Here are the five (5) best tips for working with preschools from SLPs across the nation.
It doesn’t matter how much experience you have as an SLP, if you are thrown into a setting where you will be working with a population, that you’ve never worked with before, it is terrifying. So whether you a first year SLP or a seasoned one, I want to share with you the top five tips that will make going into this new setting less terrifying. I want you to be able to ease into this new age group with confidence.
When I say preschoolers, I am referring to the 3 and 4-year-old children on your caseload. They are still toddlers and as such you can not expect them to behave and respond like school age children. Their little bodies are not developed enough to do that, so this is what works.
TIP 1: MOVE
At this age, they can not be expected to sit still for any length of time at a table. So don’t plan for them to sit across from you and participate in structured therapy. Get on the floor with them and interact with them. You do your therapy from the floor on their level.
Do things that get them up and moving like going on a Bear Hunt (hide their task cards around the room and let them hunt for them) or other hunting games that have a seasonal theme to them like hunting for Easter Eggs. I have 2 sets of phonology cards for playing Bear Hunt and Bowling that is appropriate for this age group.
Kim Lewis has this great activity that gets them up and moving while working on S Blends
Viola Dean and Susan Berkowitz both suggest using Bubbles to get them up and moving while encouraging speech and language usage. One of their favorites is Gymboree from Amazon. (here)
There are many fun things to do with toddlers that are as simple as having them walk on pictures while producing words whether targeting phonology or stating labels and functions.
Just get moving!
TIP 2: PLAN MULTIPLE ACTIVITIES
Toddlers will not attend to one activity for very long before losing interest. Mary Cooper of Old School Speech suggests a minimum of 4 activities for a 30-minute session. I agree and would also have a couple more activities in my back pocket just in case they aren’t interested in something you planned. When you see the child losing interest, pull out the next toy or activity.
Linda Look of Looks Like Language commented that you can’t have too many activities planned. “Worse case, you’ll be ahead of the game for the next session!”
She also suggested repeating activities that elicited the most language from a previous session. Then do variations of that theme and expand the language. Pay attention to the time of year and use vocabulary and language for that season or holiday. One such activity is her Fall Speech and Language Open-Ended Activities and Games.
TIP 3: PLAY AND TOYS–CHILD DIRECTED
All kids will talk about their favorite toys, so that is what you need to do first. As Collette Tovee– Alberta Speechie says, “Find out what the child likes and use those toys.”
Susan Berkowitz says whether she is assessing a child or teaching them to use AAC she uses what they are interested in to do that. Stating it’s the only way to really get a picture of what they can communicate.
Another great toy for getting communication going is Play-Doh, whether you are assessing the child or working on getting more spoken words or longer utterances.
TIP 4: USE REPETITION
We learn things when we hear it over and over again. Back in the stone age when I first started in this field, it was called rote learning. Whether it was the alphabet or multiplication tables it was learned by rote.
Kids love repetition and as you know, if you have children of your own, they will listen to the same song, show, or book a thousand times! That a good thing when it comes to therapy with toddlers. You can be successful in therapy using repetitive refrains whether in books, songs, or finger plays.
There are many repetitive books you can use such as:
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
Pete the Cat, I Love my White Shoes
Green Eggs and Ham
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
Have you Seen my Cat?
Are You My Mother?
You should have no problem finding repetitive books, finger plays, and songs.
Erin Dunkle, Communication Blessings
, says when she worked in preschool she sang everything from the days of the week, to the months of the years, while washing hands and brushing teeth. She suggests to just sing, sing, sing!
TIP 5: EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING/HANDS-ON
This is so very important for any age group but especially preschoolers. They take in information not just by vision and hearing but by touch at this age, so hands-on learning is vital! Do lots and lots of hands-on activities.
Some great examples of hands-on activities are puzzles, puppets, felt boards, crafts, and interactive books/materials.
The queen of interactive books has to be Jenna Rayburn of Speech Room News. I think she single-handedly started the rage of interactive book creation on TpT. She has a large assortment of them and I suggest you check out that section of her TPT store
to find something fun for your students.
There are many other SLPs who have created interactive books, too, so a search for “interactive books” on TpT should yield you many choices.
Amazon, WalMart, Target, or your own kid’s toy box will provide you with many options for puzzles. Just keep them simple. I love the puzzles with the knobs on them for this age group. Since they have not developed all the fine motor skills yet, the knobs make picking up the pieces so much easier.
This is a Melissa and Doug puzzle.
All kids love to feed something whether it’s a baby or an animal. They understand eating and feeding and enjoy doing it. Collette Tovee, Alberta Speechie, has a feeding game that teaches the pronouns of he/she and the skill of categorization. It is called Feed the Chefs
And when it comes to felt manipulatives for nursery rhymes and finger play songs you can’t beat the things in my Etsy shop!
I sincerely hope I am leaving you feeling better about going into this work setting and feeling confident in what to do with these little fellows!