5 Tips for Playtime



As adults, we sometimes forget what it was like to be a kid.  It’s important to spend time playing with your child.  Some of us may need some guidance in how to “play.”  Here are 5 tips for playtime with your child:

1.  Be silly.  Don’t be afraid to make funny faces or act goofy.  Your child will love it and you’ll probably hear some laughs and giggles.

2.  Follow their lead.  Most children will make choices and show you what they want to play.  If they want to play cars, play cars.  If they want to play blocks, start building a tower.  Following their lead will show them that you care about them and their interests.

3.  Get down on their level.  If you are physically able to, sit on the floor with your child.  If you can’t get on the floor, then adapt your play to the table or couch. Children will play everywhere and anywhere, but it’s important to be able to be on their eye level and be truly engaged with them.

4.  Talk about what you and your child are doing.  While playing, there is a lot of language stimulation happening.  Don’t forget to talk and use language while playing.  Each toy and activity has its own vocabulary words.  For example, think about how many words are used while playing blocks.  Words like “on top, block, fall down, uh-oh, so big, big tower, big block, little block, etc.”  You are using a lot descriptive words and building your child’s language skills.

5.  Take turns.  It’s important for kids to play with others.  This builds social skills and peer interactions.  While playing, use words like “my turn, your turn” and “may I play?” to assist your child when they play with others.

Take some time to play with your child.  You both will benefit from playing together.  They will learn so much from you.  You will not only learn about what a cool kid you have, but you will be reinforcing and establishing a positive relationship with them – one they’ll remember well beyond their childhood years. Oh – and don’t forget to have fun!

Now It’s Your Turn:  What’s your favorite game or toy to play with your child?

How to Make and Use a “First and Then” Visual Board


Written By:  Elizabeth McMahon, MA, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Visual boards are a great way to help children learn and complete targeted activities.  Sometimes, children may need to have a visual board to help them understand “first we do this” and “then we do that.”  For example, in the picture above, “first we string beads” and “then we play ball.”   There are some apps available that work on visual boards, but I find that children have responded better to using objects and picture cards that are more concrete and hands-on.  Here are some easy ways to make and use a “first and then” visual board.

  1. Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper or cardstock.  Then, laminate it.  I like to use cardstock because it’s a little sturdier and doesn’t bend as easily.   You can find a basic laminator at any craft store.  I found one at Costco and it works really well.  If you don’t have a laminator, you could use contact paper.  Contact paper can be found at stores like Wal-Mart or Target and is usually in the kitchen liner section.
  2. Place a square of Velcro on each side of the line on the laminated cardstock.   This is your visual board.
  3. Find pictures to use as the activity you are requiring them to complete and then those you are using as a reinforcing object.  This is something that your child will work for.  What do they like?  What’s their favorite toy, food or activity?  You can find pictures online or take a picture of the object with your camera.  If your child is working with a speech pathologist, they may have the computer program called Boardmaker and can print some pictures for you.
  4. Laminate the pictures and add Velcro to the back.
  5. Introduce the “first and then” board to your child.
    • Provide your child a few objects and find out which one is motivating to them.  Then, place that picture on the right hand side of the board (e.g. ball).
    • Place a picture of the targeted activity on the left hand side of the board (e.g. stringing beads).
    • Tell your child “first we string beads and then we play ball.”  Show them the visual board and point to each picture as you give this instruction.
    • Provide the activity on the left (e.g. stringing beads).
    • Once this activity is completed, tell them, “all done stringing beads” and have your child take the picture off the board.
    • Then say, “now it’s time for ball” and immediately give them the desired object and let them play with it for a few minutes.

The “first and then” visual board can be used throughout the day at home, during therapy sessions and in the classroom.  You will need to change the desired object in order to have something motivating for your child.

Now It’s Your Turn:  Have you used a “first and then” visual board with your child?  How did it go?


5 Ways to Help Make a Trip to the Dentist a Positive Experience


Photo Courtesy:  ClipArt

A trip to the dentist can be an uncomfortable experience for many people.  For children, a visit to the dentist can be scary.  Here are 5 ways you can make a trip to the dentist a positive experience in order to establish good oral health habits.

1.  Find a dentist with pediatric experience.  Working with adults is not the same as working with children and working with children with special needs can be different than working with other children.  Ask your pediatrician for a referral to a pediatric dentist.  Or, if you have a local parent group or play group, ask other families for recommendations.  Some dentists have extra credentials and training for working with children with anxiety or behavioral needs.  Do your research and find someone recommended by other families and professionals.

2.  Ask for a tour and a “meet and greet” before your child’s first appointment.  Some dental offices will give you and your child a tour of the office before your child’s first visit.  During the tour, ask if your child can see the room, sit in the chair, look at the instruments, meet the dentist, etc.  Taking a tour of the office and meeting the dental office staff before their first appointment may help ease your child’s anxiety.

3.  Schedule your child’s appointment when they’re not busy.   Many children have difficulty waiting.  Schedule your child’s appointment during a slow time at the office in order to decrease the amount of time your child has to wait.

4.  Complete the paperwork and provide information to the dental staff before the first visit.  Be prepared to share information about your child’s medical history, , special needs and/or behavior or sensory issues.  Discuss any problems with chewing, gum or tooth pain, toothbrushing, etc.  Also, provide information about your child’s diet, allergies and medications.

5.  Praise and use positive reinforcement with your child.  Ask the dental staff if your child can bring a comfort item with them during the appointment.  A lovey, blanket, toy or favorite music may help keep them calm and decrease their anxiety during the visit.  After the appointment, praise your child for how well they did and offer reinforcers as needed.  Some children may benefit from a “first and then” visual board.

It’s important to establish good oral health habits early in life.  Depending on your child’s specific medical needs, there may be additional dental visits and procedures.  For more information about working with your child’s dentist, please check out the Oral Health for Families with Special Needs Booklet.

Cues to Learning

Therapists and teachers implement a variety of strategies and techniques to help children learn.  You may be using these techniques already and not even know it. Here are a few ways you can cue your child to help them learn new skills:

Physical Cues:  These cues are provided when the adult physically assists the child to complete a task.  There is a range of physical cues from indirect to direct:

  1. Pointing (indirect) – We see this cue when the adult points to where the child needs to go or points to redirect the child’s attention back to the task at hand.
  2. Physical Gestures (indirect) – These cues are used when an adult touches the child’s arm or hand to remind them to complete an activity.  Or, when the adult nods or taps on a toy to redirect their attention.
  3. Physical Assistance (direct) – This occurs with the therapist provides direct physical assistance to move the child to complete an activity.  This includes hand-over-hand assistance to pick up objects, put a puzzle piece on a puzzle, etc.

Visual Cues:  These cues are provided when the adult provides a visual (pictures, signs, symbols, etc) to alert the child on how to respond.   Examples of visual cues would be using signs to tell a child to “stop,” using a visual schedule to assist the child with completing an activity, using a visual board for “first” and “then,” etc.

Verbal Cues:
  These cues occur when the adult provides information verbally and directly to the child.  Examples would include specific instructions about a task (e.g. “put the block in”), how to produce a specific speech sounds, information about a person, place or thing, etc.

You might see your child’s therapists combining these cues together to help you child learn a new skill. The most important thing to remember is to be patient.  Children learn at different rates. What one child does at 18 months of age, another child will do at 24 months.  If you have concerns about your child’s development, please talk to your child’s pediatrician and/or therapist.


Now It’s Your Turn:  What new skills has your child learned lately?