Halloween speech and language tips 

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays! Trips to the farm, haunted houses, costumes, face painting, decorations, baking, and candy! Each family seems to have their own traditions.

Traditions offer predictability, an ideal environment for children to learn language skills. 

And, because halloween is filled with an abundance of visual supports, which help children make connections between words and their meanings, it really is the perfect time to focus on language. Here are some tips and fun resources to enhance your children’s speech and language development this season.

Supporting sequencing and narrative skills

Help your child build sequencing and narrative skills by talking through the main events.

  • First we choose a pumpkin.
  • Next we take out the pumpkin seeds.
  • Then we carve a face on the pumpkin.
  • And last, we put a candle inside the pumpkin.

HERE is a visual with sequencing photos.

Modelling past and future verbs

When moving on to the next activity, remind your child of what you did together and introduce what you will do next.

  • We chose our pumpkin, next we will cut it open.
  • We opened the pumpkin, next we will take out the seeds.
  • We took out the seeds, next we will bake the seeds.
  • We baked the seeds. next we will draw a face.
  • We drew a face on the pumpkin, next we will carve the pumpkin.

Building descriptive vocabulary 

Use contrasts to describe what you are doing.

  • Look at all the pumpkins, find the biggest… now find the smallest.
  • One pumpkin has many seeds.
  • The outside of the pumpkin is hard and bumpy, the inside is soft and gooey.
  • We cut the top off, but we leave the bottom as is.
  • The pumpkin was full, but now it is empty.

Answering “where questions

Set up your decorations together. Name each item and ask your child where they think it should go. If you’re setting up a spider web, ask where the spiders should go. Asking these questions and making it clear that the location is up to them will help build their understanding of “where” questions and how to answer them.

HERE is an activity where your child can choose and drag a face on to their pumpkin. Talk about where the face goes… “in the middle”.

Halloween is more than just a time to put on a costume, decorate and indulge in candy. This is a season when you can be anything you want to be… let your imagination run wild and help your child to do the same.

Teletherapy as a service delivery model


In March 2020, after over twenty five years of face-to-face speech and language therapy, I took the leap into virtual online therapy. Unlike past career choices teeming with limitless possibilities, it was clear there was only one option. To continue supporting my clients, I would have to make the switch to Teletherapy. Challenge accepted!

Transitions are a good time to take stock.

  • I had experience offering online accent reduction training.
  • I was familiar with the Zoom platform.
  • I owned a high quality microphone and noise-cancelling headphones.
  • I was a member of a profession dominated by creative, resourceful and collaborative colleagues.

We were (and still are) in a global pandemic. The air was heavy with anxiety and uncertainty. I informed each client of my plan to pivot my service delivery model to Teletherapy keeping them updated and supported every step of the way. I was committed to providing them with high quality intervention. I used the next two weeks to research, train, and prepare for a transition to the lesser known world of Teletherapy.

Many other SLPs had already taken the dive into Teletherapy years back. The research was promising. Studies confirmed that word learning and generalization to different contexts was equivalent across face-to-face and virtual interactions with toddlers. And young children with autism improved their vocabulary and sentence length equally whether their parents received coaching face-to-face or via Teletherapy.

I quickly learned…

That I could do almost everything I did in face-to-face sessions using an online platform.

  1. Provide direct therapy incorporating a client’s interests.
  2. Individualize therapy approaches to suit each family’s needs.
  3. Create interactive activities allowing clients to control or mark up the screen.
  4. Teach clients how to pronounce new speech sounds.
  5. Parent/caregiver consultation and coaching.
  6. Track progress.
  7. Develop and review customized home programs.

That there were many advantages of Teletherapy.

  1. Clients receive services in familiar and comfortable spaces.
  2. Simplified schedules result in improved attendance and more consistent therapy.
  3. Therapy is provided using a medium children and adults are comfortable with.
  4. We can access any number of activities with a computer.
  5. Increased accessibility to services for families living further from city centres.
  6. Increased parental involvement and thus increased carry-over of new skills.
  7. Therapists can do almost everything they did previously while helping to protect clients’ health and safety.

“It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take things to.”  
Jean-Luc Godard

The transition to a new service delivery model was an opportunity to learn new skills, but has turned out to be so much more. Pivoting allows for a fresh start . It opens new doors and possibilities. The potential for growth is unlimited. I experienced more patience, curiosity, understanding, excitement, creativity and flexibility over the last six months than I ever expected. And, becoming professionally accessible to a more extensive region is exciting. 

Click HERE to learn more about my Teletherapy services.

The One Question I Am Asked Most Often

The one question I am asked most often is from parents wanting to know if their child has the level of speech and language abilities that are expected at his age. First-time parents especially, may not have previously witnessed a child moving through the stages of development. In such cases, it is not unusual to feel some uncertainty.

January, a time of year brimming with reflection and planning, is the perfect time to check if your child is developing as expected. Following up on any concerns you have now affords you plenty of time to pursue an evaluation and recommendations before the start of the next school year.

Typical speech and language development follows a predictable progression however, children develop at different rates. For example, although not all same aged children will be able to understand and answer the same types of questions, they will all learn to answer basic “yes/no” and “where” questions before the more complex “how” and “why” questions.

Below is a summary of COMMUNICATION MILESTONES. Consider these to be average ages at which most typically developing, monolingual, English-speaking children will acquire these skills. The ages are provided as a general guideline.

Scroll down the checklist to your child’s age. Descriptions of pre-linguistic skills, listening skills, verbal abilities, pragmatic skills, and literacy development have been included for the applicable stages.

From 0-6 months
☐   Responds to voice and sound.
☐   Turns his head toward source of sound.
☐   Watches the speaker’s face.
☐   Establishes eye contact.
☐   Babbles to gain attention.

From 7-18 months
☐   Stops an activity when her name is called.
☐   Listens with interest to new words.
☐   Answers questions when presented with two choices.
☐   Responds to “no”.
☐   Tries to communicate with actions and gestures.
☐   Copies the simple actions of others.
☐   Expressive vocabulary grows to 50 words.

From 19-24 months
☐   Beginning to understand simple one-step oral directions.
☐   Understands 300 words or more.
☐   Understands in, on, another.
☐   Answers “yes/no”, “where”, and “what’s this” questions.
☐   Strangers will understand 25% – 50% of what he says.
☐   Using intonation (raised pitch) to ask questions.
☐   Has an expressive vocabulary of 50-200 words.
☐   Starting to combine two or three words together.
☐   Asks limited “wh” questions.
☐   Begins to use pronouns.
☐   Using turn-taking verbally.
☐   Waves bye-bye.
☐   Recognizes some books by their cover.
☐   Will attend to a toy or a book for up to two minutes.

From 2-3 years
☐   Answers simple “wh” questions logically.
☐   Beginning to understand some time concepts: wait, later.
☐   Understands size differences.
☐   Strangers will understand 50% – 75% of what she says.
☐   Frequently omits consonants in the middle or at the ends of words.
☐   May exhibit initial word repetitions (normal stuttering).
☐   Expressive vocabulary grows to 1,000 words.
☐   Maintains topic over several conversational turns.
☐   Makes conversational repairs if her listener doesn’t understand.
☐   Using pronouns my, me, mine, you, your, yours, he, she, and  we.
☐   Using plurals.
☐   Requests permission.
☐   Begins to use language playfully (jokes).
☐   Begins to describe colors and size.
☐   Holds a book correctly.

From 3-4 years
☐   Follows simple two-step oral directions.
☐   Answers more complex “how” and “why” questions.
☐   Understands beside, between.
☐   Identifies colors.
☐   Strangers will understand 80% of what he says.
☐   May frequently talk to self.
☐   Uses words to express feelings.
☐   Using pronouns they, us, hers, his, them, and her.
☐   Begins to pay attention to print.
☐   Participates in rhyming games.
☐   Able to make some letter-sound matches.

From 4-5 years
☐   Follows simple three-step oral directions.
☐   Answers “when” and “how many” questions.
☐   Understands comparative and superlative adjectives, such as bigger, biggest.
☐   Understands time concepts, such as week days, yesterday, today, tomorrow, next week.
☐   Understands concepts of position, such as first, middle, last.
☐   Strangers will understand 75% – 90% of what she says.
☐   Beginning to use language to resolve disputes with peers.
☐   Understands the purpose of print.
☐   Understands story sequence.
☐   Can answer questions about simple short stories.

From 5-6 years
☐   Follows instructions given to a group.
☐   Understands opposite concepts.
☐   Understands left / right
☐   Strangers will understand 90% – 100% of what he says.
☐   Asks the meanings of words.
☐   Asks questions to obtain information.
☐   Uses yesterday and tomorrow.
☐   Understands that spoken words are made up of sounds.
☐   Begins to write letters and some familiar words.
☐   Begins to recognize some written words by sight.
☐   Reads a few simple books from memory.
☐   Able to print own name.

Use care when reviewing the above speech-language milestones, and applying them to your child. Remember that normal development varies quite a bit, and it is hard to tell when your child will get to each stage.

You know your child. And it is normal to compare your child to other children. If you suspect that her speech-language development is behind for her age, then there is no harm in consulting with a certified Speech-Language Pathologist. Sometimes just a short conversation can clear up any worries. Trust your instincts.

Here are some clear indications that a child would benefit from a speech and language evaluation. If any of the following apply to your situation, then I recommend contacting a Speech-Language Pathologist.

1. If your 12 month old does not respond to his name.
2. If your 30 month old has not begun combining two words together.
3. If adults regularly have trouble understanding your 3 year old.
4. If your 4 year old does not answer simple “wh” questions.
5. If your 3 – 4 year old grabs toys from other children instead of making verbal requests.
6. If your 4 year old repeats sounds or parts of words.
7. If your 5 year old has trouble following directions.
8. If your 5 year old can not make a rhyme.
9. If your 6 year old is not making all of her speech sounds clearly.
10. If your child’s teacher has expressed concerns about his speech or language skills.

Steal These Questions to Get Your Child Talking About School

Remember when your kids were little and wouldn’t stop talking?  

I admit, there were days when I succumbed to preparing dinner with headphones on… volume set just loud enough to drown out the non-stop voices, yet soft enough to hear if anyone were to scream.

I just needed some quiet time, some “no listening” time.

Fast forward to today, those little kids are in school listening and answering questions all day. The tables have turned. Now they come home from school wanting some “no listening” time.

Your first step is to not rush in.  Conversations can’t be forced. Give them some time. We’re all more receptive to people who recognize and honour our needs.

Next, if you want your kids to talk about their day, go first and share something from your day: something you learned, something funny you heard or witnessed, someone you bumped into, details about a project you’re working on, or plans you made.

And finally, be specific with your questions. Parents hoping for a window into their child’s day often ask open-ended questions “Tell me about your day”, “How was your day?” or “Anything interesting happen today at school?” I recommend asking more specific questions. Choose two or three from the list below…

“Did anyone do anything funny today? Tell me about it.”

“Who did you play with at recess? What games did you play? I don’t know that game, how does it work?”

“What was the best part of your day?”

“What was the hardest part of your day?”

“What book is your class reading? Tell me about the story.”

“What did you learn today that you never knew before?”

“Who did you sit with at lunch time?”

“What food did your friends bring that you wished you had?”

“What is the first thing you did when you got to class?”

“If I asked your teacher about her day, what do you think she would tell me?”


The formula:

  • Give them time
  • Share something about your day
  • Ask a few specific questions


And remember, next time they plop down beside you when you are resting or engaged in your own activity, pay attention, they are saying they need you. The more you are there for them in these moments, the more they will share with you in general.


Understanding Social Language Skills

Social language skills, also known as pragmatic language skills, refer to the unspoken verbal and nonverbal rules governing our interactions.

These rules vary according to whom you are speaking with, where you are, and typically vary across different cultures. Someone with good social language skills will respond appropriately and flexibly to an ever changing social landscape.

While social skills are second nature to many of us, everyday social situations can be challenging for some.

A person with weak language, attention or memory skills may be unable to inhibit the impulse to talk, forget what was said, or have trouble keeping up with the pace of the conversation.

Someone with a social skills disorder might struggle to make eye contact, initiate or extend a conversation, misunderstand humour and facial expressions, and will likely make inaccurate guesses about what others are thinking and feeling.

A common characteristic of a social skills disorder, is impaired Perspective Taking. A complex process, perspective taking allows for interpretation of what is really going on by considering the thoughts, beliefs, desires and intentions of others.

The ability to consider and think about other people’s perspectives improves our social competencies, and strengthens our personal relationships. After all, social success is influenced and measured by how well we relate to and interact with others.

In Reclaiming Conversation (2015), Sherry Turkle describes how giving our attention to our children is the bread and butter of relationship building.

“Children learn how to regulate strong emotions, how to respond to other people’s social cues, and how to have conversations, largely as a result of the time parents spend listening to them, responding to them, helping them problem solve and understand themselves.”

A child’s social experiences rest on the foundation of the parent – child relationship. It is our responsibility, as parents, to be generous with our attention, and make ourselves available to our children in order to support their social skills learning.

Tips to support your child’s perspective taking:

  • Ask your child to describe the situation.
  • Break situations into small concrete parts.
  • Offer a feeling word to label how you perceive your child is feeling.
  • Explain what lead you to that belief about his feelings. Help him see your perspective because, personal problem solving relies on perspective taking.
  • Encourage him to think about how he feels and how the other person might feel.
  • Suggest how the other person might be feeling.
  • Describe the facial expression and body language you might expect from a person who feels that way.
  • Praise your child for her attempt to maneuver through a difficult social situation.

Modelling  HOW you think about your child’s thoughts and feelings, and helping him examine his own thoughts and feelings, will go a long way to support his problem solving and friendship skills.

In addition to supporting friendships, working on perspective taking will  improve understanding of material studied in school. Not only is it an essential skill when participating in group work, it is vital to appreciating and interpreting a lot of academic content.  Imagine for a moment trying to understand significant historical or political events, or even simply relating to characters in novels, without the ability to take on another person’s perspectives.

Boost perspective taking, self-reflection and more, with my FREE GAMES

These games offer opportunities to:

  1. Think about others. Specifically what others would like to do, not like to do, what they might have tried, or what they would never consider trying.
  2. Reflect on your own preferences and interests.
  3. Store personal information about others in “memory files”, and then access the stored information.
  4. Formulate and ask personal questions with how, would and have.

Watch How to Play the Games.

In an era of increased time spent socializing on-line and a reduced rate of face-to-face interactions that are rich in social cues afforded through facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and cadence, all children will benefit from thoughtful, straightforward, and honest interpretations and discussions of social situations. It requires more effort for sure, to create opportunities for face-to-face interactions, but they are loaded with social language learning opportunities and…  it’s worth it!

Michelle Garcia Winner is an internationally recognized SLP who specializes in helping people develop their social competencies. I recommend her website for further information on social learning challenges. https://www.socialthinking.com/



How Rhyming Supports Literacy Success

Full disclosure…when I became a mom, I didn’t really know any nursery rhymes. And frankly, that felt a bit weird because, I am a speech therapist!  But up until that point, my career had largely focused on work with adults.

A friend told me about a local “Mother Goose” program for new moms and babies, where you learn nursery rhymes in a group setting. Sure, my daughter slept through half the classes, but it was fun and I left feeling satisfied that I was learning something for her benefit.

Little did I know at the time that we had taken the first steps toward literacy success.

Phonological awareness is a term used to describe a person’s awareness of and ability to manipulate the sounds of a language. It allows you to rhyme, count words or syllables, and segment words into syllables and sounds.

Phonemic awareness is considered a sub-skill of phonological awareness. It is the knowledge that words are made up of individual sounds, and that these sounds are distinct from each other.

A strong correlation exists between phonological awareness in kindergarten and early reading success. Research has shown that strong readers have intact phonological awareness skills and that poor readers do not.  In fact, many reading difficulties are preventable if children are exposed to phonological awareness activities in preschool and kindergarten .

In comparison to children with little exposure to rhyme before they start school, the literacy skills of children with a good understanding of rhyme from a young age, are notably superior. This is not surprising when you consider that experience with rhyming helps children understand that words sharing common sounds, will often share common letter sequences. If you can read cat, it is easier to read mat, bat, hat.

In 1997, the US National Reading Panel was established for the sole purpose of evaluating research and evidence to find the most effective ways to teach children to read. They determined that the best approach includes instruction in phonemic awareness. They reported that children who are read to at home, especially material that rhymes, usually develop the basis for phonemic awareness.

As with many other skills, phonological awareness develops in a sequential manner. The earliest skill to develop is awareness that words can rhyme, and then the ability to produce rhymes.

Not only is rhyming fun, but also it’s an effective foundation on which to introduce and build phonemic awareness… the awareness that words are made up of distinct sounds.

Five easy ways to weave more rhyming into your child’s play:

  1. Read rhyming books together. Here is a list of rhyming books on Amazon.
  2. Encourage children to create rhymes with their names, by changing the first sound.
  3. Put together a collection of small objects that rhyme in a basket, and find the matching pairs together.
  4. Recite and sing lots of nursery rhymes in the car, in the bath, or before bedtime. Involve older children and see who can make up the silliest rhyme. Leave off the rhyming word at the end for your child to fill in. Here is a good list of nursery rhymes.
  5. Choose engaging toys that expose children to rhyming. The Snap-N-Learn Rhyming Pups is one of my favorites.


Here is my FREE GIFT to you. I created a colour based rhyming activity for children in preschool and kindergarten. Print it, cut out the small rhyming pictures from one page, mix them up and place them in a pile. Next, name and place the two colour circles in front of your child. He turns over one picture at a time. Help him name the picture and say the colour it rhymes with. Ask him to place the picture on that coloured circle, and together say both the words in the rhyme string (red… bed). Continue and add each rhyming word to your rhyme string, until you have a long string.

When playing with rhymes, talk about how the words rhyme because they have the same last sounds. Bring your child’s attention to the individual sounds in words and encourage her to join you rhyming. Repeat rhyming lines, and leave off the rhyming word waiting expectantly for your child to fill it in. Be silly and have fun together, all the while knowing that you are taking the first steps toward literacy success.


Some of my favourite early rhyming books:





And fantastic resources:

Language and Reading Disabilities, 3rd Edition (2012) Kamhi and Catts

Phonemic Awareness Instruction Helps Children Learn to Read: Evidence From the National Reading Panel’s Meta-Analysis (2001) Ehri, Nunes, Willows, Schuster, Yaghoub-Zadeh and Shanahan




Helpful strategies to connect with adults who have Dementia

Dementia is one of the biggest public health challenges we face today. With 35 million people living with Dementia worldwide, and the prevalence expected to double every 20 years, it is likely that most of us will be personally touched by Dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease is responsible for almost 50% of dementia. This disease presents unique communication challenges, and often results in social isolation. Depression and further declines in physical health are probable consequences. My main goals, when working with adults who have dementia, are to strengthen their SOCIAL CONNECTIONS.

Here are my top 3 tips for how to best communicate with adults who have dementia.


Adults with dementia often make inaccurate statements. Common reactions include correcting and re-orienting them to the present situation however, repeated correcting may create negative feelings and result in agitation or aggression. Experts say that denying any bad feelings will intensify them so, instead of correcting or arguing, validate their belief, regardless of accuracy. Validation can simply be a mirroring of what they said, commenting on how happy they appear, reassurance, or if they shared something disturbing, acknowledge how difficult it must be.


Speak at a slightly slower rate with a slightly louder volume. Use a full range of intonation, stressing the keywords in your message while adding pauses between phrases and sentences.  Avoid using ‘elderspeak’ characterized by an elevated pitch, a noticeably slower rate and repetition. Studies reveal that ‘elderspeak’ does not improve comprehension, and results in withdrawal and lowered self-esteem.


Avoid any testing questions, and resist the temptation to check if a loved one remembers a name. Instead, offer reassurances and reminders, such as the date, time and place. You can also introduce yourself and any others who enter the room, regardless of your relationship or how long you have known each other.  

Try to choose questions that support the individual’s spared abilities and avoid questions that rely on impaired memory, such as the events of their day, or dates of significant events. Even in the later stages of dementia, a person can usually reminisce about past life events and relationships; they may remember song lyrics and how to do routine tasks and they can also often answer questions about their feelings and share their opinions. When asking a question, notice how you are asking. For example, questions with choices are easier to answer than open-ended questions.

Give the person with Dementia extra time to respond to your question. You may not get an immediate response, be patient. They need extra time to process spoken information, and repeating your question will interfere with their processing.

These are Connecting Strategies: you are reaching out, recognizing their strengths, and literally meeting them where they are at.  In doing so, you bring ease to the interaction and strengthen the social connection. Considering that the weight of the conversation will fall to you, come prepared with some jokes, local news, interesting articles, family updates, and personal stories. Dementia can make communicating with loved ones difficult, but conversation nourishes relationships and strengthens connections, enhancing both physical and mental health.


For further reading:

Communication skills training in a nursing home: effects of a brief intervention on residents and nursing aides. (2015) Sprangers, Dijkstra and Romijn-Luijten

I Care. A Handbook for Care Partners of People with Dementia. (2014) Brush and Mills


Early Speech and Language Support Made Easy!

Becoming a parent brings with it plenty of responsibility. You brought a being into this world who is completely dependent on you and you put a lot of pressure on yourself to get it all done, leaving little if any extra time at the end of each day.

The good news is…supporting your baby’s speech and language development doesn’t require you to find extra time…NO EXTRA TIME! You can model and facilitate communication skills during your regular routines and play times.

Language skills begin to develop early.

Before he is even 2 months old, your baby stares intently at you and enjoys your attention.

By 6 months old, she watches your face as you talk, smiles in response to your smiles, and anticipates what will happen next.

By 9 months old he communicates non-verbally, uses sounds and gestures to get what he wants, and plays simple games.

It should come as no surprise that what your little one is most interested in is YOU! Take advantage of her natural interest in you to promote her attention and turn-taking skills… the skills needed to absorb speech and language modeled for her.  Good attention and turn taking skills are the foundation of oral language development.  Before learning to speak, your baby must learn to attend to others and take turns.


Here are 3 ways to promote good attention and turn-taking skills.

 1.  Follow your baby’s lead. Talk about what he is looking at. This helps him link sounds and words to the things he pays attention to. It also helps develop his confidence when he realizes you are interested in him and having fun with him. The more fun and interest you bring to playtime, the more he will pay attention to you.

2.  Pause regularly inviting your baby to take her turn. Get face to face, lean in, and look at her as if you expect her to take a turn. This might be a small movement or sound. Repeat your baby’s sounds and encourage her to repeat your sounds. Acknowledge her turn and continue with this pattern of making a sound, pausing and acknowledging. You are having a conversation!

3. Tempt your baby with something you think he really wants. Hold two toys in front of him and encourage him to look at or reach for one of them. Name them for him and reinforce his choice. Pause a familiar activity or routine (a song, a rhyme, shaking a rattle, a repetitive knee bounce) and wait for him to indicate he wants you to continue.


Whether you are talking, singing, reciting nursery rhymes, reading or playing with your baby… Follow her lead, use the power of pause and tempt her to take a turn.

Check here for some great games you can play with your baby!