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5 Activities to Help Your Preschooler Become a Reader

Learning to read is an intricate process that begins during infancy and continues through the first few years of elementary school. Partpreschool reading of this process includes awareness that words are made of up of sounds; and that those sounds correspond to letters.

Here are some suggestions to encourage literacy development in your preschooler:

  1. Point out environmental print, which refers to text on familiar labels, logos and signs. Some examples include stop signs, food labels and store names.
  2. Use ABC puzzles, books, magazines and environmental print to identify letters. You can cut out pictures from magazines that have sounds that begin with each letter and put them together into a book with your child. In addition, ask your child to find letters in his/her name on pieces of environmental print. Read more

Identification of Asperger’s Syndrome in Preschool

Asperger’s Syndrome is characterized as a condition in which a child exhibits qualitative impairment in social interaction with lonely childaccompanying restrictive repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interest and activities (American Psychiatric Association, 2005). These children demonstrate significant concerns with their ability to interact with peers and engage in age-appropriate play. These children are often high-functioning and are often described as being ‘precocious’ when they are younger. Many parents and teachers are first able to identify Asperger’s Syndrome when the child is in preschool.

Preschool is the time when many children have to attend a structured and lengthy environment in which they are forced to interact with other peers on a regular basis.

Below are steps that we often see parents go through when there may be concerns in relation to a child’s social functioning:

  1. It is recommended that there be constant and open communication between parents and preschool teachers. It is imperative that teachers notify parents on an immediate basis when they suspect that a child may be struggling with their social interactions. Teachers should be wary of children who are playing by themselves and/or do not seem to be interested in interacting with peers. Teachers should not sugarcoat their concerns or wait for behaviors to get better. Document the information and learn the facts.
  2. Parents must not be offended when a teacher brings up a concern. The teacher has a concern for the child and only wants to ensure that the child is able to perform to his or her potential within the school and in a social setting.
  3. After a parent receives the information, it is strongly recommended that they discuss the information with the pediatrician. The pediatrician will likely be able to work through the concerns and help to identify what avenues may be needed. Many times, the pediatrician will want further information and may refer to the parents and the child to a neuropsychologist for complete a comprehensive evaluation.
  4. The purpose of the evaluation is to help identify if the child meets clinical criteria for a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome as well as help to determine what interventions would be warranted.
  5. There may be some form of intervention created in which focuses on improving the child’s social regulation. This may consist of some combination of behavioral therapy, social work, speech/language therapy and occupational therapy. It is strongly recommended that the various therapists be in contact with the child’s preschool teacher in order to ensure that the child can receive accommodations within the school setting in order to help address his or her social needs.

Preschool serves as a time when many children attend structured environments in which they are required to engage in social interactions with other children on a regular basis. This time frame is often the first time when a child may exhibit significant social concerns. As such, it is imperative that parents take any concerns that are brought up by the preschool teacher and help to identify what is needed to ensure that the child is able to find social success.




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Helpful Strategies for Autism in Preschool Classrooms

Preschool is a great time for children to work on social skills, following directions and routines, and pre-academic skills, such as colors, shapes, letters, and numbers.  Children with autism typically lack the appropriate social skills and interactions that typically developing children exhibit.  By integrating your child with autism into preschool, they can work on and improve their social skills.   Here are some strategies that can assist your child with autism in the preschool classroom:

Helpful Strategies For Children With Autism In Preschool:

    • Picture Schedules.  Make sure that there is a picture schedule of daily activities, so that your child is able to see what is happening throughout the day and can refer to it as needed, to stay on track and preschool classroomhelp with transitions.
    • Routine.  Some children with autism like to have a routine, and if there is a change in the routine, it can make them upset.  Try to have a routine in the classroom, and if there are going to be changes, try to tell the child as soon as possible so that they can prepare for this change.
    • Visual Stimuli.  Using pictures and different visual aids benefit children with autism since many are visual learners.  For example: pictures by the cubbies can help them hang up their jacket and backpack, pictures of children sitting in a circle for storytime near the classroom rug is helpful, and pictures of the classroom rules can help the child follow them. These are all great visual aids that can be used throughout the classroom.
    • Keep it Simple.  When giving instructions/directions, make sure to keep it simple, use concrete language, and pair them up with pictures and modeling.  In addition, do not provide too many instructions at once.  For more complex activities, break the instructions down into clear steps.
    • Avoid Distracters. When possible, make sure that the learning environment is not filled with the types of distractions you can control.  Areas that are too noisy, too hot or cold, or that have bright lighting can make it hard for a child to focus and feel comfortable.
    • Coach.  During playtime, try to coach and teach the child how to appropriately ask a peer to play, share/take turns, ask for a toy/item, and be flexible on what to play and who goes first.

What to Expect When You Suspect Autism Download our free, 17-Page eBook

  • One-On-One Aide.  Some schools provide special supports and a one-on-one aide to work with the child.  This aide can provide a lot of teaching and coaching opportunities to help the child appropriately interact with others and engage in different social and academic situations.
  • Buddy System.  Try to pair children up into different groups depending on their level and skills.  You want to make sure that children who excel in certain areas are paired up with those that might need more help and practice in that specific area.  For example, pairing a child with appropriate social skills and who likes to talk a lot with a quieter child offers the two children the experience of learning from each other.  Through example, the quieter child may gain confidence in participating in the group, while the more outgoing student may become better at remaining quiet while the teacher is talking.
  • Reinforcers.  Use items and activities that are reinforcing to the child.  By using stimuli that the child is interested in, you can help them stay more focused and motivated.  Some examples of reinforcers that could be used are: stickers, stamps, and prize boxes with little items that the child can pick from.  In addition, provide praise and reinforcement when the child is appropriately interacting with others, following directions, and accomplishing academic tasks.
  • Homework.  Take the time to work on these skills at home.  Talk with your child’s teacher to find out what academic skills they are working on in the classroom, and be sure to incorporate them into your daily routine at home.  In addition, arranging different play dates and outings for your child will provide the opportunity for your son/daughter to continue to work on social skills in different situations while you coach and guide them as needed.

When having your child in preschool, be sure to keep the above strategies in mind and work with the teacher to implement them in the classroom if they are not already in place.  Also, take the time to practice the pre-academic skills as well as the social skills at home.  A positive experience in preschool for your son/daughter will help lay the necessary building blocks for continued success, both academically and socially, throughout their entire school career.

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How To Teach Your Preschooler To Cut With Scissors

Snip snip snip! Cutting is a skill that may take a good amount of time for a child to perfect. Cutting requires many components including: fine motor precision, bilateral skills, visual motor skills, grasping, problem solving, and attention to detail. Cutting can also be intimidating for parents to teach, as safety can be a definite concern! Here are some simple tips in order to work towards increased success with cutting:girl using scissors

Teach Your Child To Use Scissors:

  • Find an appropriate work station.  Seat your child at a table, with his feet flat on the floor, and with minimal distractions, so that he will be able to best attend to the activity at hand
  • Make sure your child is using his dominant hand to manipulate the scissors, and his non-dominant hand to hold the paper. If your child has not yet chosen his hand dominance, present the scissors at midline (the center of the body) so that your child can independently choose which hand to use. **Note: often times scissors are made more comfortably for right hand use.
  • Help your child to set-up his scissors correctly from the get go. This will prevent your child from developing a habit of holding his scissors incorrectly/inefficiently, and will lead to greater accuracy and confidence in the end. The thumb should be in the smaller of the two holes and the pointer and long fingers should be inside the larger hole. The ring finger and pinky can be tucked into the palm. **Note: make sure the thumb is facing up towards the ceiling, rather than turned towards the paper.
  • Patience is a virtue with cutting activities. A child should first start by simply snipping the paper, followed by cutting across the entire sheet of paper. After these skills are perfected the child can begin to practice cutting on both straight and curved/wavy lines, and cutting out large circles and squares. Lastly your child will work towards cutting out smaller circles and squares, and more complex shapes.
  • Remind your child to turn their paper rather than turning the directionality of their scissors. Your child’s scissors should ALWAYS be facing forward, cutting away from their body.
  • If your preschooler continues to struggle, try loop scissors or self-opening (spring loaded) scissors to help increase both of your confidence!

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Imagine Being a Parent of a Child with Apraxia of Speech (CAS)

Guest post By: Leslie Lindsay, R.N., B.S.N. and a mother

At two years old, Kate was a beautiful, energetic, and happy toddler. With the exception of one word-hi-Kate was as quiet as a mouse. We wondered if something was wrong. Even as a baby, Kate rarely babbled and cried; she was beautiful and unique with red hair and bright blue eyes. She was, in a word, apraxia“perfect.” So why were we worried? After all, she could understand everything we said, even the big words. And what was so wrong with having a quiet, happy toddler?

But there were times my heart would sink. Gaggles of women who had all been in the same childbirth class a year or so earlier met up for our summer book discussion. They were chattering about how their children were saying new words every day. One mother proudly shared, “Oh, Maddie said elephant yesterday at daycare. I hate that I missed it.” I pulled my lips into a tight line and let out a sigh. If only my baby could say, ‘mama’ I thought.

Fast-forward a year or so. We learn Kate has Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS). Characterized by a child’s inability to express themselves verbally, CAS is a complex neurologically-based motor speech disorder. It is serious and requires intense and frequent speech therapy by a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP). Part of me was relieved: now we know what to call this “reason” for Kate’s lack of verbal communication. But another part of me was overwhelmed, nervous, and anxious: now what and why?

It was time for me to put on my proactive parenting cape (forget Supermom), this diagnosis called for a little more. I started gathering any and all information I could on the subject of CAS. I joined listservs and read old text books on the subject. I picked my SLP’s brain. I worked with my daughter at home, in the car, and everywhere in between. I enrolled her in the special education preschool. And she improved. Yet in the meantime, we dealt with so many quizzical looks, unwanted advice, and clueless peers.

Imagine going to the grocery store with your toddler. The clerk makes small talk with you and your child. Your child can’t answer when asked, “What’s your name, cutie?” Instead, she grunts and smiles. The clerk turns to you, perplexed as if to say, “doesn’t your kid know her name?”

Try taking your 4-year old to see Santa at the mall. He can’t tell the big man in red what he wants for Christmas, even though you know he’d love a new bike with training wheels. Instead, he makes a spinning gesture with his hands and goes vroom, vroom. Santa chuckles, “Oh, a toy car!” But you know that’s not it. So does your son.

What will you tell the kind, grandmotherly babysitter who tells you, “Oh, don’t worry. Some kids are just late-to-talk. She’ll catch up. Maybe you aren’t reading and singing to her enough? Do you go to mommy-and-me classes so she can interact with other kids?”

How will you know what your child wants when he just stands and points to the top of the shelf at the many items it could be? You ask, “Do you want the blocks? No. Do you want the farm book? Oh, I know…you want your car!” But, instead he breaks down in tears and walks away.

How does your heart break when you overhear her peers say, “Julia can’t talk. Let’s not ask her to play with us.”

What’s a parent to do?

  • Love and accept your child for who he is. Of course you didn’t ask for your child to have CAS. Neither did your child. Focus on finding the resources your child needs the most-a qualified SLP.
  • Talk to your child. Speak with her as though you expect an answer. Just because she can’t speak back in a way you understand, she understands you. Make your communication with her matter.
  • Provide opportunities for your child to absorb speech and language. Read to him, study the illustrations; illuminate the details. Point out everything you can about the environment. “Look at the birds. Do you see the blue birds? Beautiful blue birds. Can you say bird?”
  • Be patient with your child. Having a child with CAS takes time to remediate. It’s not over in a matter of a couple of speech therapy sessions. It can take years to get your child speaking at developmentally-appropriate levels. Talk with your SLP about ways to monitor progress. It’s all about baby steps.
  • Be patient with yourself. Take a deep breath or a give yourself a time-out when you find yourself losing patience. Allow yourself to do other things besides parent a child with CAS. It’s important for your mental health.
  • Allow your child to be a “regular” kid. This may mean “coaching” social play. You may have to introduce your child to a group of peers, “This is Max. He’s a fun kid, but he’s still working on his words. Can he play with you?”
  • Bite your tongue or educate-diplomatically, of course. When someone asks you about why your child isn’t talking like every other child, you can grin and bear it, or you can simply tell them, “Brooke has Childhood Apraxia of Speech. She sees an SLP each week. We’re working on it.” Most folks don’t need or want more details than that.

Soon, you’ll be hearing things like, “Mom, can I have twelve bucks?” like I did the other day when my daughter with apraxia came home from school one day and wanted to go to Disney on Ice. You’ll be hearing words and phrases like, “Whatever,” and “I didn’t do it.” But the most touching of all, is when you hear these precious words: “I love you, mom.” Imagine being a parent of a child with CAS.

About the Author:

Leslie LindsayLeslie Lindsay is a former staff R.N. in child and adolescent psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic. She is the author of “Speaking of Apraxia: A Parent’s Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech,” available from Woodbine House, Inc. in March 2012. This is the first-ever book written by parents for parents specifically on CAS. Leslie blogs daily on apraxia, parenting, child development and more at www.leslie4kids.wordpress.com. She lives in Chicagoland with her two daughters Kate and Kelly, her husband Jim, and a basset hound named Sally where she writes full-time. Feel free to contact her at leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com

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Language Fun with Halloween

Halloween is a super fun holiday! There are so many great ways to use Halloween to build your child’s language skills. Here are a few ideas:

“Categories and Sorting” to Boost Language

After your child goes trick or treating, have them sort their candy into different categories. They could sort candy by type (chocolate vs. gummies), size, shape, color or taste.Boy in Costume Sorting Candy

“Describing” To Boost Language

Picking out the perfect Halloween costume is always fun! When talking about costumes, have your child describe what it is that they’d like to be this year. Have them talk about costume colors, accessories, emotions/feelings associated with the character, etc. Or when you’re at the store, play a guessing game. “Guess who I am thinking about…I wear a pointy hat, fly on a broomstick and can be a little scary!”

“Following Directions” To Boost Language

There are lots and lots of Halloween art projects and craft ideas. Take any project and turn it into a following directions activity. Depending on what level your child is at, you can have him/her follow 1 or 2 step directions. It could be as simple as a drawing activity. Start with a haunted house picture. Tell your child, “draw a pumpkin next to the door” or “Put a scary ghost in one of the top windows.”

Vocabulary

Halloween is a great time to work on different vocabulary words. You can work on synonyms or antonyms, definitions, grammar or even salient features. For example, take the word “spooky.”

You can ask the following questions:

  • What does spooky mean?
  • What is the opposite of spooky? What is another word for spooky?
  • Tell me something that is spooky – once they give you an object, have them tell you more about the object. For example, let’s say they say “witch.”   Then have him/her tell you what a witch has, where you find a witch, what does a witch do, etc (these are all salient features).

Reading Comprehension

There are many thematic books for Halloween. Find a book that is appropriate for your child’s reading level and work on reading comprehension skills. Ask wh- questions (i.e. who, what, where, why, why) while reading the book. You can ask text-based questions (questions that stem directly from what you read) or critical thinking questions (questions that will stimulate your child’s thought process). For example, if you’re reading about a scary character, you could ask “What makes you scared?” or “What do you do when you’re scared?”

For a list of great Halloween Books, click here.  You can read summaries and even take a look at the first few pages of the books.

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“Can you check under my bed for monsters?”: DOs and DON’Ts to Help Children Who are Afraid of the Dark

Teeth brushed? Check. Pajamas on? Check. Story read? Check. Tucked in? Check. Search the closets for monsters? Should you or shouldn’t you? Manychild scared in bed children are afraid of the dark, and these fears becomes especially present during bedtime, when they are alone with their thoughts of monsters, ghosts, or other scary creatures that lurk in the dark. Children may also have difficulties differentiating between fantasy and reality, especially if they hear scary stories at school or see monsters on television. Implementing a consistent bedtime routine takes time and energy, and when children are afraid of the dark, this routine can become stressful for everyone involved. As parents, listening to your children’s fears and empathizing with them, creating appropriate accommodations, and empowering your children are ways to help them with their fears.

Do’s and Don’ts to Help Children Who Are Scared of the Dark:

Listen, normalize, and empathize 

DO: Listen to your children’s concerns with an open, warm, nonjudgmental stance. They will be more likely to share their fears with you if they feel supported. Express curiosity about your children’s fears to gain an understanding of where their fears may have come from. This can help you reassure your children. For example, if they saw a show on television that had scary monsters, you can explain that television is pretend and different from real life.

DO: Help your children feel accepted by explaining that everyone has fears, even adults! Reassure your children by explaining that even though people feel afraid sometimes, they can overcome their fears. Children may feel embarrassed or hopeless about their fears; knowing that everyone has fears and that there are steps they can take to overcome them can help children feel reassured and hopeful.

DO: Empathize with your children’s concerns even if their fears are irrational. Let your children know that it is okay to feel scared.

DON’T: Minimize your children’s fears. Saying “You have nothing to be afraid of” or “That is silly! There are no such things as monsters!” can make your children feel embarrassed. Minimizing your children’s fears can also stop them from opening up to you in the future.

DON’T: Reinforce your children’s fears. Checking for ghosts or monsters, for example, shows children that you think they exist too, which can exacerbate their concerns. Instead, check for items that do exist. For example, open a closet and say, “Look! There are clothes and shoes in here, just like in the day” rather than “There are no monsters!”

Create appropriate accommodations

DO: Help your children feel safe at night. Problem solve with them to see what they think will help them feel safe. This process can also help them feel in control and brave. Asking, “What do you think you can do to feel safe at night?” is a great place to start. Appropriate accommodations include listening to a favorite bedtime story, sleeping with a special blanket or stuffed animal, and using a nightlight.

DO: Add these accommodations to your children’s bedtime routines in a consistent way. If children know they can expect a goodnight kiss, a special stuffed animal, and a nightlight every night, they can feel safe and comfortable.

DON’T: Allow your children to sleep in your bed. As tempting as this may be and as much as your children may want to sleep in your bed, showing your children that they can feel safe and sleep in their own beds is very important. Letting your children sleep in your bed can send the message that their fears are legitimate and can, in turn, reinforce and maintain their fears.

Expose and Empower

DON’T: Pressure your children into exposure they are not ready for. Facing their fears without a plan or comfort can make children feel even more afraid.

DO: Help your children overcome their fears by gently exposing them to the dark in a fun way. For example, you can play games in the dark, such as flashlight tag, so your children can associate the dark with an enjoyable game.

DO: Give praise when your children are able to sleep in the dark through the night. In the morning, you can say, “I’m so proud of you! Even though you were scared, you slept by yourself in the dark all night! I know you can do it again tonight.” You can also offer praise at night, by saying, “I like how you are trying to be brave and sleep in your bed. I know you can do it!”

What have you tried to help your children who are afraid of the dark? What has worked? What has not worked? Please share with us!

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Francis Parker, Latin, University of Chicago Lab, Chicago City Day, Anshe Emmet, Sacred Heart or Somewhere Else? Which school is best for my child?

How do I pick the best school for my child and what if my child has special needs?

IBack To School Chalkboardf you have a baby and you live in a big city like Chicago, then soon enough you will be thinking, “Oh boy, what activities do I sign him up for? Where do I register for preschool? When? Is today too late?”. For some parents, you will have now discovered your child also has some learning or attention need. Now, which school is best?

Consider the following when deciding where to send your children to school:

  •  There are always the suburbs, but keep in mind, you will still need to do a lot of research on which is best because each suburb has something different to offer.
  • Make a list of what is important to you in a school. One may be very competitive, one may be less so, one may be in a better neighborhood, one may go all the way up to high school, and one may stop at eighth grade. If you decide which characteristics are most important, you can narrow down your list.
  • If you child needs services, will the school have them? What do they look like? Remember, you will still need to supplement school services but you do need the support.
  •  How competitive do you want the school to be and in which areas? One may be more arts based while another may place high importance on math and science.
  • What kind of friends do you want your child to have? Each school has a different sort of parent body, different values taught to children, etc.
  • If you need financial aid, will they have it? How does the application process work to get in and to get assistance?

Enjoy the process and start very early. Talk to and seek advice from many people but in the end base your decision on who you and your family really are and who you hope your children will turn out to be.

Please feel free to leave a comment below with your own experience in choosing a school!

Loop, Swoop, and Pull! Teaching Shoe Tying

Learning to tie shoes can be an exciting milestone for a child; however, teaching your child to tie their shoes can feel very daunting! Here are some tips to make it a littler easier and much less stressful.

Tips for making shoe tying a little easier

  • Child's hands tying shoeTake your child’s lead to determine if they are ready to learn this new skill. Children typically have the coordination and dexterity to tie their shoes by the time they are going to preschool or kindergarten. This, however, is not a steadfast rule and some kids may be ready earlier and some later.
  • Find a time to practice when
    you are not rushing out the door. Before or after dinner or on the weekend might be a good time to sit down and practice.
  • Choose a method and break it down into steps. Whether you use the two loop or one loop method be sure to go step by step. Either method starts with making an “X” and then a knot. Sometimes this is a good place to stop. Have your child master these first two steps before moving on.
  • When you are demonstrating for your child make sure you are sitting beside or behind them so that they are watching from the correct angle rather than in front of them where they would have to mirror your movements.
  • A rhyme or story can help your child remember the steps to shoe tying. One of the best known and simple rhymes is “Loop, swoop, and pull.”
  • When you first begin, have your child practice with their shoe on the floor or on the table. Sometimes this is easier as they can get up close and see what they are doing. There are also books and dolls available that have laces for practice.
  • Praise them for each step that they master! A little encouragement goes a long way!

 

Dealing with Avoidance Behaviors in Preschoolers

anxious boyThe preschool years are an amazing time in children’s lives. They have already learned many skills in their first few years and feel like they are on top of the world. They are at the age of “I can do it myself.”

At this age, children are egocentric and believe that everything in the world revolves around them. For instance, if you ask a preschooler what to get Daddy for Father’s Day, she may answer with a gift that she would like: “Legos! A Doll! Dora The Explorer!” It’s not her intention to be hurtful, of course – it’s just where she is functioning developmentally.

The Preschooler Wants The Best Of Both Worlds

In their quest for independence, preschoolers will be torn between wanting to be a baby and wanting to be a big kid. Babies get lots of attention because they need Mom or Dad’s help with everything. Preschoolers like that attention and thus may regress to “I need help” when they previously did a task independently. They want to do “big kid” things, but because their imaginations are thriving, they can also create scenarios in their minds that make ordinary events seem more scary to them. Therefore, they may try to avoid certain activities either because they feel they will miss out on time with Mom or Dad at home (attention) or because they fear that something bad could happen to them when they try a new adventure.

This could lead preschoolers to refuse to go on play dates independently, say they are sick and can’t go to school or camp, or simply refuse to get ready for any of these exciting “big kid” opportunities. Parents can confront these avoidance behaviors with some careful phrasing, active listening, and allowing their preschool-age children to exert their independence by making good choices for themselves whenever a choice is possible.

How to Confront Avoidance Behaviors:

As parents, we always want to know why a behavior is occurring, but…

1) Resist the temptation to ask preschoolers “why” they are exhibiting the particular avoidance behavior (e.g. don’t ask, “Why don’t you want to go to school?”). Young children will inevitably answer that question with “I don’t know”, which will inevitably frustrate parents.

2) Try talking with preschoolers about what they think about when they imagine going to school, camp, play dates, etc. You may be surprised to learn that your child is thinking about what you’ll be doing (in other words, what he or she will be missing out on) while the child is on this new adventure. It may not be that she doesn’t want to go, but rather that she can’t relax enough to allow herself to have a good time. Read more