Friday, 25 November 2011

Basic concepts - building blocks of communication

Basic concepts - this is such a broad category!  Preschool programs do a lot of work on teaching basic concepts like numbers, letters, colors and shapes but the term 'basic concept' is used to refer to so many more vocabulary groups.  Toddlers and preschoolers have a lot of work to do to learn the words that describe positions, size, quantity, texture, comparisions, time or sequence and emotions.  These words are critical to understanding directions (eg. 'You can take the big cookie') and make it so much easier for your child to communicate clearly with you (eg. 'Mom I want to wear the yellow shirt').

Learning basic concepts seems to happen almost effortlessly for many children and it's so interesting to watch the progression.  Earlier this week, I was driving my 2-year-old daughter to her dayhome and she asked "Mom are you behind me?".  The concept of 'behind' was emerging...she knew the word and knew that it referred to a position, but she didn't yet know what position.  I explained that I was in front of her and that the stroller was behind her (in the back of our vehicle).  Just this morning, while we were taking the same drive, she stated "Mom, you're behind me" - just like that the concept was mastered.  Several months ago, my husband and I were showing our daughter different sizes of balls and asking her which one was big and which one was little.  She wasn't yet very consistent at understanding these words, but just last night while I was putting her to bed, she told me that she was a 'little honey' and I was a 'big honey.'  Yet another concept is mastered.

Pay attention to the types of words your toddler is using and how well they're able to follow directions you give them.  You may have some great examples of your own about basic concept learning, or you may find a few that your child needs help learning.  You can seize the 'teachable moments' like in my first example or find fun ways to teach these concepts clearly to your child like my second example shows.


Monday, 14 November 2011

That first smile!

With a new baby in the house, I've spent many minutes over the past week trying to coax a precious smile from my 4 week old son!  We've seen the occasional smile over the past 2 weeks, but we've had to work hard for them!  I've joked that it's easy to distinguish between that true social smile and a 'gas' smile because the 'gas' smile appears suddenly and disappears just as see the corner of baby's lips turn up briefly and drop suddenly, whereas, the social smile develops slowly (and usually takes a little tickling and encouragement from you to fully develop) and fades away just as slowly too.   

New babies usually flash their first real smile around 4 weeks of age.  This is their first true social interaction with you so it's an exciting milestone!  Once you see that first smile, it might remain evasive for several more weeks, but baby should gradually start flashing you that smile frequently...and melting your heart every time!  If your infant is not yet smiling, don't worry smiles can be easy to miss and a baby who doesn't smile a lot isn't necessarily headed for communication delays.  The next milestone to watch for is the cooing and gooing (these noises are also heart-melting!).

Enjoy those smiles when you can get them!


Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Ipad apps. to help kids learn language?

Apps. are such a buzz in most circles these days and the world of Speech-Language Pathology is no different.  I recently checked out 'Speech with Milo' which offers apps. to help kids learn about verbs (action words), prepositions (location words) and sequencing as well as an interactive storybook app.  Since I focus my attention on toddlers (and happen to have one at home to practice with) I checked out the verb and preposition apps. which can be used with kiddos as young as age 2.  My daughter sees me use my smartphone all the time and whenever she gets her hands on it, she randomly jabs at the screen, so she was very enthusiastic when I helped her use the Ipad to try these apps.  Sure enough, she quickly caught on to how to make 'Milo' move.

Both of these apps. are just $2.99.  The graphics are cute and simple and the basic idea is to provide the user with an interactive flashcard to help kids learn the concept.  Once my daughter touched Milo, he moved to help her learn the concept he was teaching (for example, he got 'in' and 'out' of the car).  Once his action was complete, I could click 'phrase' to have the concept word used in a phrase too. 

The creator provides additional ideas about how to use the app. and help teach the concepts and you're able to select words to work on or just run through the complete list.  There's a cute little interactive 'break' built-in to the activity too.

Check out this app.  online at


Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Baby Talk

I don't know how many times I've heard parents proudly proclaim that they never talk baby talk to their baby!  There's a very strong misconception amongst parents that baby talk is not a proper way to talk to a baby.  How else should we talk to our babies???

I'm not saying I'm constantly gagagoo-ing at babies.  I don't consider this baby talk because it's actually not 'talk' at all.  But when I'm interacting with babies I'm very expressive (wide eyes, big mouth, lots of smiles), I change the pitch of my voice and I slow down what I say.  What comes out of my mouth still has meaning, but the way I say it makes me more interesting to a baby, so that the baby will pay more attention.  This is such a natural way to communicate with babies that mother's in nearly every culture do it quite naturally. 

Many parents seem to be afraid of "dumbing" their communication down too much for their babies, but babies need these extra cues from adults.  It actually helps them learn language, instead of holding them back. 

When you talk to a baby, treat him like a baby, rather than a little adult.  Be sure to use correct grammar and complete sentences, but try and say less words than you would say to another adult.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Baby Sign

Baby sign is such a hot topic in parenting right now . This is only my perspective on baby sign and everyone is welcome to agree or disagree:

It's a natural fact, babies are going to begin communicating through gestures before they communicate through words.  Think about what your baby tells you when he points at something or lifts his arms to have you pick him up.  These gestures are obvious, clear and universally understood.  Babies do pick up on sign language earlier than spoken words because it's easier for them to make the motor movements with their hands and body than to coordinate their mouths for speech.  However, unless there is a reason for your baby to learn a formal sign system like American Sign Language , it is not necessary to spend money on books, videos and classess in order to learn how to teach your baby to sign.  Just pick what comes naturally.  For example, the ASL sign for 'more' is made by touching the fingertips of both hands together.  This is one sign that is very commonly known; however, I think a child's message would be equally clear if he were to to point to the palm of his hand to request 'more', which is a much more natural gesture for this request.

The argument against this strategy is that common ASL signs are known by many other people including childcare providers, so if you teach your child the formal signs, they will be understood by others as well.  I feel that if you're using natural gestures with your child, than any other adults interacting with your child will naturally understand their meaning as well. 

A child who learns language easily may learn to use gestures to communicate for a brief time as a bridge to spoken words, but should then quickly be learning to say those most important spoken words.  To me, it's not worth the effort of teaching your baby a formal sign system that will be used for just a few months, when there's a much easier alternative available.


Friday, 22 July 2011

Pronoun Progress

Until very recently, my daughter made the adorable error of saying "hold you" when she wanted us to hold her.  She just had not yet mastered correct pronoun use.  We both thought this was incredibly cute, but that did not stop the Speech-Language Pathologist in me from repeating "hold me?" each and every time she said it.  Just a few short weeks after noticing this error, we are now noticing that, more often than not, she now says "hold me" when she wants a cuddle.

Pronouns-errors are a common mistakes for preschool children to make - I often hear things like "him want a cookie" or "her is tall" - but most preschoolers easily learn the correct way to use pronouns.  Parents can help children along in this learning simply by being good models.  If you already know that your child makes mistakes, take the opportunity to emphasize your correct use.  For example, say things like "Look at that little boy, he's eating ice cream!", and when you hear your child make mistakes, simply repeat or clarify their statement.  For example, if you hear "him want a cookie too", clarify by saying "He wants a cookie too?".  Enough of these quick and easy models and your typically developing child should learn to use their pronouns correctly without much trouble at all.


Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The dreaded lisp!

The lisp is one problem that Speech-Language Pathologists have trouble agreeing on and the following is my take on lisps: 

I would be very surprised if you haven't noticed that your toddler used to, or currently does stick his tongue out of his mouth when saying the S sound.  My daughter certainly does!  Infants have a different swallow pattern than the rest of us do.  To accomodate the different feeding style (suck and swallow) an infants tongue pushes forward when he swallows, instead of moving back.  Thoughts are that a lisp in the toddler years is a remnant of the forward tongue motion of a baby's swallow.  Most toddler's grow out of a lisp without any trouble; however, there is the odd child who has a hard time getting rid of this pattern.  I go by the rule of thumb that if a child hasn't started to say a nice S sound by age 4 or 4 1/2, they're headed towards a very difficult habit to break.  I tend to offer therapy around age 4 with the hopes that a child won't enter school still talking with that pesky lisp. 

Where does the controversy come in?  On one  hand some therapists feel that a lisp at any age is not typical and will offer therapy at a younger age than I typically do, on the other hand, some therapists work with too many children to bother treating a sound that doesn't look right, but doesn't affect how clearly a child speaks. 

As children get older and more aware, lisping can affect self-esteem because of teasing and the social stigma associated with having a lisp.  For this reason, I hope that all children who want help have the opportunity to get help. 


Tuesday, 28 June 2011


When toddler's are learning to talk, it's important to encourage this skill.  As parents, we are so good at guessing what our toddlers want that often they have to do very little to get their needs met.  But when it comes to encouraging language development, waiting for communication is very important.  When you wait for communication from your toddler, you might be pleasantly surprised at what you'll hear.  Teach your child that you have an expectation that they use the words they know to ask for things, instead of getting away with a look or a point.  Also, model new and important words for your child so that they are constantly learning words that go with activities and experiences in their life.  Then of course, be sure to wait to see if your child will imitate these new words.

It's never too late to change the dynamic between you and your toddler.  There may be some confusion when you all the sudden stop responding to every point and gesture from your child and instead start modelling the words you want them to say, but waiting with a look of expectation on your face will eventually help them learn to start saying words to get their wants and needs met. 

If your child is having an especially difficult time learning to imitate you between 12 and 18 months, consider seeking out a Speech-Language Pathologist for more support.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Cook together!

Can you find a way to involve your toddler in snack or meal preparation?  Not only is this a great one-on-one activity, but it's also a fun and interactive way to introduce a variety of language concepts to your toddler. 

My daugher and I made pancakes together yesterday morning.  I'd fill up measuring cups and spoons with ingredients and she'd dump them into the bowl for me.  Then I gave her a spoon of her own so that we could both mix the batter together.  We talked about the wet ingredients, the dry ingredients and the sequence of steps to make pancakes. with the best step (eating them) being the last.

Here are a few ways to add rich language into this fun activity:
  • Use sequence words like first and last.
  • Describe the steps in simple language (eg. 'mix it', 'dump the flour') using lots of action words
  • Talk about any mess your child (or you) makes and about cleaning it up.
  • Describe the food using size words, color words, numbers and comparison words like same and different
There are lots of great sources for kid-friendly recipes.  Here is one great site I found

An added perk - cooking with your child has the advantage of encouraging more interest in the foods you're eating!


Monday, 6 June 2011

Book-sharing with toddlers

There are some very big differences between reading a book to your toddler and "sharing" a book with your toddler.  Instead of spending time reading the text, which is often too complicated for your child to understand, make the experience an interactive one.  Talk about the pictures and what you see happening in the story, use  funny voices for characters and funny expressions and sound effects to keep your child's attention.  Make sure that your child has the opportunity to take turns and interact as well, by pointing, imitating your sounds and words and even just laughing at you being silly! 

As your toddler gets older, they may become more interested in hearing the story, and there are certainly some stories that are great to read to your toddler, but always be sure that you stay focused on sharing the experience with your child, and not just reading the story without their involvement.

Here are a few of my favorite books for toddlers:
  • Mortimer by Robert Munsch - look for the simplified board book version for preschoolers.  This story has some great natural sound effects built into as well as a catchy song.
  • Moo Baa La La La by Sandra Boynton - a cute story with lots of opportunity to talk about farm animals and make sounds.
  • Hand Hand Fingers Thumb by Al Perkins - this is a fun read with fun actions to go along with the rhyme. 
  • DK Publishing Touch and Feel books - these books come in a variety of themes (animals, play time, shapes etc.) and are great for getting toddlers interested in books and talking about concepts like soft, bumpy etc.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Piece by Piece Puzzles

Puzzles are another great language activity to do with toddler's.  My favorite's are made by Melissa & Doug, check them out at  Melissa & Doug make colorful wooden puzzles that range from easy 3-piece to difficult multi-piece puzzles and they come in common themes like barn animals, shapes and transportation (these three are lying on my living room floor right now!).  Melissa & Doug products are available from a wide range of stores, but a Canadian online store that I'm loving right now is

Puzzles are great for introducing common vocabulary to your toddler, they're also great for teaching concepts like 'in' and 'out'.  Become the keeper of the pieces so that your toddler has to interact with you to get each piece and be sure to take a few turns yourself to model the words and concepts.  Aside from their communication benefits, puzzles are great for developing fine motor skills as well!

Friday, 27 May 2011

Is any activity more fun than blowing bubbles?

Blowing bubbles is my number one favorite toddler activity.  It's such a simple activity, but most toddler's go crazy for bubbles.  I've worked with more toddler's who have said 'more' as one of their first words, while we played with bubbles, than I can count!  When you break out the bubbles, language learning can happen right from the start.  I usually give children the unopened bottle of bubbles so that they can try to open it before handing it back to me for 'help'.  *Note* It's a good idea to have 2 containers of bubbles on hand because most children will shake up the container of bubbles they're given, and good luck blowing a bubble after that! 

I model the word 'open' very slowly as I open the bubbles and tell them I'm going to 'blow.'  Once you blow some bubbles, show children how to 'pop' them and model the word over and over again.  Of course once all the bubbles are gone, they're going to want 'more' so this activity can last a very long time!  When bubble play is over, put the bubbles out of your child's sight, otherwise they're likely to ask for bubbles all the time!

One warning, not all bubbles are created equal, I've test-drove many different brands and haven't yet found one that is consistently good!  Fortunately, bubbles are cheap and can be made at home as well.  If you buy a dud, just replace the bottle the next time you shop.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The joy of play dough!

Play dough is a favorite toddler activity of mine.  It's inexpensive, can be store-bought or homemade and there are so many great ways to add fun sounds and language into play dough play with your child.  Before you even begin playing, your child can choose the color they want to play with and you have the chance to model the word "open" as you get set up to play.  Be sure to grab your own lump of play dough so that you can easily model new sounds and words for your child. 

Here are a few of my favorite things to do with play dough:
  • Roll play dough into a  long snake, model the word "loooong" and make a hissing sound that your child can imitate
  • Model the words "pat pat pat" and "roll roll roll" while you play
  • Show your child how to squish the play dough with a finger and of course model this fun word
  • Roll your play dough into a ball and pretend to make it "bounce bounce bounce"
  • When it's time to clean up, roll little balls of play dough for your child and model the word "in" every time they put a ball of play dough away
There are many homemade recipes available online for play dough and I thought this website looked cute:, but I must admit that with  my busy life, I tend to buy multi-paks of colorful pre-made play dough to save time and energy.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

He's talking...but what's he saying?

Your toddler may learn to talk at a typical time, but can you understand everything they say?  I recall my daughter recently saying "Go fish Jack" over and over again, while we were driving to her dayhome one morning, only to discover that she was telling me she saw a "Garbage truck!" 

By age 2, it would be normal for you to understand only about 1/2 the things your child says and by age 3 you might only understand 75% of what they say.  In fact, it would be normal for a child not to say all speech sounds correctly until kindergarten! 
Here are some common errors for toddlers and preschoolers to make:
  • Saying only one sound in a cluster of 2 or 3 sounds (example: 'spoon' becomes 'poon')
  • Saying W for R and L (example: 'rabbit' becomes 'wabbit', 'love' becomes 'wove')
  • Saying S with their tongue between their teeth (lisping)
  • Saying F for TH (example: 'fumb' for 'thumb')
These errors would all be very normal for a child younger than age 4 to say.  After age 4, there is a much greater expectation for a child to talk clearly and therapy to work on speech sounds is common at this time. 

Of course, parents tend to understand their children better than anyone else, because they're used to their pronunciation.  But there are still those frustrating moments when you just don't know what that child is saying!  At these times, try to help your child find other ways to tell you what they want.  They can 'show' you, or say it in another way to help you understand.


Tuesday, 17 May 2011

What should toddler's understand?

Even more important than how your toddler talks, is how your toddler understands language!  That's because language understanding is the foundation for learning many skills, most importantly how to talk well.  We all understand more words than we actually say, and toddler's are no exception.  Although they may not yet say a lot of words, they should understand many.  Here are some milestones to watch for in your toddler, to show that they are learning to understand language well:
  • Around a  year, your child should show understanding of the names of important people (by looking for 'daddy' when his name is mentioned) and important objects (like 'bottle')
  • By 18 months, your toddler should be able to follow simple directions (eg. 'get your book') and might answer a simple question with a nod or shake of the head (eg. 'do you want juice?'), or possibly say  'yes' or 'no'
  • By age 2, your toddler should be following directions with two steps (eg. 'get your boots and go to the door') and understanding some difficult concepts like 'big' and 'small'
  • By age 3, your toddler may not have all the vocabulary of an adult, but they should be able to follow complex directions and answer questions without a problem.
These are just a few very basic milestones to watch for, if you any questions about your child's language understanding, feel free to send me a question!


Monday, 16 May 2011

May is Speech and Hearing Month!

During the month of May, Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists take the opportunity to raise awareness for our professions and the many people, young and old, who struggle with a communication delay and/or hearing loss.  I might be biased, but I do believe that communication is one of the most critical skills for living a satisfying life.  Communication difficulties can be caused by many things: some children are slow to learn to talk, have trouble understanding things that are said to them or have difficulty saying what the want to say clearly.  At any age, communication can be made more challenging by stuttering, hearing loss, voice disorders or a wide variety of behavioral and medical issues. 

Speech-Language Pathologists work hard to improve the quality of life for people with communication challenges and their families, and what a rewarding job this is!  Happy Speech and Hearing Month!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Toddler talk - what's normal?

When it comes to toddler's learning to talk, 'normal' can be very different from one child to another.  What most parents want to know is "Is my child doing alright?"  Here are a few handy milestones that will help you determine how your child is learning language? 
  • By their first birthday, most children say "mama" and/or "dada" meaningfully.  They may also be saying one or two other words.
  • Toddler's often learn new words very quickly between 12 and 18 months.  By 18 months, your toddler might have as many as 25 different words.  Many of these words will likely be labels for favorite things (eg. puppy, milk).
  • By age two, it's typical for toddler's to have at least 50 different words.  Instead of just using labels, your child should now have different types of words (eg. action words like 'eat', descriptive words like 'hot', and position words like 'in').  A bigger variety of words will mean your child should now begin to put two words together (eg. 'more milk', 'eat noodle')
  • Three-year-old's say the darndest things!  They now have a big vocabulary (possibly a few hundred words!) and can put words together into simple (and sometimes not-so-simple) sentences.  Although your three-year-old might be talking up a storm, it's still normal for them to make lots of grammar errors (eg. "him want a sandwich", "Is you going upstairs?").
  • By age four, children should be able to make their wants and needs known pretty easily.  Your four-year-old likely knows a few hundred words and can put together nice sentences that may still have the odd grammar error.
The above points are just a few of the most common milestones at each of the ages, if you have concerns about what your child is doing, feel free to ask me a question by email!