Games, games and more games

Recently, more and more parents have asked me about the apps I recommend for home. While I use apps with students and find many of them helpful, I don’t really recommend them for home. I have let parents know the apps I have found to be successful, but in general, my recommendations for carryover of speech, language and communication skills are not apps.

What do I recommend for home carryover? Games, games and more games. Games target so many of the skills our children are working on: following directions, giving information, providing explanations, concept development, social interactions, turn taking, problem solving, opportunities for articulation carryover and the list goes on…Depending on the game, math skills and reading fluency could also be targeted. It’s also good quality time for the family. We have many game nights in my family. Ages range from my youngest niece, who is 9 to my mother who probably doesn’t appreciate her age being revealed. We also bring a new board game to almost every holiday. In the summer time we have “game nights” by my brother’s pool. The teenaged boys actually request these nights with the family. Here is a great list of games by the artful parent. I also strongly recommend cranium games. Some favorites in my family also include Last Word which can be scaffolded for different playing levels, Catch Phrase and What’s Yours Like? There are so many games that are great for carryover practice, it would be impossible to list them all. You probably have some in your closet right now. Go take a look.

I know not everyone loves to sit and play board games, but not all games need to be sedentary.  This Easter we launched our first Easter Games (I took first in yo-yo and jump rope, thank you very much). The games we played required establishing teams, negotiating events, keeping score and demonstrating sportsmanship (more on that later). We only had one episode of tears. You can find a list of some old fashioned games for outdoors here. It should finally be nice out this weekend so get out there and play!

Now, a little about sportsmanship. I think (my opinion), that children should participate in games to learn how to win and lose gracefully. In this day and age when everyone “earns” a trophy for participating, it seems that children have a harder time losing. I don’t have any data on hand to back that up, but if I start to track it I’m sure I could. Many children ask me if a game is a winning game or losing game, because they don’t want to play a game that they might lose. While I understand that, being a little competitive myself, I think it’s important for children to learn how to lose. How is that related to speech and language? Social communication. We have observed many a student have a very difficult time losing, to the point that they require adult assistance to pull themselves back together. This does not put one in the best light with peers, socially. The same holds true for the student who is not the most gracious winner. No one loves a ‘sore winner”. In the speech room, you are only allowed to announce “I won!” two times and the winner usually gets to clean up, all in good fun.

I’m not suggesting that games are the only way to carryover speech, language and communication but I do find them to be a powerful and motivating context to practice some of the skills we are targeting. Try setting some time aside this weekend for some family game time if you aren’t  already. I think you’ll be glad you did.

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Co-Treating with the OT

Today is Thursday, which is one of my favorite days of the work week. It’s the day I co-treat with the OT, my friend and colleague Kat Felkner. We run several types of groups together. We run traditional speech/OT type groups, class meetings and lunch groups.

We start most of our groups with a GoNoodle video. GoNoodle is a fun, web-based library of music and movement videos  We project the videos on a large screen in the classroom and students imitate the movements  As students complete the videos they move up in levels. After 10 levels, the class avatar gets a new feature, very exciting! Almost, any student can participate in some capacity. Some of the favorites with our kids include: LMNOP and Popseeko. And yes, we move with the video too!

Today I will focus on our lunch groups, AKA Kids’ Cafe. These groups tend to be very popular, if I do say so myself.  Kat and I are lucky enough to share a classroom, so we are able to run lunch groups in the treatment space. We also have some highly appealing activities which is strongly recommended, especially if you are going to ask first/second graders to give up recess. Our Wii system is popular and even the boys enjoy Just Dance.  We typically have 1-2 targeted students and then rotate peers models through. We have found it works well to have the same peers come for 3-4 weeks in a row (each group meets one time per week) to get an idea of the chemistry between the students. Everyone who has shown interest and has parent permission will have a chance to come at least once. By the end of the year, there is less rotating and the same kids come most of the time.

During Kid’s Cafe, we have the students eat together for a specific amount of time. All students are required to sit for this time. We have found this to work so kids don’t pass up on eating lunch in a rush to get to the fun activities. Of course, no one is required to eat but they do need to remain at the table. We use a few different activities during this “group” time. Currently the boys have been into knock knock jokes. We have been writing jokes on index cards for the kids and they take turns reading them to each other. We also post some fun facts on the board to spark a little conversation. Did you know a shrimp’s heart is in its head?? Curiously enough, whatever fun fact we post, no matter how obscure, the group also seems to have someone who already knew it. Hmmm. The girls have been asking to listen to music during the group time. That usually presents an opportunity to discuss preferences and dislikes.

Once the group time has ended, students are allowed to choose what they would like to do. We have different areas identified around the room. Each area is labeled with a picture and is marked open or closed.

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We have an arts and crafts area, game shelf, toy shelf, kitchen area, movement area (trampoline and scooters) and a video game area.  Sometimes, the kids want to do the same thing every time they come, so like magic we flip the smiley face around on the sign and close that area. I know, sounds cruel, but the kids really honor the signs and are almost always willing to go to another area try something else. As they exercise some flexibility, they sometimes are surprised to find themselves enjoying a new activity. They sometimes discover, somebody else might like the same things they do. Of course we use a visual time to keep track of the play time. When the timer goes off, students clean up and we return them to class.

With all of the demands on classroom teachers for minutes of educational instruction, the lunch group can be an ideal way to service children requiring social/pragmatic language. Typical peers are available, no instruction is missed from class time and no one seems to recognize it as a therapy service. It’s a win, win.

I’ll share more about the other groups we co-treat next week..