Thursday, October 27, 2011


Aaauuuuurrrrrggggggh! My hard-drive crashed! Three years of data disappeared in a cloud-white screen. Awwwwough  (Try to imagine the anguished sound of wailing which I have no idea how to spell).

What does this have to do with speaking and reading you might ask? It has a lot to do with communication, which entails speaking and reading. It also had a lot to do with my ability to post a blog, read my emails, and generally stay focused on life around me as I waited to hear back from our local computer repair person. He was definitely my hero when he retrieved most of my data and moved it onto my husband’s laptop. We can deal with sharing a computer now that I know all my old documents are not lost.

This experience made me think of how important it is to be able to communicate frustration. And I did - to my coworkers, my family and Chuck – the computer guy. I didn’t punch anyone, I didn’t throw things (however much I felt like it) and I didn’t kick anybody. I have seen many young children resort to those tactics when they were not able to use words to communicate their own frustrations or their wants and needs. One student wanted to play with another child but when she tried to ask, she wasn’t understood so she resorted to pulling on his sweater, trying to drag him to the swings. That didn’t go over well.  In fact, the other child viewed it as aggressive behavior and soon they were both rather aggressive. Her teacher, parents and I worked together to give her some pictures to use to communicate in a less troublesome manner. Many months have passed and now I’m pleased to see her use her words more effectively and to see her interacting with friends on the playground in socially appropriate ways.

I’m also pleased I was able to use my words regarding my computer frustrations without hurting anyone. Now, if I can just learn how to spell them!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tales from Taos

Today I was reminded how important speech and language skills are in passing along culture. School is not in session this week and for our Fall Break my husband and I are vacationing in New Mexico. This afternoon we visited the Taos Pueblo and met a man named Richard who lives there. He was born sixty-two years ago in a little room on an upper floor of a three story adobe above the shop where he was selling his silver necklaces. He told us he had spent his childhood in the pueblo and loved growing up there. I didn't see any crops nearby so I asked if they used to cultivate the land. “We had lots of crops when I was a kid,” he said and he told a story of riding a wagon filled high with grain which toppled over when they took a turn too sharply. His dad was furious and it took he and his brother a long, long time to reload the wagon. His face looked younger as he spoke and he laughed at the memory. I asked if his family and community had many stories they passed along through the generations and he shared one of his grandfather's – one that became his own. Sitting around a campfire one evening his grandfather solemnly spoke of meeting a giant up in the hills surrounding Taos. Robert hadn't believed it was real when he was a child but one day, as an adult, he met the giant himself, or one of its relatives. He was hunting alone in the hills and shot a deer. In the early hours of the morning, he heard a noise and smelled a powerful odor. He turned and saw the giant about 10 yards away. It made a horrible half-scream, half-growl and Richard froze, gun in hand. Paralyzed by fear he was unable to lift his rifle but he could speak. He called out to the giant and told it he meant no harm, had no desire to shoot it, and was only passing through the hills. The giant charged down the hill toward the deer that lay a short distance away. It didn't stop but merely reached down, lifted the deer, and flung it over its shoulder and continued running up and over the hill.

These stories added a dimension to our understanding of Taos. To the beauty of New Mexico was added a sense of the culture and history made personal. Now whenever I wear my handcrafted necklace, I'll think of the story given to us by Richard. I'll think of the hairy giant that roamed the hills above Taos. I'll also think of the stories that are passed down from one generation to the next and connect us to one another.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Tiger's Stripes

Late one afternoon I gathered paper and fabric scraps for a collage project I’d planned for the following day. Slivers of paper fell to the floor and I scrambled to clean up my mess. The next morning, one of my speech students found two long scraps I’d missed – one sliver of orange felt and a slip of black construction paper. His eyes went wide. He held them close to my face and whispered, “Did you have a tiger in your room?” The other children looked confused for a moment then their faces lit up as they saw the tiger in their imagination, the one that had lost his stripes. Their thoughts took off faster than the animal they’d imagined tearing around the room leaving two stripes behind. They all spoke at once and started scouring the room for the jaguar’s spots, after-all something must have been chasing the tiger. Their story grew with their excitement and so did the opportunity for learning.

Many of the content standards for education can be taught through stories, both those read to children and those they create themselves. When they learn to write or dictate their tales they’re learning correct sentence structures and grammatical forms. It was easy to remind the students that the tiger hadn’t “runned” through the room but he “ran”. And when students begin to create their own stories, they listen more closely to the structure of others and they begin to understand central ideas.

I didn’t throw out my lesson plans the day we found the tiger’s stripes but I was certainly able to expand on them. And the next time I find a couple slivers of paper on the floor, I doubt I’ll sweep them away without a thought. I hope I’ll think of the tiger that lost them.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tup tapes!

Yesterday, a teacher stopped me in the hall to tell me a story about one of her students. She had been working on multi-meaning words such as, “can” as in “I can do it!” or “can of beans”. When this teacher asked her students to tell different meanings of the word, “tape”, one student said it could be a video tape, another said it might be tape on a present, and the last student said, “tup tape”. When the teacher asked for clarification, she said, “you know, like tup tapes for birthday parties.”

This is another example of “fronting”. Like the student in my last post, this child moves her tongue forward when it should be moving back – and she doesn’t even hear the difference. She also uses a “d” for “g” and says, “dot” for “got” and “date” for “gate. With practice, she’ll soon be able to pronounce these words and the next time she mentions cup cakes, everyone will know exactly what she means!

One of the first steps in learning to pronounce sounds is to practice them in isolation. I wrote a story which naturally gives children an opportunity to repeat the “g” as they help tell the story. It’s also designed to teach pre-readers the letter “g”. I hope you’ll click on the YouTube link below and share the story with your child.

If you'd like to own a copy of this story in soft-cover book format, please click book cover pictured below to get more information.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Saturday musings . . .

Yesterday I had to attend a meeting that ran long and resulted in my missing a speech group. Later in the day, one of my students pressed his face between the hand railing balusters lining the ramp leading to my room and plaintively asked why I hadn’t picked him up for speech. He added, “I want to work on my ‘d’”. Of course, I knew he meant his “g” sound but his tongue always reaches forward when he attempts to say it and so it sounds like a “d”.

This speech process is called, “fronting” and when a child has this speech pattern, he’ll say things like, “dough” for “go” and “tar” for “car”. Many young children pronounce words in this way but they usually out-grow this pattern by the time they reach 3 1/2 years of age. This particular student had many other errors when he started speech in kindergarten last year. In fact, people could not understand 95% of what he said, which was very frustrating for him as well as his listeners. When people asked him to repeat he’d usually answer, “ne my” (meaning, “never mind”) and he’d turn away, discouraged. Is it any wonder he is motivated to work on speech? This young child who is full of energy and quite impulsive, is able to sit and focus when it comes to speech. Sometimes he asks for a tongue blade to hold the front of his tongue down when he tries to pronounce “g” words. I don’t know of many children who actually like a tongue blade on their tongues but this boy knows when he needs that extra assistance. 

Which brings me to a few suggestions if you happen to have a child who makes these kind of errors. Please ignore it if they are under four years of age – you can model the correct production but don’t worry about “fixing” it just yet. Once a child is four years or older, they might benefit from extra help. First your child needs to perceive the difference when he hears these sounds. I like to show pairs of pictures – pictures of objects or words that sound the same with the exception of the target sound. These are called minimal pairs. For example, you could show a picture of a green traffic light for “go” and a baker making “dough”. Have your child point to the pictures as you name them. It helps if you mix up the order so they really have to listen.  Other pairs may include: date/gate,  go/doe, guy/die, gown/down. Once your child can hear the difference consistently, help him produce a, “g” sound. Sometimes it helps children when they look in a mirror to see where their tongue is positioned. Another strategy is to tip their chin up so gravity will help their tongue move to the correct spot. You could also show them a gargling or chugging sound (g, g, g, g) as you tip your chin back. If you keep the activities playful, children are less likely to get frustrated.

It is always a good idea to consult your local speech therapist if your child has extreme difficulty with any area of communication.

Returning to the child I introduced at the beginning of today’s blog, as he stood with his face pressed through my ramp balusters, I touched his chin. He lifted it slightly and said, “g”. Then he said, “I want to go to speech.” His speech has improved substantially over the last year but there are times he is still difficult to understand. However, its been a long time since I heard him say, “ne my”. He is determined to make himself understood.