Expert Spotlight: This Month, Tanya Topper

Every Month, we'll be interviewing experts in their field to share tips and tricks with our community. This month, we're starting with Tanya, mother of 2 little girls,  licensed speech-language pathologist, and the founder and owner of Therapy Buddies, Inc., a pediatric speech and language practice in Chicago. 

Read below for the full interview and some amazing tips for encouraging speech and language development in your home.  

What Are Some Favorite Activities You Suggest to Facilitate Early Speech and Language? 

Open ended toys (or activities) are by far my favorite and always recommended to facilitate early speech and language skills. An open-ended toy is any toy that can be used in a variety of different ways. A few of my favorite toys include dough, blocks, dolls/figures, and pretend food. The reason why I love open-ended toys is because they encourage imagination and creativity. As a result, children want to play with these toys over and over. With my own kids, we are always finding new ways to play with these toys, and the language opportunities are endless! 

 I also love using books to promote early speech and language development. I started reading books to both of my girls the day they came home from the hospital because there are so many benefits. Reading books will help expose your child to new words and build their vocabulary. Books also provide countless opportunities to engage in conversation, and you can learn more about your child’s interests. Not only do books foster language development, but reading with your child can help strengthen the bond between you and your little one, too. 

Can You Share 3-5 Tips for Using Dough to Support Speech and Language Development? 

 I absolutely love using dough to increase a child’s expressive vocabulary. You can use dough to work on labeling items, actions and basic concepts. Here are some examples: 

Nouns: animals, foods, vehicles/transportation 

Actions: open, close, push, cut, lift, roll, poke, smash, squeeze

Concepts: colors, size (big, little), texture (smooth, bumpy), sequential (first, then), quantity 

 Dough is also a great tool to use when working on following directions and sequencing. The Dough Project’s DIY Dough Kit provides even more opportunities to work on these skills!  

How Can You Incorporate Speech Work in Everyday Activities/Routines?

There really isn’t anything more natural than using your current, daily routines to work on improving your child’s vocabulary. We know that children need repetition to learn, and daily routines inherently promote repetition. When I am working with a family, I will ask parents to tell me one of their daily routines and together we will brainstorm words that are appropriate for that particular routine. This pre-thinking activity helps parents take advantage of a daily routine since they know what words to target. Some of our favorite daily routines include mealtime, bath time, getting dressed (or getting ready), story time and car rides.

Bedtime stories, car rides and mealtimes are also great opportunities to work on developing your child’s speech and language skills. For example, stories can be used to work on answering wh- questions. Car rides are perfect for working on speech sounds or playing games that promote language skills (e.g. I Spy). Mealtime is the perfect time to have your child retell his/her favorite part of the day. If you eat as a family, encourage everyone to ask each other questions.  

Any Tips to Encourage Siblings to Talk and Play Together? 

Modeling the language that siblings need to successfully play together can be so helpful. You can model how to take turns, share toys and ask/answer questions. My girls often have trouble sharing preferred toys. With my oldest daughter, Noa, we often talk about how she feels when her sister doesn’t share a toy that she wants (e.g. “I feel mad” or “That hurt my feelings.”) We then talk about how her sister, Stevie, may feel the same way when Noa chooses not to share (or when she takes something from Stevie without asking). There are so many great books that can be used to teach emotions/feelings if your child is having trouble understanding how he/she feels (or how others feel). I also model the language I want her to use. For example, if Noa doesn’t want to share with me, I might say, “That makes me feel sad. I would really like a turn.” After modeling this language, I always try to encourage my children to join in! Whenever the girls play nicely together or when they do a great job sharing, I always make sure to provide praise and give specific feedback! 

I usually find that my girls play best when I am not involved or when I take a step back. If I notice that they’re having trouble, I remind them to work together. I am often surprised at home at how well they play without me!   

Any Advice for New / First Time Parents in Supporting Their Children’s Development Through Play?

Play should always be fun! If it feels like work, take a step back. Follow your child’s lead and give him/her plenty of opportunities to respond. I often find myself jumping in too soon. A good rule of thumb is to wait 5-10 seconds before responding. You will be surprised at how well “waiting” works!  

We Saw You and Your Daughter Made the DIY Dough Kit Together, How Can You Use This Activity to Support S&L?

We had the best time with the DIY Dough Kit. We used this activity to work on sequencing, following directions, reading, counting, and making predictions. Depending on your child’s age, it’s a great activity to use if your child is working on requesting and answering questions, too. You can also use this activity to work on vocabulary. A variety of basic concepts (and opposites) popped up while we were making the dough such as bumpy/smooth, hot/cold, in/out, big/small. When my husband came to see what we were up to, I encouraged Noa to explain to him how we made the dough together. This was a great opportunity for her to work on event retell! 

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