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5 Possible Autism Red Flags for Preschoolers

Autism spectrum disorder is a diagnosis that can affect each child differently, meaning there is not one specific trait that sets people with this diagnosis apart from others. Symptoms can rangeblog-autism-red-flags-main-landscape from mild to severe, but frequently symptoms such as problems with social interactions, difficulties with communication and repetitive/stereotypical behavior are seen with an autism diagnosis. Although symptoms vary from child to child, here is a list of 5 possible red flags of autism for preschoolers. Note: This list is not all-inclusive as symptoms vary between children.

1.) Limited Eye Contact and/or Want to be Alone

During preschool years (3-5 years old), children are exploring their environment and interacting with those around them. These interactions help them develop an understanding of the world, as well as develop important relationships with others. A red flag would be if a child has limited eye contact with peers and/or adults, especially when their name is called or during times of play/activities with others.

If a child tends to play alone, even though there are peers around to engage with, this could also be a red flag. These children could be engaging in a toy or activity with another peer nearby, but do not attempt to interact with the other peer even if the peer attempts to do so. At this age, children should start showing an interest in what their peers are doing and begin to interact with them both during organized (e.g., planned activities) and unstructured activities (e.g., free play).

2.) Delay in Speech and Language Skills and/or Repetitive Speech

Speech and language milestones are reached at different times for each child, but most, at this age, should be using four or more words in a sentence, follow three-step directions (e.g., find your chair, sit down, and wait for your friends), answer more complicated “WH” (e.g. who, what, where, etc.) questions and start to recognize letters and numbers. Red flags would be if they are unable to do the above, if familiar and/or unfamiliar people cannot understand what the child is saying and child does not ask or answer simple questions.

Repetitive speech could be defined as repeating the same words (eg., clap, clap, clap!) or phrases (e.g., How are you? How are you?) over and over which can also be known as echolalia. The repeated words might be said right away or at a later time. Most children do go through this stage, but repeating words or phrases should stop by the time they are 3.

3.) Become Upset with Minor Changes

Although many children can, at times, struggle with changes in routine, children with autism can become extremely upset when changes occur, especially unexpectedly. This may be seen during transition times between activities, clean up time, or when they are asked to do something. Some behaviors that may occur when changes in routine happen include exhibiting withdrawal, repetitive behaviors, tantrums, or even aggression.

4.) Stimming and/or Obsessive Interests

Stimming can be defined as stereotypy or self-stimulatory behavior, which can appear as repetitive body movements and/or repetitive movement of objects. Stimming can involve one or all senses, but some examples could be flapping their hands, rocking their body, spinning in circles or spinning objects. Obsessive interests could be routines or interests that the child develops that may seem unusual or unnecessary. Some example of common obsessive interests could include only wanting to talk about and play with computers, trains, historical dates or events, science, or particular TV shows, etc.

5.) Sensory Sensitivity

Children with autism may have a dysfunctional sensory system in which one or more of their senses are either over or under reactive to sensory stimulation. This sensitivity could be the cause of stimming behaviors exhibited. Some possible red flags that could be seen in preschoolers could be unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look or feel. For example, during sensory play (e.g., sand, play-doh, shaving cream, etc.) a child that does not like to get their hands dirty and would prefer to continually wipe, wash them off or avoid sensory projects all together, could be a possible red flag.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Play: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Your Child Develop Better Peer Interactions

Imagine that you go to work in the morning and spend your entire day not knowing how to navigate thePlay Skills parameters of your workplace. You’re unsure of your job description, title, and workplace culture….and no one will give you any answers. By the end of the day, you feel utterly exhausted merely as a result of attempting to navigate a world with no structure or boundaries. Now, imagine you’re a child.  This is how children with limited play skills might feel as they are expected to respond to situations for which they don’t have the skillset each time they come in contact with a peer.

Play is the single most important mechanism children utilize to learn about their universe.  Play provides a framework to explain imaginative and real events in a child’s world. It allows them to learn about independence, manners, and character, as well as build confidence and practice new skills. Yet, some children have difficulty learning how to properly navigate these interactions.

The good news? You can help.

Play at Any Age

Play skills are developed in a progression.  Although there are times in which a child may fluctuate between all levels of play, the following indicates the age-appropriate development of peer interactions.

Solitary play (ages 0-2): Child is completely captivated with play and does not seem to notice other children.

  • Learns through trial and error
  • Copies other children and adults
  • Looks at other children playing but does not join in the play
  • Likes playing with adults as well as by himself/herself

Onlooker play (2-2 ½): Child is interested in other children’s play but does not join in. He/she may ask questions.

Parallel play (2 ½- 3):   Child shares the same space with peers but doesn’t actively engage with them.

  • Begins to use symbols in his play, such as using a stick as a sword
  • Starts to show some reasoning skills… may still learn by trial and error.
  • Copies other children and adults’ behaviors and language

Associative play (3-4): Child is interested in pursuing social interactions with peers while they play.

  • Shows more reasoning skills
  • Begins to ask “why” and “how” questions
  • Plays imaginatively, for instance, dress-up

Cooperative play (4+): Children play in groups of two or more with a common goal in mind; they often adopt roles and act as a group.

  • Shows understanding and uses reason related to experience
  • Begins to understand simple rules in games
  • Plays cooperatively, taking turns

Should I Be Concerned About My Child’s Play Skills?

Typical play:

  • Spontaneous
  • Flexible: child can add onto others’ play schemas*, play story** can change throughout, child does not become distraught if a peer/parent adds their ideas
  • Creative
  • Voluntary
  • Internally Reinforcing
  • Functional
  • Age-Appropriate

Atypical or Disordered Play:

  • Ritualistic: child engages with toy in the same order/manner, every time he/she plays with toy
  • Difficulty with Generalizations: child has difficulty accepting new patterns or rules, attempts to utilize one general rule for all similar events (i.e. “I know the youngest person goes first in Sorry, so I expect that the youngest person goes first in all games.”)
  • Non-functional
  • Repetitive: child performs the same action repetitively with a toy that doesn’t suit its purpose, ie. flipping, stacking, ordering items or repeats the same phrase over & over again while engaging
  • Limited Interests: child frequently finds a way to steer play story to a few favorite interests
  • Rigid: may accept when parents and peers join his/her play schema, but only by child’s rules and with his/her interests
  • Difficulty “bouncing back” from unexpected events in play: may recoil when a peer introduces a dinosaur, for example, when child expected story to progress in a certain direction. May become upset at changes or quit altogether
  • Avoids eye contact, or eye contact may be fleeting
  • Often requires prompting for basic communication, i.e. saying hello when approached by peer
  • Often includes non-reciprocal language: response frequently does not match question
  • Difficult for child to enter into an already-developed play scheme: two peers are pretending to be firemen, third child wants to join but can only talk about/pretend to be a doctor

*Play schema: diagrammatic presentation; a structured framework or plan 

**Play story: the story that is told through the play schema

Parent How-To Guide

If your child has underdeveloped play skills, here are some ways to assist in his/her development to encourage parallel, associative, and cooperative play:

  1. Provide Opportunities
  • Allow your child time for free play with same-aged peers
    • Don’t “helicopter” parent during free play, but provide modeling if necessary
    • Provide plenty of materials to encourage imaginary play, i.e. dress-up clothes, pretend food, cash register
    • Encourage symbolic play: child engages in imaginary play with an item and calls it something else, i.e. uses a banana as a telephone
  1. Model Feelings & Behavior to Encourage Problem-Solving
  • Provide your child with words to explain feelings
    • “Jimmy, it looks like you’re sad because Sally isn’t sharing her toy with you. Let’s tell Sally how you’re feeling together.”
    • If your child is old enough, encourage him to use the words himself. “Jimmy, you can say, ‘Sally, I am sad because I want to play with that toy too.’”
    • Starting your modeling sentences with the phrase “you can say…” is a very powerful way to neutrally provide your child with the words he/she may not know how to express
  • Provide your child with options for independent problem-solving
    • “Jimmy, do you want to wait until Sally is done with the toy or ask her if she can share it with you?”
    • This allows the child to choose between 2 options and learn to find solutions independently
  1. Set Expectations. Especially if your child demonstrates rigid behavior!
  • Be sure to set expectations before engaging in task
    • “Jimmy, we are going to the playground. At the playground, I expect you to play properly with friends. That means sharing the equipment, speaking nicely, and waiting your turn.”
  1. Give Positive Reinforcement
  • Encourage proper behavior and play skills by offering both natural consequences and praise.
    • Consequence, stated before engaging in task: “Jimmy, if you don’t follow the rules we discussed at the playground, we will need to go home immediately.”
    • Praise, stated after task is completed: “Jimmy, way to go! You followed all the rules by taking your turn and speaking nicely to your new friends. I’m proud of you.”

Seek Outside Help

If your child doesn’t seem to improve with these at-home tips, seek the assistance of an occupational or developmental therapist for hands-on support for both you and your child.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

References:

  • Parten, M. (1933). Social play among preschool children. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 28, 136-147.
  • http://www.child-development-guide.com/stages-of-play-during-child-development.html
  • http://brighttots.com/teaching_playskills.html
  • http://www.erinoakkids.ca/ErinoakKids/media/EOK_Documents/Autism_Resources/Teaching-Play-Skills.pdf
  • http://childdevelopmentinfo.com/child-development/play-work-of-children/pl2/

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Social-Emotional and Behavioral Red Flags for Toddlers and Preschoolers

It might be hard to imagine what mental health concerns may look like for your toddler or preschooler. Red FlagsHowever, it is important to realize that children experience the same emotions as adults do. They experience happiness, sadness, anger, fear, loneliness and embarrassment, however, they do not always know how to express these feelings in appropriate ways, so it’s important to look for red flags. When their feelings get too big, children do not always have the words to use to express themselves, resulting in using challenging or unsafe behaviors to express these big feelings. These behaviors make learning, play and relationships at home, and in the classroom difficult and can be very distressing and frustrating for everyone involved.

Here is a list of common red flags that can help you to determine if your child needs support:

  • Separation Anxiety:
    • Extreme distress (crying, tantruming and clinging to you) when separating from you or knowing that they will be away from you.
    • The symptoms last for several months versus several days
    • The symptoms are excessive enough that it is impacting normal activities (school, friendships, and family relationships).
    • The continuation or re-occurrence of intense anxiety upon separation after the age of 4 and through the elementary school years.
  • Social Concerns:
    • Little interest in playing with other children.
    • Poor body awareness that impacts relationships with peers
    • Failure to initiate or to participate in activities
    • Difficulty making eye contact with others
  • Behavioral Problems:
    • Defiance: Failure to follow rules or listen to directions and is often argumentative with adults.
    • Overly Aggressive Behavior:
      • Temper tantrums that last more than 5 to 10 minutes.
      • Excessive anger through threats, hitting, biting, and scratching others, pulling hair, slamming/throwing objects, damaging property, and hurting others.
  • Difficulty with Transitions:
    • Difficulty focusing and listening during transitions
    • Extremely upset when having to transition from one activity to another. Before or during each transition, your child may cry excessively or have temper tantrums that last more than 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Excessive Clinginess or Attention Seeking with Adults
    • Excessive anxiety related to being around new and/or familiar people/situations.
    • Child freezes or moves towards you by approaching you backwards, sideways or hiding behind you. Your child behaves this way in most situations and no matter how you support them, they continue to avoid interacting with others.
  • Attention concerns:
    • Difficulty completing tasks and following directives on a daily basis.
    • Easily distracted and has difficulty concentrating or focusing on activities.
  • Daily Functioning Concerns:
    • Toileting: Difficulty potty training and refuses to use the toilet.
    • Eating issues: Refusing to eat, avoids different textures, or has power struggles over food
    • Sleeping problems: Difficulty falling asleep, refuses to go to sleep, has nightmares or wakes several times a night.

Children can exhibit concerns in the above areas off and on throughout their childhood. It is when these behaviors begin to impact peer and family relationships, cause isolation, interfere with learning and cause disruptions at home and in school that it is time to reach out for support.

Who can help?

  • Licensed Clinical Social workers (LCSW),
  • Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors (LCPC),
  • Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT)
  • Psychologists

Therapists will work with your child to help them to learn how to handle their big feelings and behavioral challenges. Therapists will use a variety of modalities during sessions including play, art, calming and self-regulation strategies, behavioral therapy, parent-child therapy, and parent education and support. They can also provide parent support and coaching to assist in diminishing the challenging behaviors at home. Often these professionals will collaborate with your child’s school and can provide additional support for your child within the school setting.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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Toilet Training While in Preschool? Communication is Key!

Megan Sexton, director of Creative Scholars Preschool in Chicago, shares important insights about how to approach the topic of potty training with your child’s preschool.

The toddler years are joyful, busy times of great growth for children! These are the years where children Blog-Toilet-Training-Main-Portraitare finding their sense of self, exerting their will, and discovering what effects they have on the world. With these new discoveries comes a toddler’s desire for independence driven by a desire to find a sense of control over themselves and their world. Because of this, learning self-help skills such as toilet training can be a stressful time for children and their families especially when you also consider that approaches to teaching a child to use the bathroom independently vary greatly from family to family.

When a child is enrolled in preschool and is in the process of toilet training, the potential for differences in approaches multiplies and another layer of anxiety can build up for children and families. This is where the importance of frequent and clear communication between you and your child’s teachers comes into play. In fact, this ongoing communication should begin even before the toilet training process begins! Some parents are unsure about when is the best time to begin potty training and will rely on the recommendation of a toddler teacher who has likely helped many children and their families with the toilet training process. Other parents have a clear timeline of when they would like to begin the process for their child. Whichever way works the best for you, it’s important to have those conversations with your child’s school. This helps get everyone on the same page and sets the child up for success.

What do teachers want to know?

In order to best support children and families, there are a few pieces of information that are helpful when shared with your child’s school.

  • What words does your family use when talking about body parts and elimination? If a teacher doesn’t know a family term for something, your child may become confused when the teachers use different vocabulary.
  • Does your boy sit or stand when trying to use the toilet? Some little boys find it uncomfortable to sit because they don’t like having to direct their penis down and accidentally getting their finger wet. Others don’t like to stand because they become nervous about the potential of falling forwards.
  • What signals does your child’s body give when they have to use the bathroom? Do they wiggle? Do they stand in a corner? Will they use words to let someone know they need to use the restroom?
  • How do they react when they have an accident? Let your teachers know if they get embarrassed or afraid that they will get in trouble if they have an accident.
  • How often do you want your child to try to use the toilet? Some children are able to inform teachers when they have to go, others get so involved in their play that they need reminders to try.
  • Is your child wearing pull-ups or underpants? If your child is wearing underpants, do they use pull-ups at nap?
  • Is your child nervous about anything, for example, when the toilet is flushed?
  • What can your child do independently and what do they need support with? Can they pull up their pants, but struggle with buttons or zippers?
  • How do you want soiled clothing to be handled? Do you want teachers to keep underpants that have had a poop accident or just throw them away? Do you have a dirty clothes bag you would like the soiled clothes placed in or can teachers put the clothes into a plastic grocery bag? Where do you want the soiled clothes placed to make it easy to find at dismissal time?

Make a communication plan.

Whether your child attends a half day program in which all children are picked up at the same time or they attend a full day program in which children are picked up at various points in the evening, it is important to make sure that teachers and parents are able to connect regarding your child’s day and their progress with using the restroom during the day. Maybe your child has the same teachers the entire day or maybe they have a different set of teachers in the afternoon than they do in the morning. How do you make sure that everyone is on the same page?

Some ideas to help maintain this two-way communication, in addition to face-to-face conversations, include:

  • Keeping a notebook in your child’s cubby where each teacher and parent can write notes including how many times your child tried to use the toilet, how many times they were successful, and any notes regarding soiled clothes or questions.
  • Having a toilet use log with times across the top in which teachers and parents make check marks under the times the child tried and went to the restroom.
  • Sending the teachers a follow up email at the end of the day asking how things went.

When parents and teachers work together and have clear communication, the stress of toilet training can be greatly reduced; everyone ends up working together to help the children feel successful and proud of their latest accomplishment!

Megan-Sexton-1Megan Sexton has a master’s degree in child development from the Erikson Institute. She has taught children aged toddler through first grade and is currently the director at Creative Scholars Preschool. Megan believes in the power of play, inquiry, and relationships in shaping a child’s early years.

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How Teachers Can Help a Child With Tourettes

When you look at someone with Tourettes, all you see or hear are the tics. You don’t see the constant struggle, the constant commotion that is going on inside the person’s body. Although it might be easy to assume that when a person is not ticcing, they are okay or calm or not experiencing anything related to Tourettes, more often than not, that assumption would be entirely incorrect.

Here are a few tips on how teachers can help a child with Tourettestourettesteachermain

  1. Trust that if the person did not have an urge to tic, they would not be doing the tic. Know that although there might be some level of control for some kids some of the time, it is difficult to control and takes an inordinate amount of energy. The consequence of “not-ticcing” is often delayed tic-bursts, decreased concentration, lost instructional time and/or social time, and muscle soreness.  The consequence of ticcing is often embarrassment, shame, isolation, muscle soreness, decreased concentration, loss of instructional and/or social time.
  2. Ignore the tics. Don’t worry what the other kids will think or if they will become distracted. Be the role model. Keep on and so will the kids. They will get used to the noises just like you would get used to hearing the sound of a fire truck if you lived near a station or the smell of baked goods if you worked in a bakery.  If the noises bother you, just remember they bother the child a whole lot more…and he can’t walk away from himself.
  3. Remember that, as bad as the tics can be, they are usually just the tip of the iceberg. The common Tourette Syndorome (TS) co-morbid conditions are OCD, ADHD and Learning Disabilities.  Your student is battling, not only a body out of control, but some major disabilities that even adults have difficulty living with.  Remember this is a real, neurological disorder that the child did not ask for and does not want.
  4. Learn as much as you can about the disorder(s) and the child. Just because you knew one kid with Tourettes in the past does not mean that you know anything about the current student. Listen to the parents. Contact the child’s private clinicians. Ask questions. Above all, if the adults in the child’s life feel it is appropriate, talk to the child!  Let him know you are trying to understand, that you will do your best to protect him from the bullies, and that you care.  Let him know it’s okay to tic if he needs to and come up with safe places if he needs to leave the room.
  5. Does your student have behavioral issues? It’s possible that things you think are “bad behaviors” are manifestations of Tourettes. The shouting out? Tourettes. Doing what the teacher says NOT to do?  TS is a disorder of disinhibition. If the child hears “Don’t run” he will most likely feel compelled to run. If he knows he shouldn’t be saying certain words or doing certain things, the premonitory urge will center around those words or those actions and it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for him to control the urge.
  6. Work with administrators to schedule a teacher in-service for all the adults working with the child, including the related arts teachers, lunch monitors and bus drivers. TS does not go away when the child leaves your room. Children with TS need to know that there are in a safe place with understanding adults who will support them.
  7. With parent permission, set up a peer in-service. Have someone who is knowledgeable about TS speak to the students. There are organizations that have teens, young adults and adults who can provide this service.  This will help all the children, including the one with TS, feel less fearful and more comfortable with each other.

Click here for more information on what it’s like to live with Tourettes.

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About the Author: Shari was the 3rd person in IL to be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome (1976). Her parents co-founded the IL TS chapter along with several others, including Joe Bliss. In 1978, while at a board meeting in her parent’s home, Mr. Bliss told Shari about his theory of premonitory urges and provided some tips and tricks on how to control the tics. It was the first time Shari felt “understood” and attributes much of her success to Mr. Bliss and his strategies. She co-founded the Illinois Tourette Resource Network in 2014 and is honored that she can continue the legacy of providing TS support to the Illinois community.

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An Age by Age Guide on How to Talk to Children About the Paris Attacks

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The Best Way To Read With Preschoolers

Reading is widely recognized as the ultimate language activity. Through reading a child encounters new vocabulary and language concepts. Not only does reading out loud with your preschoolers have positive benefits for their academic success, but it is a great way to build relationships with your child as well as help him or her develop a passion for reading.

Here are some suggestions to make reading with your preschooler a positive experience:

  1. Be enthusiastic! Children will follow your lead – if you are excited about the story they will beThe Best Way To Read With Your Preschooler too! Add your own emotion and twists into the pages of the book. Children love silly voices and it will only add to the enjoyment and entertainment of the book.
  2. Get the child involved in reading. Have children interact with the books; he or she can hold the book, turn the pages or point along with the words. Allowing the child to have a role in the reading experience will reinforce pre-reading skills, such as book orientation, reading progression from left to right and the significance of written word.
  3. Ask open-ended questions. Books are not only meant to be a receptive language activity, but also an expressive language task. Asking open-ended questions will help the child interact more with the story. Open-ended questions are unique in that it allows children to generate their own thoughts and answers. For example, “what do you think will happen?” or “how is he feeling?”. Try to stay away from yes-no questions or questions with one word answers.
  4. Do carry-over activities. The story within the book doesn’t have to end when the book is done. Have the child draw a picture of their favorite character or you can even act out his or her favorite scene. Your child could also retell the story in his or her own words. These activities will continue to reinforce the child’s love for reading as well as any concepts/vocabulary that he interacted with during the story line.

Here are some suggestions for books to read out loud with your preschooler:

  1. Pete the Cat books
  2. The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
  3. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr.
  4. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
  5. Corduroy by Don Freeman
  6. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Click here for more tips on how to sneak in reading practice.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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Let’s Play! Board Games for Preschoolers

Just as children age and develop their speech and language skills, the board games they play will also continue to progress and increase in complexity. Board games that are appropriate for preschoolers therefore provide additional speech and language targets that were not available in early board games.

In early board games, the most common concepts that are emphasized are basic colors and numbers. However, in age-appropriate games for toddlers, main concepts will be more advanced – focusing on advanced colors, counting, shapes, and vocabulary. Likewise, game sequences will be more complex, requiring additional steps, and increased attention and frustration tolerance. For example, there may be a memory component within the game sequence or several options on which a player could act upon. Read on for my favorite board games for preschoolers and communication targets within each game.

Best board games for preschoolers and potential communication targets within each game:

  1.  Zingo – Zingo is one of the most popular games among my preschool and elementary clients. Zingo provides a multitude of opportunities to target a variety of speech and language skills. As zingowith any game, children can practice peer interactions – turn taking and asking questions (e.g., “Do you need a cat?”). Due to the variety of picture chips, children can work to increase their vocabulary and semantic networks, labeling pictures or answering WH- (what, where, when, who) questions regarding each picture (e.g., “What says woof?” or “Where do you live?”). Children can also work on following two step directions (e.g., “First put on the tree, then put on bird”)
  2.  Candy Land – Candy Land is a great next step when increasing the complexity of a game’s play sequence from early board games. Rather than just moving one space forward, a child has to findcandyland the next available corresponding color. The complexity increases if a child draws a double card or a specific land card. Candy Land also requires color identification skills, turn taking abilities and frustration tolerance as a player can move backwards and forwards.
  3. S’Match – S’Match offers a spin on your traditional memory game. A player spins the game board, identifying one of three categories: shape, number or color. The player then has to find 2 cards thatsmatch share the chosen characteristic. This game challenges a child’s ability to identify and distinguish between the three attributes (shape, number, color), finding cards that are the same or different. Players will exercise their memory skills as they try to find matches.
  4.  Sandwich Stacking Game – The Sandwich Stacking Game has the ability to be played in a variety of ways, allowing for flexibility in how it is used. Vocabulary can be targeted through board games for preschoolersidentifying the various food items or a child’s sequencing skills (i.e., having the child follow the picture card instructions to build a sandwich). This game is also perfect to target a child’s direction following game (e.g., “First get the piece of bread”, “Before you get the tomato, put on the lettuce). Providing directions verbally will also exercise a child’s auditory memory in a fun way.

NSPT offers speech and language services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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The Transition from Preschool to Kindergarten: What Every Parent Should Know

The transition form preschool to Kindergarten is one of the first big steps a young child takes in his academic career.

As a parent, you may be wondering what the main differences are between the preschoolThe Transition from Preschool to Kindergarten and kindergarten setting and how to best equip your child for these changes. Although the change in environment reflects just a chronological year of advancement, the expectations are vastly different.

What to Expect in Preschool:

  • Children are able to expand their play to incorporate peers and develop the skills necessary to gain a greater sense of self and those around them. This might be the first time children are expected to engage with peers, follow directions, and adhere to structure.
  • Offers more play-based interventions and structured unstructured time (free play, art time where the child can choose what they want do).
  • Children learn to focus, share, take turns, and listen while others speak.
  • Language and cognitive skills emerge and strengthen.

What to Expect in Kindergarten:

  • The expectation is that the child can endure increased structure and will be able to write, utilize proper pencil grip, and engage in rote counting.
  • There is an emphasis on increased child independence as the student becomes more responsible over his choices.
  • Children are expected to implement peer problem-solving to avoid tattling and to enhance conflict resolution strategies.
  • Implementation of self-help and self-advocacy skills are expected.
  • In some cases, the length of the school day is longer.

To prepare your child for Kindergarten, utilize these strategies to create a smooth transition:

  • Explore new activities as a family to help your child adjust to change. This will help him to be okay with experiencing the unknown.
  • Read to your child for 20 minutes a day to foster listening and focusing skills.
  • Use consistent routines and disciplinary methods to get the child familiar with the fixed systems in the school setting (i.e. understand expectations and how to modify behavior).
  • Teach child independence through child-friendly clothing (pick out clothes), toileting independence, and setting the expectation that the child will put away toys and coats regularly.


Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

10 expressive language activities

10 Activities to Develop Expressive Language

“I wish I could help my child talk more”. Well… You can! Expressive language can be elicited in a number of different ways. Most of the toys or activities you already have in your home can help your child begin to talk more and practice expressive language skills.

10 Expressive Language Activities:

  1. Books: Books are a great way to elicit expressive language in children. The important thing to remember10 Expressive Language Activities when reading books with your child is to ask OPEN ENDED questions. This takes some practice but the best way to help children talk more is to ask them a question where they generate their own answers. For example, “what is she doing?” “How is he feeling?” “What’s happening in this picture?”. These are open ended questions versus yes or no questions or questions with one word answers.
  2. Wordless books: Wordless books are great for younger children who are working on developing expressive language skills. With younger children, you can ask them direct questions like, “What is this?” or “What color is this?”. You can expand upon your child’s answers by saying things like, “You’re right; that’s a cat. He’s a black cat”. This will help model language and provide good input as well as working on output.
  3. Pretend play: Pretend play can target higher level expressive language skills. When pretending or building a scenario, your child is working on storytelling and sequencing activities. Always ask your child open ended questions when engaging in pretend play. This allows them to create the scenario and path as opposed to limiting their language with a single word answer. Some examples of questions are, “What should happen next?” or “Where should we go? Who should come with us?”.
  4. Cooking: Cooking is a great way to target expressive language through sequencing. Have your child narrate the steps of your recipe. This can be done by having her look over all the ingredients (either by reading words or by naming what she sees in front of her). Then, you can ask them to monitor and narrate what you have done, what you are doing, and what you still need to do.
  5. Playdough: Playdough can be used to build scenery, animals, food or any number of creations. Allow your child to express what she wants to create or what she wants you to build. Cookie cutters or other molds can help aid children if they are having trouble utilizing their imagination to build with playdough. This is a great opportunity to have your child request more or different playdough by using an, “I want….” Or an “I need…” phrase.
  6. Toy animals: Toy animals can be used similarly to pretend play. Again, be sure to ask open ended questions. This is also another opportunity to have your child utilize “I want…” or “I need…” phrases. Ask your child to narrate or express what the animals are/should be doing.
  7. Train sets/cars: Cars and trains can be used in a similar manner that toy animals would be used. Cars or trains sometimes come with tracks or ramps. If you don’t have ramps, you can improvise by using a table or another piece of furniture. You can utilize these tracks or ramps to have your child verbalize “go again” or “go up/down” or “ready…set…go”.
  8. Dress up: Dress up can be incorporated into pretend play or an entire activity in itself. You can have your child express what they want to wear or what they want you to wear. Ask them open ended or imaginative questions such as, “where should we go now that we’re all dressed up?” or “who are we?”.
  9. Play food: Your child can pretend they are cooking and/or serving you food. Have them ask you what you’d like to eat, or express to you what they are cooking, how they are cooking it, and who they are serving. You can also use a puppet with pretend food with the younger children. Have the children feed the puppet and tell it, “Eat banana” or “eat the apple puppet”. You can engage them by pretending to either enjoy or dislike the food in an exaggerated manner. Have them say whether they thought the puppet enjoyed the food or did not like it.
  10. Bubbles: Bubbles are a great tool to use with younger children. Blow bubbles and then pause. Ask your children to say, “More bubbles!” or “My turn.” if they are old enough to blow the bubbles themselves.

When targeting expressive language through activities or toys, always remember the following points:

  • Use open ended questions
  • Always have your child request an item before just handing it to them
  • Have your child request another turn
  • Have your child narrate what they are doing or what they want you to do

With these tips you can turn any toy or activity into an expressive language task!

Click here to read about milestones for expressive language development and red flags for an expressive language delay.