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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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Speech Therapy

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Pediatric Speech Therapy One parent shared her joy the day her child said, "Now people can understand me when I talk!" Imagine our joy here at the S. June Smith Center, knowing we had a role to play in that child's success. We are happy to announce that we are now offering private speech and language therapy services to our community.  In addition to participating in Early Intervention (Birth-K), the S. June Smith Center is responding to the needs of our community by offering Speech Therapy for children under the age of 8.  This program is located at our Prince Street office (across from Clipper Stadium).  Onsite parking, a secure building and a staff of highly trained speech therapists makes this the ideal choice for young children. Intervention is provided for a variety of disorders, including speech disorders, and receptive and expressive language disorders. Many of our staff members have interest and expertise in areas such as apraxia and suspected childhood apraxia of speech. Parents and caregivers are invited to play an active role during the process. Their input is used to develop goals that will be functional for the child. Ongoing family education is provided, as well as activities that can be used in the home. Most therapy sessions are one-on-one, allowing for focused and intensive session. Our experienced staff of therapists continue to receive education, allowing them to provide the highest standards of care.  You can check out their information in the Early Childhood section of our website www.ourexcentia.org    

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A Day with June

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*Disclaimer: The following names of the children visited have been changed due to privacy policies.   This past summer I got to spend the day shadowing a therapist from Excentia’s S. June Smith Center. June Gehman-Deane has been with Excentia’s S. June Smith Center since 2006. She graduated from Neumann University with a Masters of Physical Therapy. June and I spent the day traveling all around Lancaster County visiting families in their homes, which is one of the unique features about the services that Excentia’s S. June Smith Center provides.   [caption id="attachment_614" align="alignleft" width="257"] June Gehman-Deane[/caption] “My favorite part of my job is getting to work with families and giving them the tools they need to assist their children in achieving motor milestones through daily routines such as diaper changes and play activities. I love Lancaster County because of its diversity… I go from Latino homes to Hindi homes to Amish homes to wealthy suburban homes as well as economically challenged homes… the list can go on and on,” said June.   Our first stop of the day took us to Columbia where we met with a little boy named John. June sees him every two weeks and has been working on making sure he can walk on his feet flat and not up on his tiptoes. June assisted the family in process in getting a prescription and referral to an orthotist for a pair of orthotics. The orthotist came to the session so that the family, June and the orthotist could work together to determine the best option for John. After the orthotist measured and casted John for the Molded Ankle Foot Orthotics, John’s mom shared that she was worried about the fact that John will climb up the steps but doesn’t know how to get back down them.  She shared that he has fallen once or twice from the bottom steps.  June suggested making a game of sliding or backing down off of the sofa as the first step at learning to back down the steps. Soon John was enjoying this activity and we all joined in to create excitement and make the activity more fun for John.  Next session they will try it on the stairs unless he has already mastered the activity with the help of his parents.   After spending an hour in Columbia we headed in the opposite direction to Ephrata. Here we met with Lucas, the most adorable little blonde boy who was the happiest baby of the day! Lucas and his mom were pleased to show off how easily Lucas can now climb both up and down the stairs in his home. Because he had mastered the last skill in his goal, this was likely his last session with June. Paperwork was completed sharing his successful completion of six months of therapy with June. He will be moving onto Speech Therapy another service offered by Excentia’s S. June Smith Center as his mother was now concerned about his development of spoken or expressive language.   My favorite part of the day was our third stop, Park City Center where we met with Liam. His mom asked for help in finding a pair of shoes for him to wear with his new Molded Ankle Foot Orthotics (MAFO’s). We went to Payless, Footlocker for Kids and Journeys Kids. The winning pair of shoes though were a pair of converse hightops which complimented the MAFO’S perfectly. His mother was concerned about how they looked as she didn’t want her son to look different.  I loved this particular visit because I am really into shopping and it was really nice to actually feel involved while shadowing June. [caption id="attachment_1723" align="alignright" width="225"] The shoe that we chose for Liam[/caption]   Our last stop was actually at a local daycare where we met with Emma who needed to work on standing up to help strengthen her legs and also to begin to transition from crawling to walking as the routine of choice to get around the daycare center. On this particular visit June said that Emma was extra cuddly which was so cute to see! While June was working with Emma using song time as a motivator, I was being approached by the other children in the class. One little guy in particular kept putting a cowboy hat on my head and then laughing, which really topped off the entire day. June also made sure to collaborate with the staff and checking in about how Emma was participating in the class and making suggestions about how best to encourage working on walking from place to place with support (hands held) and also work on following directions as the special instructor had suggested.  The staff found it hard to do both these needed routines at the same time.   Shadowing June was an experience that I will never forget. I only got to see her interact with four children but it was evident the time and work that she puts in with each family is crucial to their development. As I have said before, I am the service and giving chair for my chapter of Alpha Sigma Alpha and being able to see what happens behind the scenes really puts all of the fundraising into perspective.   I would like to personally thank June for allowing me to spend the day with her and broadening my knowledge on the many developmental tiers that are out there. And a special thank you to her for giving quotes and insight for this blog post.   If you are interested in starting a career with Excentia’s S. June Smith Center visit this link https://www.ourexcentia.org/careers/.    Alpha Love and Mine, Lexis

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Scrapbooking Event

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Super Saturday Scrapbooking   The biggest event that my chapter holds is a scrapbooking event each semester where all the money raised goes directly to Excentia’s S. June Smith Center. This past semester I quickly learned how much time and effort goes into planning and executing a ten-hour scrapbooking day.   Pictured: Lexis Lipko at Spring 2017 scrapbooking event   I wanted it to be the most successful one yet. My first task included meeting with advisor Paula Foreman, who fun fact actually is the reason Excentia’s S. June Smith Center is a philanthropic partner of Alpha Sigma Alpha. Paula has been running the event alongside service and giving chairs for many years and still is actively involved today.   The scrapbooking event takes place at Stayer Hall on Millersville University’s campus. Participants in the event pay $20 for a ten hour time period where a light breakfast, lunch, goodie bags and car to seat service are provided. Throughout the day they are able to take a walk through the hallways to see what vendors are selling, such as Thirty-One gifts or Pampered Chef. Their final destination is usually the raffle table and this past semester we had well over 60 raffle items available.     Leading up to the event is very frustrating at times though. Paula and I meet months in advance to discuss what the food will be and where we will ask for raffles at. After that initial meeting we are going business to business looking for donations because we strive to make sure that we aren’t spending any money on the event, which allows all money raised to go directly to the cause.   After food is picked up and raffles are retrieved, the set up begins. The night before the big event you can find the sisters of my chapter moving tables, placing name cards and goodie bags in the classrooms of Stayer Hall in preparation for the busy morning set up ahead. When 7 a.m. arrives we are frantically getting the raffle items set up on the tables and making sure that food is placed in the correct order and drinks are being chilled.   Pictured: A room full of scrapbookers!   Once set up is complete the real event begins. This past semester we had over 110 women, the most ever to attend the event, who we had to get inside and to the right places. Once a majority of the ladies are placed at their tables the scrapbooking begins for them and down time begins for us, until lunch of course. Pictured: The Raffles available       Since we take care of providing lunch we let the women choose what they want for dinner, meaning that my sisters and myself become delivery drivers. They call out for their food and we go and pick it up, allowing the women to keep scrapbooking until they are ready to leave. And just like in the beginning of the day we pick up their items, load up their cars and tell them we will see them next semester.     The day is a lot of work for my chapter but all of the time and effort that we put into the day of operations really pays off in the long run. This past semester over $4,000 was raised for Excentia’s S. June Smith Center, the largest amount ever raised at one of our scrapbooking events. Pictured: Sisters helping out with Raffle Ticket sales   When I finally have a moment to relax, all I can do is think about how thankful I am. Without my sisters or Paula it would not be possible to raise such a large amount of money for an organization, but then I remember that I get to do it all again next semester and I am hoping to raise even more.     Alpha Love and Mine, Lexis P.S. This year's event is on September 30th in Stayer Hall at Millersville University!  Want to register to join in the fun?  Email ekserviceandgiving@gmail.com and a representative from the event will be in touch with you with all of the details.

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Greystone Manor Therapeutic Riding Center

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Like nearly every pre-teen girl in the company of a horse, the young ladies riding around the ring are smiling and making an occasional sigh or giggle.  The two girls on this breezy May afternoon at Greystone Manor are not just there to assuage their overwhelming horse obsessions- as is often the case with girls.  These young ladies are receiving equine therapy with lead instructor, Karen Weber-Zug and four volunteers. [gallery link="none" ids="1567,1568,1569,1570,1571,1572,1573,1574,1575,1576,1577,1578,1579"] It is quite a ratio, two volunteers per girl and a teacher split between them.  Both of these riders are advanced and only require a leader and one side spotter.  For beginners, there would be a side spotter on both sides of the horse.  Bringing the ratio up to three dedicated volunteers per rider plus the instructor.  That may seem like a lot of manpower for a therapy session, but everyone involved will tell you that it is absolutely worth it.   Greystone Manor Therapeutic Riding Center on Hartman Station Rd is a lovely property and was once used by local riders to board show horses that were pampered and preened for Hunter-Jumper events and Steeple Chase.  These days the horses are much more laid back and docile.  The horses that Heather Mitterer, director of GMTRC, searches for are ones that can walk, trot, and canter but can also handle lots of human contact, loud noises, and the unpredictable movements that some of the riders may make during the therapy sessions.   Providing six six-week sessions every year from February through November is no small feat for this small non-profit group.  The company charges $350 for a rider to take part in a six-week session and many of the riders continue to come back session after session.  Heather has witnessed rider after rider find a deep sense of self-confidence through the therapeutic riding sessions.  Everything from better posture and muscle control to more intangibles like wearing brighter colors or a new bold hair style begins to manifest in the students.  This sentiment was echoed by one of the young rider’s mothers, “We don’t do any other therapy at this point, it is just the riding now.”   The young ladies couldn’t contain their smiles as they walked the horses back to the stables after a brief walk around the outside grounds.  As the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services rolls out a new service for Music, Art, & Equine Assisted Therapy on July 1, 2017, it is without question one of the highlights for those with disabilities in the Commonwealth.  The Equine Therapy can be provided to individuals of any age as it is not covered by Medical Assistance.  The state would cover about $40 per one hour session, so a total of around $240 towards the $350 fees that the Greystone Manor Therapeutic Riding Center charges for the six-week session.   If you are interested in adopting a horse (cover the cost of boarding, feed, and medical care), making a donation, or attending one of the GMTRC events, please go to www.greystonemanortrc.org for more information.  Excentia has several riders who frequent Greystone and ride in the annual horse show.  Excentia hopes to get even more of the people we support involved in the Equine Therapy programs at Greystone.  Join us in our excitement and support this valuable therapy.

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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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