Category Archives: Pre-school


When I was a kid I had a pet hamster, that I adoringly named Grover. Unfortunately, I was not able to produce my /R/ sound, so Grover shortly became known as “Gwova.” By being teased and imitated at school, I quickly learned what other people heard when I spoke… and I was very embarrassed about my speech. Looking back years later, I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate that this teasing did not lead to bullying, but sadly not the case for most children.

It has been a goal of mine, since becoming a speech-language pathologist, to not only work on the communication difficulty itself, but to target self-esteem. Speech-language pathologists often find themselves faced with the bullying epidemic. They may work in schools, where most bullying typically occurs, or they may work outside of schools, but with students that are frequently susceptible to bullying, for example, children with communication, developmental, and/or social difficulties.

A professor from Pennsylvania State University, Gordon Blood, has done extensive research on bullying and feels that speech-language pathologists have a role in managing and reducing social bullying. Examples of social bullying are: a child not being allowed to join a game, to participate in conversation with peers, or becoming the subject of teasing or negative gossip, in turn causing children to experience emotional and/or academic difficulties. Blood says, “In all bullying, there’s intent to do harm, and a perceived power imbalance.” Speech-language pathologists are in a position where they can often have a strong role in restoring the balance of power that is disrupted in bullying. Instead of encouraging a child to ignore the problem, or pretend not to be bothered, it is recommended that professionals, such as speech-language pathologists, teachers, and parents do the following: 1) Listen to the child. Give them non-interrupted time to speak. 2) Praise the child for discussing the bullying – it can be incredibly hard for children to talk about. 3) Encourage the child to build his or her social network – one or two friends is all most children need to stick up to a bully.

Remember that the common goal for children that experience bullying is to develop their confidence enough to overcome bullying before it has negative effects on their learning and health.

Information obtained from Speech-language pathologists positioned to help victims of bullying, January 7, 2011, written by Gordon Blood, Ingrid Blood, Michael Boyle, and Gina Nalesnik from Pennsylvania State University.

Written by:
Michelle Cameron, M.H.Sc. S-LP(C)
Speech-Language Pathologist, Reg. CASLPO
The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada

Make ‘Bath Time’ ‘Language Therapy’ Time!

When life gets busy it can be hard to find time to work on your child’s early language skills BUT you can enhance your child’s communication during everyday activities that you’re already doing!  Here are some tips on how to facilitate communication during bath time.

  • Being face to face with your child is important and bath time is an easy way to ensure you’re in this position when playing and talking
  • Follow your child’s lead – talk about objects they are already interested in or are already playing with instead of trying to introduce a new toy or game
  • Wait and pause to give your child a chance to communicate
  • Use lots of single words or two word combinations (ex. Boat! Woo. Big boat!) This will help your child identify words and repeat them.
  • Use a slower rate of speech and fun intonation to catch their attention
  • Imitate the words, sounds, and actions your child makes
  • This can be a great way to teach new words:
    • Objects – hold bath toys up as you label them (ex. duck, boat, ball)
    • Action words –  say the word as you make the action (ex. make a toy SWIM, make a toy JUMP into the bath)
    •  Location words – example: the man goes IN the boat, the man goes OVER the boat, the man goes UNDER the boat
    • Sing songs and rhymes! These provide a lot of repetition and make it easier for your child to predict familiar words and to join in. After they know the song you can pause and give them a chance to participate. Example: row, row, row your _____. Your child may respond with an expectant look, a sound, an action, a word…all are ways of communicating with you. Song ideas: row your boat, Patty-cake, this little piggy etc.
    • Similarly to the songs – use simple repetitive routine games to give them a chance to participate. Example: bring a toy up while saying ‘up, up, up’ and drop it into the water as you say DOWN! Once they are used to this routine pause before you say down to give them a chance to respond and join in.
    •  Expand on your child’s utterances. For example: if they say “duck” you can say “yellow duck”!
    • Give choices – do you want the boat or the bucket? Do you want the pink towel or the yellow towel?

Have fun and enjoy your time together! Bath time is a great time to bond with your child and teach them many important language and play skills! Happy bath time!

Written by:  Carla Montgomery, speech-language pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada

Developing pre-literacy skills at home during the preschool years

The environment and daily routines in your home can be one of the best teaching tools to help children develop pre-reading skills. A print-rich environment helps foster skills needed for reading.  By surrounding your children with print in your home and talking to them about what it means, they will learn more every day.

They will begin to discover cues and understand that the words they see in print and the words they speak and hear are related. They will begin to learn that print can carry a meaning, and that therear many different ways to communicate.

A print-rich environment also ignites an interest in writing. Kids want to model what they see around them and communicate in written form. If they also see you modeling reading and writing during your daily activities, they will want to try to communicate this way too!

Ordinary household routines and activities can be used as learning experiences for kids. Below are some simple and fun ways to make your home a print-rich environment, and incorporate print into daily routines:

  • Post signs and label items in your home, such as “Kelly’s room” on your daughter’s door, or “coats” by the hooks by the back door. Draw your child’s attention to these signs as you read them.
  • Make labels together. For example, when you pack away the winter clothes, have your child put labels on each container (e.g. hats, mitts, sweaters, pants).  If your child is young, you can write the word for them and they can try to write it underneath.
  • Write a grocery list together. Have your child help you decide what you need, and then write the words down. Look at the list together in the grocery store and have your child help you cross off items as you shop.
  • Surround your child with lots of books-storybooks, non-fiction books about things like dinosaurs and insects, as well as poetry and nursery rhymes, newspapers and magazines. Create a “reading corner” in their bedroom or in the family room.
  • Point out print to your child during daily activities. For example, when you are cooking, direct your child’s attention to the recipe and read it aloud as you follow each step. You child will begin to learn that print carries meaning. You can also point out print when you are out of the home. For example, point to the stop sign and tell your child that every time you see those words on that sign you need to stop. Have them help you watch for stop signs.
  • Make growth charts together. Measure your child’s height and have him help you record the numbers. Talk about how the numbers are getting bigger as they are getting taller. You can display this chart in their bedroom where they can see it.
  • You can turn a walk into a learning activity by playing games such as pointing out all of the “S” words that you see on signs or store names, etc. You can also use a sand box for letter recognition. Writing out letters in the sand and erasing it is a great game that kids will enjoy and it’s easy to do.

When kids are in an environment that has labels, signs and charts, they will be exposed to letters, words and numbers early and make connections between the letters and the functions they serve, thus developing their pre-literacy skills. Try these suggestions in your home, and have fun!

Written by Emily Begley, Speech-Language Pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada

It’s Allergy Season: How Recurrent Ear Infections Can Affect Speech and Language Development

Allergy season is here in full force and with it comes sneezing, watery eyes and often itching throat.  Aside from these apparent symptoms, allergies can also lead to ear infections in children due to irritation in the Eustachian tube. There are very close ties associated with recurrent ear infections and delays in speech and language development.  Children who have suffered from several ear infections may have mild hearing loss making it difficult for them to hear low intensity grammatical markers such as past tense /–ed/ and third person plural /-s/, and high frequency consonant sounds such as /s/. Children learn these grammatical markers, and sound production, first by imitation which is made very difficult if they are having trouble hearing these specific sounds and markers.  It is very important to be aware of the status of your child’s hearing, even in the spring and summer, as it could be effecting their speech and language development.

Written by:  Stephanie Mathias, Speech-Language Pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada

Early vocabulary – what should I be teaching my toddler?

Often when parents think of what kind of words they would like their toddler to learn, these are some of the ones that come to mind: mama, dada, ball, bear, blanket, bottle, book, movie, car, home.

Now take a look at what types of words all of the above are.  Think way back to grade school when you learned about grammar and words classes.  How would you classify them?  They are all nouns – a person, place or thing. 

Children start saying words at around 1 year old.  Nouns are great for children at this stage of language use.  They can ask for the people and things that are most important to them. 

So what happens next?  Children begin combining words at around 2 years old.  In order to combine words, we need more than just nouns in our vocabulary.  Think about these common toddler phrases:

Mama up             (noun+preposition)

Go home             (verb+noun)

Want cookie      (verb+noun)

Bear sleeping    (noun+verb)

Baby hungry       (noun+adjective)

These all include nouns plus other kinds of words!  So when you think about teaching your toddler new words, consider some of these:

  • Verbs or action words: Actions your child may encounter often are eat, sleep, wave, read, want, and go. 
  • Prepositions or location words: in, on, up, down
  • Adjectives or descriptor words: hungry, thirsty, big, small, fast, slow

Now you may be wondering how do you teach your child.   Try something speech-language pathologists call focused stimulation.  This involves you setting up a situation where you can use a target word many times so your child gets the input on how the word is used.

Using a pretend kitchen set, pretend food or even pots and pans, try the following:

To focus on “eat”:  Prepare and eat different pretend foods.  This helps children learn lots of different names for foods and can help you focus on the word “eat” as you eat bananas, eat cake or eat sandwiches.

 To focus on “on”: Once you are done preparing your pretend feast, set the table or a picnic blanket.  Put the cups on the blanket, the plates on the table, seat yourself on a chair etc…

To focus on “hungry”: Bring more people, dolls or animals into your pretend play.  Mom is hungry, dad is hungry, bear is hungry, bear is still hungry.

Playing is a way for children to expand their vocabulary, so be imaginative and have fun!

What is a Phonological Disorder?

When a youngster is learning to speak, he or she will often have difficulty producing certain sounds and will replace those sounds with another sound.

A common example of this is the “Elmer Fudd” way of speaking, where all the /r/ sounds are replaced by /w/ sounds. There are several typical phonological processes that children use as they learn speech and language. Usually, children are completely unaware that they have mispronounced a word and may even argue that they said it correctly. Typically, as children get older, they learn to produce those difficult sounds and usually correct those errors without even realizing it. As this happens, children’s speech productions become clearer, and they becomes more intelligible (i.e., easy to understand).

When phonological processes do not disappear by a certain age; and/or the child can easily produce the omitted sound but doesn’t use it in his or her speech, the child is said to have a phonological disorder. Phonological disorders can and do affect pre-literacy skills. As a result, children with these difficulties usually have difficulty learning to read and write.

As speech therapists, we can help children with phonological difficulties in the following ways:

• We can teach the child how to make the sounds that he/she is having difficulty producing

• We can help the child become aware of his/her difficulties

 • We can work with the child and caregivers to improve pre-literacy skills.

Written by:  Claudia Correia, Speech-Language Pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada.

Premature Infants and Language Development

According to the March of Dime, 8% of infants born each year in Canada are premature. The World Health Organization’s definition of premature is an infant born before 37 weeks gestation.  Often infants who are born premature have delays in early milestones of development including speech and language. Some of these delays may be due to medical issues related to being premature or the simple fact that they need to focus on earlier growth and development after birth that would have happened before birth with a full-term infant. Wide spread understanding is that these delays and the gap between full term and pre-term infants narrows as the child grows.

Early intervention in the areas of speech and language for children who were born premature can help to narrow this developmental gap. Speech-Language pathologists can work with parents to implement strategies to increase language development, help parents to understand the stage in language development that their child may be at, what to expect and where to go from that point. As with any skill which may be delayed or difficult, early identification and intervention is key to success; and key to narrowing the developmental gap for premature infants.

Written by:  Stephanie Mathias, Speech-Language Pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada Ltd.

How can I help? Parents as the Primary Agents of Language Intervention for Young Children

When fostering communication for young children whose language skills are just emerging, parents or caregivers are often trained by speech-language pathologists as the primary agents of intervention.

Why is this?

Many of the language strategies taught to young children are easy to learn and can be incorporated into daily routines that the parent and child participate in together. For example, one early language facilitation strategy involves expanding on a child’s current vocabulary. This means that if your child says “car”, the parent will expand and respond by adding and modeling more language such as “blue car.” Strategies like this are best used during natural interactions between parents and their children, and can be easily used in routines such as during playtime, bath time, and while taking a walk.

By using these strategies on a regular basis, children will receive consistent, frequent, rich language input from their primary caregivers in their natural environments. This results in greater generalization of skills (using skills learned in many different situations). For example, if a child hears his mom model the word “dog” when he sees a dog on tv, when he is playing with his toy dog, and when he sees a dog in the park, the child begins to learn that the word “dog” can be used to refer to many different dogs, not just one specific dog.

Parents and caregivers also develop a greater understanding of language development and how to provide the best forms of play and interaction of which their child can take advantage. They can share this knowledge with other household members (e.g older sibling, grandparents) or caregivers who interact frequently with their child.

Many parents may already be using these strategies to some degree and just need some direction to use them more intentionally in their daily routines. For example, parents can be directed to use appropriate target words and properly set up the interaction to promote their child’s communication.

Setting aside time to practice these strategies with your child can result in valuable time spent with one another, and a greater understanding of your child’s communicative abilities, which can result in increased opportunities for language facilitation.

Written by: Emily Dykstra, speech-language pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada Ltd.

Help! My Toddler Isn’t Talking!

Many parents are unsure of when and if to be concerned when their toddler is not yet talking. It is important to remember that a speech-language pathologist can provide comprehensive assessments on even these little kids to help parents identify if a concern exists. Here is a list of the major speech and language milestones for young children:

• First words should be acquired by 15 months of age

• Children should begin using 2-word phrases by 24 months of age

• Children should have over 50 words by 24 months of age

Of course this list is not exhaustive but it does give parents a starting place to check-in and see how their child is doing. If a child is not meeting these milestones, there are some things that can be done at home to promote language development. These tips do not replace the need to see a speech-language pathologist.

Language stimulation tips:

• Use simple language (1-2 word phrases)

• Model words and repeat them over and over again during daily routines

• When playing with your child be face-to-face so you can see what s/he is interested in

• Use a slow rate of speech when talking with your child

• Limit the number of questions you ask

• Make interactions motivating


Written by: Carolyn Davidson, Speech-Language Pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada Ltd.

The Linguistic Abilities of Children Exposed to Alcohol Prenatally

The negative effects of alcohol on the fetus and child have been discussed since the time of Aristotle. He spoke up against prenatal drinking saying that ‘drunken women bring forth children like unto themselves, morosos (sluggish) et languido (weak)’ (Mattson and Riley, 1998). In 1973, Jones and Smith put together a complete pattern of malformations. They named these, the symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Later, the phrase Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) was coined to label children exposed to alcohol prenatally who showed mild symptoms of FAS.

FAS can affect the fetus and child in many ways. Linguistically, FAS can affect the child’s future speech and language skills. One cannot predict which skills will be affected as each case is distinct; however, studies have shown that the following areas can be disturbed: pronunciation, fluency (stuttering), auditory processing, language comprehension, story-telling and sequencing, and social communication skills.

There are many studies that review the effects of alcohol on the fetus and child. These have proven that although it is unpredictable to which extent these will be influenced, alcohol does in fact, cause speech and language difficulties in children and teens.

Written by:  Claudia Correia, Speech-Language Pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada Ltd.