication development!

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Routines are Learning Opportunities

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My kids haven’t been infants or toddlers for more years than I would care to mention, but my memory of those times would be that those days were anything but “routine.” I think that most families with young kids feel like the only thing routine about their day is “unpredictability.” For most people, a routine is doing the same thing, at the same time and in the same way each day. When trying to use routines as a learning opportunity for kids I find that parents or caregivers often respond that they don’t have a routine.   What does it mean to teach children during daily routines? We think of routines as the parts of your day that have a start and a finish.  This changes our thinking from a schedule to events. I would like to note that for most people schedules seem to imply structure.  While young children thrive on structure and predictability this article is focusing on how to use your daily routines to enhance your child’s learning.   Figuring out your Routine All families are different however we all generally share routines that involve eating, playing, bathing and bedtime.  These routines are great learning opportunities for any child.  For example, when your child is learning to walk, you might carry her to the highchair for breakfast or you could use that opportunity and help her walk to the highchair instead.   Ideas for using Routines as Learning Opportunities First, consider these questions: Think about the daily routines of your family. What skills are you child working to master?  Where are they in their development? What are your priorities as a parent? Consider your own needs. For example, my son was not a morning child.  On the days that I needed to get him to daycare, getting out the door on time was my only goal.  It probably took him longer to learn to dress himself than it took his friends but I was confident that he would learn it one day. In the morning I just didn’t have the time to make it a priority for him to practice that skill. On the other hand, he was a late talker so it was a priority to bring communication strategies into our daily lives. Take the high priority skills your child is learning and your daily routine to see how many opportunities you can give your child for mastering a skill. Practice, Practice, Practice – young children love repetition!   Using Routine Based Learning for kids with unique developmental needs Back in the day (as my grown-up children say), as a young occupational therapist, I would meet the family of a child in the waiting room of a specialized clinic, take the child away for “my” therapy, and return them to their parents at the end of 30 minutes with instructions for “their” home therapy program. Thank goodness we have evolved to understand that parents are the most important and most consistent teacher that children will have.  We have also recognized that children learn best when the task is relevant to their interests and needs.  Out of this research, we have what we call Routines-based Intervention. This process is more natural and creates a much more comfortable and enjoyable experience for your child. Those 30 minutes of therapy that I was able to give a child made little impact on his/her development compared to the number of minutes a child can practice each week with caregivers who have learned to enrich their routines with the learning opportunities that are so important to young children. My role as a therapist has changed from working in a one-to-one situation with the child to being a mentor and coach to the family.  I believe that with my background in development and the family’s knowledge of their child, their activities, and their priorities, we become a powerful team that can problem-solve and invent unique ways to help young children master new skills.

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Resting Easy

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Perhaps one of the biggest difficulties parents regarding their children is sleep. The good news is that most sleep issues can be addressed. It’s a fairly unrecognized “routine” but probably one of the most important. It is during sleep that the brain is at its most active! This is particularly true in the developing child. The child is taking all the information that it experienced during the day and making sense of it, either filtering or storing for use. Each of the sleep stages has its own unique purpose and feature for assimilating information.   Lack of sleep results in a number of issues: Difficulty with concentration leading to poor learning Behavior changes including sleepiness, crankiness, hyperactivity, short temper Overall schedule disruption   Getting a good night sleep starts with good sleep hygiene.   Make sure a typical schedule is in place. Don’t think you have one? You might be surprised if you actually go through what a typical day looks like approaching bedtime. Almost everyone usually has some sort of pattern that they follow when winding down at night. After examining the routine, figure out where regular changes can be made to create a more relaxing situation heading into the bedtime hour. Eliminate screen time at least 1 hour prior to sleep – studies suggest screen time continues to stimulate the brain whether the person is engaged with it or not. Bath time – Try a warm bath with soothing scents and/or follow with lotions. Lavender, chamomile, and Eucalyptus are said to have calming effects on the senses. Add a deep massage for further calming. Snacks – Watch the type of snacks that your child is eating both before bedtime and during the day. Highly sugared, simple carbohydrate snacks will actually give a boost of energy. This includes most snack foods and many manufactured juices. Items that contain colored dyes can also create a hyper effect particularly those with red and orange colors. Nap time – make sure naps last no longer than 1-2 hrs depending on the age of the child (Infants vary) and they do not extend past 4 pm on average if the aim is an 8-9 pm bedtime. Bedtime – Consider gradually backing up bedtime by 15-30 min increments. Actually, a significantly earlier bedtime can be easier for getting a child to fall asleep then keeping them up until they seem really tired.   If the problem still exists, consider ideas like heavy quilts and blankets, swaddling, regardless of age, white noise, room temperature, etc. to help keep a child asleep. If the problem continues to be significant, consider talking to your doctor about some of the natural sleep aids that are readily available or investigating any underlying medical conditions. And don’t forget to discuss it with a medical/early intervention provider. While not every sleep problems is correctable, trying some of the above strategies may prove very restful!

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Making "Book Time" Fun

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Research tells us that early experiences with books have an incredibly significant impact on a child’s language and learning. Many of us know that books are a great way for children to learn new vocabulary words and begin to learn about letters and words. Furthermore, book-sharing experiences early on can create positive feelings toward books. Think about it: your child is cuddled in your lap, with your full attention, interacting with you, his loving caregiver!  The positive emotional experience promotes a love of book, one that can carry on into the school years and beyond. Here are some tips for making “book time” a fun time for toddlers:     Choose books that are visually simple. Look at the illustrations on the pages. Are they very busy with a lot of details? This might be too much visual information for a young child. I like starting out with board books that have a few pictures on each page, preferably brightly-colored photo-style pictures of objects that are familiar to a child. The “Bright Baby” series is a good example.   Choose books with simple language. Young children respond best to books with few words, and better yet, repetition throughout the book. A favorite of mine is “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See?” by Eric Carle.  The beautiful, brightly colored images on each page, combined with the simple, repetitive language, make it a great choice.   Books whose words have a natural cadence or rhythm are enticing to children. For young children who might not be ready to attend to the words in a book, this rhythm or cadence can be an attractive quality. Try to read the book with this quality in your voice.  Another favorite of mine is “Moo Baa La La La” by Sandra Boynton.   There’s no need to ask a lot of questions. For some children, asking questions or trying to have them name pictures or repeat your words can turn the experience into a negative one. This is particularly true for children with delayed speech, language, and/or cognitive skills. It is perfectly okay for your child to remain silent!  It is better to have the child engaged non-verbally than to pressure him/her into talking. How can you do this?  Point out and name pictures.  Instead of asking a question, rephrase it as a comment:  “I wonder where the star is. Oh, I found it!”   Follow your child’s lead. Name the pictures he or she points to.  If your child is not yet pointing, try to attend to his/her eye gaze: What is he/she looking at?  Keep your language simple. You don’t need to do a lot of talking for a successful book-sharing activity!   Make your own books! Children love to look at pictures of people and items they know and love.  The easiest way to do this is to take pictures and place them into a 4×6 photo album.  You can take pictures of family, friends, favorite toys, and familiar objects.  Or, make a photo album with pictures from a fun outing or event your child participated in.   Try books with different textures or other interesting elements, such as mirrors. These can be interesting for children.  However, pay attention to how your child responds. Some children can get so fixated on these elements that it can be very difficult to engage them in other aspects of the book-sharing experience. This is especially true for books with buttons that make sounds. Sometimes the child becomes overly interested in pushing the buttons to hear the sounds.   Remember that the goal is to create a positive, enjoyable experience for your child. This will help prepare your child to be a successful reader later on!

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Communication Through Music

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When music casts is magical spell on us, it can impact our feelings, make us have fun, trigger memories, and it can facilitate language development. The power of music is well-documented and well understood by those who have experienced it.   In my experience as a speech language pathologist, I have seen the positive impacts of music in all aspects of my career. From infancy to elderly, music is powerful.  I have further proof of this having been privileged to work in one of the S June Smith Center of Excentia’s preschool classrooms. We have the great honor of working with Certified Music Therapist, Katie Eshelman, over the past few years.  And because of the obvious benefits of music, I implement it in my therapy and coaching with families daily.  Below I will share a few ideas for how music can be used to support communication development.   1. Fun: One reason why music works for learning, is because it’s fun. There are affordable resources available such as youtube.com or Pandora Radio.  You can have fun with your child by watching videos on youtube.com or listening to music together. This removes you from the demand of teaching your child, and enables you to create fun, silly, dancing, sound-making memories with your little one… who will most likely learn to request or remember parts of the song because they will have so much fun doing the activity with you. Pandora Stations to create for children: Raffi, Toddler, Family Road Trip. Youtube videos to watch together: Laurie Berkner Band, The Wiggles, Barney songs, movie clips from a favorite movie (I have watched the Frozen song video for “Let it Go” with many families!), or any band or song your child seems to like.   2. Repetition: Repetition facilitates learning, and repetition is much more fun in the context of song! Use song to repeat ideas and build vocabulary. Sing the same sound or word repeatedly to the tune of a familiar song. (i.e. To the Tune of B-I-N-G-O sing- “Sarah puts her jacket on, she puts her jacket on, jacket on on on, jacket on on on, jacket on on on and now her jacket’s on!”) Sing repetitive songs (Old McDonald, 5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, etc). Make a song up using 1 or 2 words to whatever tune you want!   3. Gestures: Pairing movements with song/sound can often help facilitate sounds more easily, make the use of sounds more fun, and increase the child’s attention to the words/sounds. Use of gestures is also helpful for children already using or learning sign language. Singing songs that incorporate gestures is a great way to develop these skills. Songs that are easily paired with gestures include: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Itsy Bitsy Spider, Head Shoulders Knees Toes, Wheels on the Bus.   4. During routines: Singing about what we are doing throughout the day makes learning the narratives and vocabulary of our routines more exciting. Any routine can be made into a song. Bed time, bath time, waking up, potty, washing hands, etc. (Again, use words to the tune of a familiar song, or make a song up!)   5. Sentence Completion: You can help your child increase their independent ability to produce words and sounds by using a “sentence completion” approach with repetitive songs.  The steps for using this approach are as follows: Sing a familiar and enjoyable song with your little one enough times that you become confident that they have learned it. Continue to sing the song with them, but begin to implement an occasional pause at a familiar part that you know your child likes. (I.e. “The Itsy Bitsy Spider went up the water spout, down came the rain and washed the spider __pause___”) Look at the child with an expectant, excited face… and wait. If they do not respond, you can model the correct word “OUT” with over emphasis and exaggeration. And try again. Eventually, your child may learn to complete the sentence on their own!   Hopefully, you will find some of these ideas helpful and maybe even find that you will also have fun in the process of using music to help children with communication development!

read more >

Routines are Learning Opportunities

in

Learn

My kids haven’t been infants or toddlers for more years than I would care to mention, but my memory of those times would be that those days were anything but “routine.” I think that most families with young kids feel like the only thing routine about their day is “unpredictability.” For most people, a routine is doing the same thing, at the same time and in the same way each day. When trying to use routines as a learning opportunity for kids I find that parents or caregivers often respond that they don’t have a routine.   What does it mean to teach children during daily routines? We think of routines as the parts of your day that have a start and a finish.  This changes our thinking from a schedule to events. I would like to note that for most people schedules seem to imply structure.  While young children thrive on structure and predictability this article is focusing on how to use your daily routines to enhance your child’s learning.   Figuring out your Routine All families are different however we all generally share routines that involve eating, playing, bathing and bedtime.  These routines are great learning opportunities for any child.  For example, when your child is learning to walk, you might carry her to the highchair for breakfast or you could use that opportunity and help her walk to the highchair instead.   Ideas for using Routines as Learning Opportunities First, consider these questions: Think about the daily routines of your family. What skills are you child working to master?  Where are they in their development? What are your priorities as a parent? Consider your own needs. For example, my son was not a morning child.  On the days that I needed to get him to daycare, getting out the door on time was my only goal.  It probably took him longer to learn to dress himself than it took his friends but I was confident that he would learn it one day. In the morning I just didn’t have the time to make it a priority for him to practice that skill. On the other hand, he was a late talker so it was a priority to bring communication strategies into our daily lives. Take the high priority skills your child is learning and your daily routine to see how many opportunities you can give your child for mastering a skill. Practice, Practice, Practice – young children love repetition!   Using Routine Based Learning for kids with unique developmental needs Back in the day (as my grown-up children say), as a young occupational therapist, I would meet the family of a child in the waiting room of a specialized clinic, take the child away for “my” therapy, and return them to their parents at the end of 30 minutes with instructions for “their” home therapy program. Thank goodness we have evolved to understand that parents are the most important and most consistent teacher that children will have.  We have also recognized that children learn best when the task is relevant to their interests and needs.  Out of this research, we have what we call Routines-based Intervention. This process is more natural and creates a much more comfortable and enjoyable experience for your child. Those 30 minutes of therapy that I was able to give a child made little impact on his/her development compared to the number of minutes a child can practice each week with caregivers who have learned to enrich their routines with the learning opportunities that are so important to young children. My role as a therapist has changed from working in a one-to-one situation with the child to being a mentor and coach to the family.  I believe that with my background in development and the family’s knowledge of their child, their activities, and their priorities, we become a powerful team that can problem-solve and invent unique ways to help young children master new skills.

read more >

How to Handle High Energy

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I was a very active little girl and I do mean, really active. I can remember running through the neighborhood backyards and feeling the need to do so. My grandmother affectionately referred to this as “getting the sillies out”. Not the most technical explanation but my parents sure understood what it meant. When it was time to sit down and read a book or to complete something that required a little concentration, my family knew they had to let me run around for a bit first. Now, as an adult with children of my own, I see that need in my boys.   As an Evaluator for Early Intervention Services parents often ask me, “How can I get my child to calm down so we can read a book or work on a puzzle?” My response is, “By walking, running, jumping, skipping, clapping, crawling, dancing and rolling. These are all great ways to get your child moving and active so that they can then sit and attend for a reasonable period of time.   Some, not all children have a need, yes, an actual need to get some of that energy out.  When our dear little ones seem to be bouncing off the walls with physical activity, it seems impossible to get them to sit and look through a picture book with us or to just simply listen. They seem so busy that our words don’t even register with them. Kids tend to be active, but of course, some are more active than others.  Is your child the child that you find on top of the counter tops or refrigerator, or the child that you just can’t get to take a nap, even though they are miserably tired? Regardless of whether your child may just be really energetic or if he or she is truly hyperactive, these suggestions can be useful for all children:   Try to keep a consistent routine:  Keeping things roughly the same each day can help your child program their body. They know what to expect and what is coming next. If nap time is typically the same time each day, they will begin to expect that. A consistent sleeping pattern regulates our bodies. Of course, we can’t always keep the routine 100% of the time. But, give it your best shot at consistency. Give your child plenty of opportunities to be active: If it’s raining outside, put on some music and dance, hop, wiggle, jump around and get silly, get them moving.  You can also walk up and down the stairs a few times. This is not meant to be a strenuous workout for you or your child, just enough to get them active. Go outside, to the park or playground, let them run, jump and play for as long as you are comfortable with. Try to avoid lots of juice or drinks and foods that are high in sugar:  Why make it harder on yourself and your child? Lots of candy and sweets throughout the day won’t make your day or theirs any easier. Try to have periods of activity in short, frequent bursts throughout the day:  Being active can help settle down the mind and body.  Not Boot camp, just a good 5 to 10 minutes of physical play before settling down to read, color or another type of quiet activity.   Letting children be physically active can also help improve their mood and your own. Aren’t you happy after dancing and carrying on to your favorite songs?  Can you think a little more clearly after you have had a brisk walk? Our children often feel the same way though they may not be able to express it with words, but meeting their need for physical activity can help promote their success across all areas of development.   While these tips may not work for every child and they will most certainly not work every time, they may help some children be able to focus, attend or settle down for a little longer than you thought they could. Don’t forget to have fun!

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