Friday, November 4, 2016

15 Great Thanksgiving Books for Speech & Language

Hi, Friends!

Even thought I'm starting to see Christmas decorations in all the stores, there's a holiday between Halloween and Christmas that I don't like to forget: Thanksgiving!

I love teaching about the first Thanksgiving in therapy, as well as discussing with my students what they are thankful for. It helps me get to know them on a more personal level while we're working on our speech and language goals.

You all know how much I love books, and my Thanksgiving book collection grows every year. Here's my list of my top 15 favorite books to use during Thanksgiving! I linked to any corresponding book companions I have as well!

1. Turkey Trouble, by Wendi Silvano

2. Thanks for Thanksgiving, by Julie Markes
3. I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie, by Alison Jackson
4. Bear Says Thanks, by Karma Wilson & Jane Chapman

5. There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Turkey, by Lucille Colandro
6. The Night Before Thanksgiving, by Natasha Wing
7. The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks, by Jan & Mike Berenstain
8. T is for Turkey, by Tanya Lee Stone
9. From Seed to Pumpkin, by Wendy Pfeffer

10. The Very First Thanksgiving Day, by Rhonda Gowler Greene
11. One Little, Two Little, Three Little Pilgrims, by B.G. Hennessy
12. Ten Fat Turkeys, by Tony Johnston
13. Amelia Bedelia Talks Turkey, by Herman Parish
14. The Biggest Pumpkin Ever, by Steven Kroll
15. Just a Special Thanksgiving, by Mercer Mayer

Do you use any of these in therapy? Are there any great ones I missed? I'd love to hear your suggestions!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Kwik Stix {A Product Review}

Happy Monday, friends!

I'm back today to review one of my favorite products EVER from The Pencil Grip, Inc! The Pencil Grip, Inc. produces several great pencil grips, including their 3-Step Grip Development Training Kit., as well as other items that are great for therapists (and moms!), like Kwik Stix! Kwik Stix is actual tempera paint in tubes similar to glue sticks. No water is required, the paint goes on smoothly, and it dries in less than 90 seconds! As a result, there's virtually NO MESS!

Quick Disclaimer: A set of Kwik Stix was provided in exchange for my honest review. The opinions below are all mine. An Amazon Affiliate link is also included in this post. 

I LOVE crafting with my kids at school and my little girl at home. But I. HATE. MESS. From time to time, I manage to be one of those really cool moms that can throw all caution to the wind and let the kids go crazy and have fun with whatever and worry about the mess later. But most of the time, that's just not me. I need order. I need cleanliness. I need organization. And that's why my newfound obsession is Kwik Stix Paint!

I was given a sample stick of Kwik Stix at a conference over the summer. When I got home, I tried it out, and could not believe how easily and smoothly it painted on the paper and how quickly it dried! In less than 30 seconds, I was able to brush my hand over the paint with absolutely no paint rubbing off on my hands. For a therapist who sees kids in 30-minute increments, quick-drying paint is a major positive. Now my kids can finish their crafts and take them with them when they go. No more craft-delivering all over the school for me!

After trying out the sample, I knew I needed an entire set! This is a 12 pack set, but they also come in Neon colors, Metallic colors, a 24 pack, and a 96 piece class set. You can also order thinner paint stix as well!

As you can see below, my students LOVED them. They worked great on paper, cardboard, paper plates, cardstock, and construction paper! Days later, the colors had not faded at all! 

You can order the Kwik Stix 12 pack set AND see other products available by clicking the links below! PLUS, use the code: YOUWIN15 for 15% off your total online purchase! (Offer good through 5/27/2017). 

You can also order Kwik Stix on Amazon!

Be sure to follow The Pencil Grip, Inc. on FACEBOOK and PINTEREST as well! 

What do you think? Have you ever seen or used Kwik Stix? These are most definitely topping my little one's Christmas list this year! I need sets for school AND home! 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Odd One Out {An App Review}

Hi friends!

I'm back today to tell you about a new, simple app I've been using with my pre-schoolers! Many of my little ones have goals for sorting objects, identifying categories, identifying objects that don't belong, and/or understanding object function. Therapy Box, an app developer specializing in apps for people with communication, physical, and cognitive difficulties, reached out about me reviewing one of their apps, and I chose an app called Odd One Out to try out with my littles! Disclaimer: This app was provided to me in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed below are all mine.

When you first open the app, you can press the green button in the top left corner to change settings, learn more about the app, and learn about the Therapy Box team. 

You can alter settings, such as choosing the location where the character, Dubdub, fishes from, choosing the difficulty level (easy, medium, hard), and choosing how many words are given (3 or 6), as seen in the screenshots below. If you click on "Display," you can also choose whether only a picture is displayed, only a word, or a word and a picture.

Dubdub can fish from the beach, the boat, the dock, and more!

I choose the difficulty level and the amount of fish based on the ability level of my students. (Currently, most of my little pre-schoolers are doing 3 fish on the easy level!)

Below is an example of 3 fish on the medium level. Students simply tap the fish showing the item that does not belong (the "Odd One Out.") 

When they make the right selection, the fish changes color with a smile on his face.

When they make an incorrect choice, the selected fish changes colors and has a frown.

Below is an example of 6 fish on the hard level.

Each "round" consists of 20 trials. After 20 trials are completed, a short video is shown of Dubdub doing some kind of activity (dancing, flying an airplane, etc.) as a visual reinforcer. You can skip over these by tapping in the upper right corner, or you can turn this reinforcer off altogether in the settings menu.

Following the short video (less than 10 seconds), you are given the student's data and accuracy percentage. It shows you specifically which prompts they missed, and this data can be emailed to you or a parent.

Overall, this app is very simple to use and great for little ones working on identifying items that don't belong, object function, categorizing, and more. I love that it keeps data for you and gives you an option to email the data to yourself. I also like the visuals, as they are bright and engaging for my little ones. I would love to see an update that allows you to enter student names and saves student data across sessions. I would also love to be able to keep track of more than one student at a time, especially for those students I see in small groups.

Odd One Out sells in the iTunes app store for $1.99, and it's most definitely worth it!

Therapy Box has many other apps for both the iPhone and iPad!

Have you used Odd One Out in therapy? I'd love to hear what you think!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Mainstreet Memory {An App Review}

Hey friends!

I'm back today with an app review for Main Street Memory, an awesome app by Virtual Speech Center! Disclaimer: A copy of this app was provided for me to review; however, the opinions expressed below are all mine.

Main Street Memory is a great app designed to assist children and adults in strengthening skills required for auditory processing and recalling auditory instructions. The app is set in a downtown/Main Street setting, with three different stores to choose from. This theme makes the game feel a little more realistic, and helps students (and/or adults) understand why being able to recall auditory instructions is so important!

When you first enter the app, you'll see the screen pictured below. From here, you can learn more info on the app, adjust settings, and view reports. Or, you can click the START button to begin.

The Info page is a great way to learn how to use the app, and get additional help if you need it.

From the Settings page, you can adjust settings such as turning audio on and off, enabling reward, adding background noise, and others.

When you click START to begin, you are taken to a page to add and select students and choose the shop you'd like to use. Once you select which student(s) you'd like, as well as which store you wish to use, you can then make more specific selections for each student. I LOVE that you can choose several students to play at once and modify the specific selections for each student. For instance, one student can be working on 1-step directions, while another student works on 3 step directions. I've used this app in a group of 6 before, but you can use it for even more!

After you choose your students and the specific store, you can make additional selections for each student. For instance, for the Sweet Shop and Jewelry Store, you can choose how many items and modifiers you want to use, as well as add in temporal directions. For the Pizza Parlor, you can choose how many pizza toppings you'd like the students to work with. 

Below is a screenshot from Pia's Pizza. Users are given an order to complete, such as "I'll take a cookie and pretzel, please." Then the students drag the correct items to the bottom of the screen to complete the order correctly. If they need to hear the order again, they can tap the green speaker at the bottom of the page. 

Below, you can see a screenshot from Jin's Jewels. The user is prompted with an order, such as "I'll take a yellow bead with flowers and a green bead with blue triangles, please." The orders get progressively harder, and the user can't start fulfilling the order into the entire direction is given.

Here, you can see a screenshot of the Sweet Shop. Users are provided with an order that they must fill, such as "May I have an orange cupcake and red Popsicle, please?"

After 5 responses are recorded, users earn a game as a reward. You can choose to play the game then, or skip it by tapping the buttons in the upper corners.

The game is similar to Pac-man. My students love it!

At the end of the session, you get a Session Report. This tells you the data for each user. You can print the data, save it, or email it to yourself or a parent! This makes keeping data for everyone a breeze (especially during larger groups!)

By going back to Reports from the home-screen, you can pull up reports from each session on each user!

I currently have several students that are struggling with auditory processing and memory. This app is highly motivating for them, and has been an effective way of strengthening these skills. I especially like the fact that you can add background noise. You can choose between static noise, people talking, or birds chirping. This is especially effective for some of my students who do well one-on-one, but struggle in the classroom with the added distractions and noise. Overall, I love this app, and use it often! 

You can learn more about Main Street Memory and/or purchase it through iTunes by clicking HERE. This app is available for only $14.99! Be sure to check out Virtual Speech Center's website HERE to learn more about other apps they have available!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

10 Organizational Tips for SLPs

Hey, friends!

I hope your weekend was filled with just the right balance of productivity and relaxation!

The question I probably get asked the most is how I find time for everything. And I'm going to answer that question today. The answer is.....drum roll.....I don't. Whew. I said it. That was a difficult admission for a type A "do-er" like myself!

The truth is, no one has time for everything. But it is true that some people are, by nature, extremely efficient. I happen to love efficiency. Scratching things off my To-Do list right and left is just the best feeling ever! I also love organization, which is a good thing, because organization and efficiency go hand-in-hand. Of course, it also helps that I love my career, which makes work not feel like work (most days!)

Being a working wife and mom to a toddler is hard. Add in a second part-time job, 3 dogs and a cat, writing a blog, creating materials, exercise, meal-planning, daily chores, piano practice, and more, and it's a recipe for unorganized chaos. And the cold, hard truth is that there are days when I'm busting out tasks one after the other, and there are other times when I put my car keys in the freezer. It happens to everyone, and it's okay!

While hard work and motivation play a huge part in staying organized and efficient, following are 10 tips I live by to stay efficient at my full-time school SLP job (many of these carry over into other areas of my life as well!)

1. Have a place for everything. You simply cannot stay organized if you don't have a designated place for your things. This means establish a filing system, de-clutter and get rid of things you don't need, and generally clean up your life. It's hard to focus in and stay on task when there is chaos all around you, so designate places for your items that make sense to you (i.e. don't put your trash can on the other side of the room from your desk.)

2. Schedule a time each day to put things away. You know, a place for everything, and everything in it's place. I don't leave work until my desk is clean each day. This doesn't mean that I complete everything before I go home, but I leave my desk neat and tidy and ready for the next day before I go home. At the beginning of the day, everything is neat and clean. At the end of the school day, there are stacks of board games and artic cards on the tables, dry erase markers without tops on the floor, play-dough smashed in the rug, and a stack of files on my desk. I schedule 10-15 minutes before the end of my work day for cleaning and straightening my room. If I have extra time, I may set out the activities for the next day as well. If you don't schedule time for it, it probably won't happen.

3. Keep ONE To-Do list and calendar for everything. I used to have a planner for life and a planner for work. Then I had separate To-Do lists for work, my blog, home, and Teachers Pay Teachers. I was drowning in sticky notes that were easy to lose. When I finally organized one To-Do list and calendar for everything, I stayed much more organized. I personally like to have a "month-at-a-glance" calendar where I put my bills, appointments, meetings, etc., and then a To-Do list for the week, divided into "Must Do, Should Do, & Do Eventually (as time permits).

4. Pace yourself and plan ahead. i.e. write things down on your calendar and keep an eye on next week. This is where the month-at-a-glance calendar comes in. It helps me to see which IEP meetings I have coming up and stay ahead. I try to have my IEPs and reports written days before they are due, so I'm not stressed and my colleagues aren't either. If I know I'm going to have 14 IEP meetings in one given month, I start working on them ahead of time and pace myself, so I don't get behind. Whether or not you have to write lesson plans, having at least a general idea what you're going to do with your speech groups ahead of time helps as well. I try really, really hard to leave work at work and not take it home with me. Home time is family time. So except for extenuating circumstances, I find time during my work day to get my tasks accomplished so I don't have to stay late or take it home (even if that means sometimes giving up my lunch break.) But speaking of breaks...

5. Take breaks! In addition to physical exhaustion, mental exhaustion is real, and it can be a bear when it comes to staying motivated. Mental breaks are important, and they really do help you stay focused. I try to incorporate movement breaks into my day, especially if I've been doing paperwork at the computer for hours. This may be something as simple as walking to the office to check my mailbox. Or going ahead and straightening the room. Sometimes it's reading a new quick children's book to see if it will work for a group of students. Anything that gives my mind a quick break. Then it's back to work!

6. Don't procrastinate. Procrastinating and pacing yourself go together like peanut butter and jelly! It's not feasible to write 6 reports in one day, so don't have unrealistic expectations to begin with. Don't put off to tomorrow what you could (and should) do today. There are most definitely tasks associated with my job that aren't my favorite (medicaid billing, anyone?), but they've got to be done regardless. So keep it as painless as possible, and work on them all along. Don't put all of your unwanted tasks off to the last minute. You'll be stressed to the max and you'll still have to do them anyway.

7. Use checklists for repetitive tasks. You know, those things you do over and over and over again. Like IEP meetings and paperwork. I have an IEP meeting checklist that I run down each time before a meeting, with things like "update IEP and goals, update goals in Talk Trac, send copies to parents, update due-date list," etc. Even though I do these tasks frequently, having a quick checklist to run down before the meetings ensures I'm not forgetting anything, especially when I have 5+ IEP meetings in one week! Daily tasks, like taking out the trash, shutting down the computer, etc. can also be made into checklists. I have a daily checklist at home as well that I skim over each night. It includes tasks like "feeding the pets (I admit, I would forget this one often if I didn't write it down), exercise, take out trash, lay out clothes for tomorrow, prep meal for tomorrow," etc.

8. Set times for meetings and/or tasks and don't go over. We all have one in our life. It may even be you. That person that can turn a 10 minute meeting into an hour and a half. Please understand that I'm not suggesting that you rush through an IEP meeting and not give each topic or person adequate time. However, as a whole, IEP meetings or parent conferences should not take half of your morning. There are most definitely going to be situations that arise where an extended meeting is necessary, but those shouldn't be the norm. If you're not leading the meeting, let your colleague know that you have a group of students or another meeting coming up afterwards, so you need to be finished by XX time. If you're running the meeting, stay on topic, don't beat the topics to death, and offer parents the chance to ask questions or express concerns throughout the meeting. Meeting agendas help, but are not always practical. I keep a sticky note in front of me with the topics/examples I need to discuss, and try really hard not to chase rabbits. :)

9. Advocate for yourself and your time. This has just recently become more of a problem for me. Sometimes when colleagues or administrators look at my schedule, they see blocks of time without students and assume I can fill in or do something else during that time. While I absolutely love helping out my school, there comes a point when we have to become comfortable saying "no," followed by a reason if necessary. Just this week I had to explain to my administrator why I have "blanks" in my schedule. Even though I'm not seeing students during that 30 minutes or hour, I'm entering data, billing Medicaid, testing students, writing reports, writing IEPs, etc. That time is crucial to me being able to get everything done. Sometimes, it just takes a simple explanation, and they understand. I'm a "do-er", and I like to help out. But I've had to learn that never saying "no" only stretches me too thin, which in turn affects my students in the long run. Know your limits, and stick to them.

10. Disconnect and buckle down when needed. There comes a time in every SLPs life where she/he just has to shut their office door! I'm all about keeping the door open to portray friendliness and approach-ability, but there are just some times when I have to keep it shut. I always tell my colleagues, "if you need me, come on in!" But sometimes you've just got to shut out the distractions (including your cell phone), pull up your sleeves, and dig in. My Fridays are usually like this, when my schedule is a bit lighter and I have time to just crank out the tasks back to back. These days are needed from time to time! Turn the music to something you like (or don't if it's distracting to you), put your cell phone on silent, take off your shoes (if you're like me), and dig in!

So there you have it: My top 10 ways I stay organized and efficient! I should probably throw in a disclaimer here and say that my life is not always organized. It took me 3 hours to clean out my closet this weekend, and you should see my car right now! But it's a proven fact that the more organized and on-task you stay, the more efficient you are.

Feeling like you could use an organizational overhaul in your life? You can do it! You've totally got this! Now get to work! ;)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Pencil Grip Development Training Kit {A Product Review}

Happy Thursday, friends!

I'm back today with another product review, this time from The Pencil Grip, Inc! The Pencil Grip, Inc. produces several great pencil grips, including their 3-Step Grip Development Training Kit. This set of three different pencil grips helps encourage proper hand positioning for both children and adults. As a result, users obtain better penmanship while reducing hand cramps and sore fingers!

As a child, I had an "odd" pencil grip, and because it was never corrected, I still grip my pens and pencils incorrectly today. While my incorrect grip hasn't affected my writing in an extreme way, sometimes children's grips can be so poor that it affects their ability to write at all, and can even make them refuse to write altogether!

As an SLP in the schools, I see a lot of incorrect hand positioning during writing. I currently have a few different students on my caseload in particular who all but refuse to write due to their difficulties with fine motor skills and the inability to properly position their writing utensil.

The 3-Step Training Kit allows you to transition students from more assistance to less assistance as they progress with proper hand placement.

For my students who are really struggling, I started them with The Crossover Grip (Step 1). With the assistance of our school Occupational Therapist, we transitioned the students to Step 2, and eventually for those who were ready, to Step 3. Below you can see pictures of them writing/drawing with and without the Pencil Grips. We really saw a big difference!

Student One: You can see from the first picture that his finger position was incorrect without a Pencil Grip.

Here you can see how he started off the sentence fairly legible with the word "pirates," but then his hand grew tired and he stopped completing the words.

The third line down was again without the pencil grip. Now, he is using the 3rd-step pencil grip to write the sentence on the last line.

He was actually able to complete the entire sentence on the last line and stay fairly legible. I have no doubt as we continue to practice he will continue to improve!

Student Two: Student two was practicing tracing circles. He traced the first circle without a pencil grip and using incorrect hand positioning. The second circle is being traced using the Step 1 (Crossover) pencil grip, and he has much more control and pressure!

 The third circle is being traced with a Step 2 grip (The Pinch Grip)

 The final circle is being traced with a Step 3 grip (The Pencil Grip)!

You can see that he had much more control and pencil pressure while using the pencil grips!

Student 3: This student has the hardest time doing anything that involves a writing utensil of any kind (pencil, marker, crayon, etc.). In fact, he has very little motivation to even hold a writing utensil. Getting him to color takes a LOT of effort. You can see below that we put the pencil grips on bigger crayons, and they made a difference as well! 

This is his grasp prior to a pencil grip. He is very weak and barely holds the utensil in his hand. 

Here, he is using the pencil grip Step One (Crossover) on the crayon.

The first picture (of the sword) shows something he colored without a pencil grip. (Very light and barely noticeable).

Here, you can see what he colored with the pencil grip (much more pressure and control).  (Note: this student is still using the Step One Crossover Pencil Grip.)

You can also download a free pdf. printable on Correct & Incorrect Handwriting Positions like the one pictured below by clicking HERE! Find other free downloads on The Pencil Grip website HERE.  (This is really great info to show parents!)

You can order the 3 Step Grip Development Training Kit AND see other products available by clicking the links below! PLUS, use the code: YOUWIN15 for 15% off your total online purchase! (Offer good through 5/27/2017). 

Be sure to follow The Pencil Grip, Inc. on FACEBOOK and PINTEREST as well! 

What do you think? Do any of your students use these pencil grips? Do you have any students who could use them? Let me know!