Themes for Speech Therapy: Food

Food. It brings people together.

We have likes and dislikes, family traditions, memories, holiday experiences, and hobbies all surrounding FOOD.

Food is great theme for its broadness and how it can be easily used through a unit, semester, school year, or calendar year. I will only be scratching the surface of things you can do with food.

As a side note, be sensitive and aware of those that have dietary restrictions, allergies, or are unable to take food by mouth.  This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t talk about food! But ignoring food issues can be down right dangerous.

Alright! So let’s taco ’bout food!

Holidays

What’s a holiday without food? You know, if you work in the school system like I do and have high caseloads, you may be somewhat limited on how much you want to purchase. There are a ton of really cute pinterest ideas out there, but I don’t want to prepare melted chocolate for 70 kids. So, I do my best to use items that can be easily multiplied for less.

Christmas and Valentine’s Day – I use these two holidays for cookie decorating.

No not those. Those are beautiful. I’m talking round cookies + one color of icing + sprinkles.

Finding a large vat of icing and sprinkles with the right colors is not difficult. What can be difficult is how quickly an activity like this can be completed. So what can we do? I like to talk a lot about materials, sequencing words, and describing vocabulary before I even get started. We draw pictures of each step and use core vocabulary boards to help with sentence completion. When we finish decorating, I take a picture of the cookies to admire, discuss, or even write about. I also like when the students give me the directions. I do my best to take them VERY literally. It becomes quite hilarious at times.

Halloween – I always use my Pumpkin Patch Pudding activity for the month of October, although, it could be used at any time during the fall. I have learned to use mini cups instead of regular sized plastic cups.  It turns out much cuter and it’s just enough to enjoy with out a major sugar high.

*Remember to be sensitive to those that do not celebrate certain holidays.

Seasons

Winter – If you have a microwave near by, I recommend using hot chocolate in January.  Even some of my students that don’t drink hot chocolate like to stir the powder and watch it dissolve. Just be sure that you heat it to a safe temperature.

Summer– Add another drink to the menu! Lemonade is a fun powder to get in two colors and is easy to stretch with a large caseload. If you have a smaller caseload, a single client, or your own children, being adventurous with real lemons is a great hands on activity.

Fall – See Halloween above

Healthy Foods

Have you seen the little strawberry Santa hats? Or the vegetable straws in a cup decorated as a turkey? What about the apple slices (lips) with marshmallows (teeth) in the middle? These are all things I have done in therapy that don’t break the bank and lean towards a more healthy snack option (minus the marshmallows).

Get this printable here. 

I love to pretend play here because plastic food is pretty easy to come by. I use this cut and paste bag activity with actual paper sacks if I have them. We ‘go shopping’ for our food around the speech room. I am currently looking for a used cash register to include in this activity. How cute will that play scenario be??

Other snacks and sweets

Pudding- I usually stick with chocolate, but this a great cheap activity that can come in different flavors. Add some sprinkles at the end just for fun.

Popcorn – I have a hot air popper that I purchased for about $15 several years ago. The kids are memorized every. single. time.  Compare and contrast this with microwave popcorn.

Food/Book companions – My current favorite is Way Down Deep in the Deep Blue Sea by Jan Peck. Then we follow it up with a graham cracker covered in blue icing and goldfish.

Check out the pudding, popcorn, and graham cracker here.

There are MANY books that include food like these classics:

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (decorate cookies)

How to Eat Fried Worms (crushed up sandwich cookies and gummy worms)

Pancakes for Breakfast  (If you can’t make pancakes, use playdough to make different breakfast foods.)

The Very Hungry Catepillar (Bring apple slices)

Try slapping this face on a tissue box and ‘feed’ the character. It’s a classic that kids LOVE.

Get this printable here. 

Break out any play snacks/sweet food and dishes and start serving each other – a classic play time activity. I love including this cut and paste math activity. Most of my students could teach me a thing or two in the math department, so they are usually motivated to make this compute.

Get this printable here

Other stuff:

Restaurants – I have had the awesome opportunity to participate in community based field trips.  Some of these field trips have included restaurants (pizza and McDonald’s). We used core vocabulary, social stories, and sequencing strips before. during, and after the trips. I loved attending with the kids and helping them through the steps in real time.  It was my favorite type of push-in therapy!

Lunch Bunch – Getting a group of kids together in the speech room during their lunch time can be tough to squeeze into a busy schedule, but worth it. It’s such a great time to really listen to their speech that is not dictated by data keeping or getting a speech activity completed in time. It’s an excellent moment to let them lead the conversation. But it can be more structured if you prefer. I may show the card deck, ‘That’s silly’ and ask ‘why’. Maybe we talk about all the foods on their tray with their sound. Or for social skills I may present different topics we all talk about for at least 3 minutes before moving on.

Yep, just scratching the surface here :)!

Please share! What ideas have you used in therapy? Did this post spark any good ideas? This is my favorite topic and I would love to learn more about addressing food in therapy from all of you out there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planning Themes in Speech Therapy: Animals

I love themes! Themes help you plan, support carryover in the classroom or home, and are just plain fun.

What’s even better about themes? You are building vocabulary through word relationships and how they connect to the larger world. And this is supported by research!  Just like we are made to be social creatures and live with community support (yes, even us introverts), learning takes on a whole other meaning when viewed through a relational lens.  Research from Scott, Nagy, and Flinspace, 2008, says, ‘…students learn academic vocabulary through social interactions as members of the learning community’.

Today starts a 4 part series in planning basic themes in speech therapy. These posts will focus on animals, food, transportation, and basic concepts.

Let’s get started!

First, decide what animals you want to address. What toys, books, activities do you already own? Are there animals that are very motivating for some of the children you serve? Is there a field trip to a farm coming up? Are there materials in the classroom that you can also use, borrow, or adapt? Answering those questions are a big step in planning your upcoming activities.

Farm Animals

Get these printables here.

Break out your toy barn!

If you don’t have a play barn with animals, keep your eyes peeled because I see them ALL the time at thrift stores.  Anecdotally,  they have seemed to be universal as an engaging play activity for most of my students. There are so many concepts to explore with these toys including animal names/sounds, positional concepts, WH questions, social skills, and more!

And don’t forget to sing, ‘Old McDonald Had a Farm’, watch a cool youtube video about farm facts, and/or check out the plethora of books with a farm theme at your school or local library.

The Zoo

The students at my school get to go to the zoo for one of their field trips, so I love presenting this unit before they go.  I have inherited my zoo animal toys over the years (I really don’t know where they all came from!) but they are fairly cheap and accessible. If you are reading this around Easter, go check out the dollar store. Sometimes you can find Easter eggs shaped as zoo animals – which can be used as great motivators, games, and conversation starters.

Get these printables here.

I love this book to talk about zoo mamas and babies for some of my youngest children, but if you are looking for something a little bit older try checking out National Geographic books for kids. They have covered pretty much every group/type of animal out there with interesting facts and amazing pictures.

And get local! Go online and check out the website of your local zoo. There are plenty of interesting pictures and facts to discuss with your student or child. Thinking and talking about your city and community really takes those language skills beyond the home or therapy room.

Pets

I love talking about pets. This is a common topic that pops up in my speech room fairly often. If my students don’t have pets in their home, they often have some kind of connection to one.  Be sensitive to those who may have lost a pet or are fearful to common household animals.

Get these printables here.

This little pet shelter is a great activity to make associations.  It only requires glue, crayons, and scissors!

So how do I incorporate play here?

My own children have a play doctors kit that I use on a couple of stuffed animals so we pretend to be a ‘vet’.

I also use my farm and zoo animals to ask, ‘Can this be a pet?’.  Excellent and funny conversations come out of this simple activity.

For my older students, I ask them to draw pictures of their pets (or what pet they would like to have) and then we create sentences about their creations. If we are working on sequencing we may talk about the steps taken for various actions to care for a pet such as feeding or bathing.

And as always…..include your books :).

Sea Life

Sea life = water play!! If you are into using water in your therapy sessions this is a great time to do so.  Use a small container to fill halfway with water and add toys. Be sure and have towels handy.

Refer back to this cut/paste activity as your learner plays in the water to discuss positional concepts or compare/contrast.  Get these printables here.

If you have ever read Way Down Deep in the Deep Blue Sea by Jan Pack, you know it’s perfect for naming vocabulary and describing. It has the cutest little surprise ending as well.  But that’s not all. I pull out graham crackers, blue icing, and gold fish to make our own little sea scene that we can taste!  It’s fun and makes a lasting impression.

So there you go! How many therapy sessions and goals would this cover?  Would these things be motivating to your learners? How might they carry over this vocabulary in the home of the classroom?

Stay turned for (my favorite) a food themed speech therapy unit!

 

 

 

Community Breakfast

Reaching the community. It’s such a difficult thing to do these days. My husband had an idea about a year ago. Let me tell you a little story.

In 2017, we moved into a home that was built in the 60’s.  Before that, the previous owners lived in the house for 40+ years! We learned very quickly that they had made a name for themselves in the community.  The neighborhood is full of home owners that have lived in this area of town for decades. And they all said the same thing. This couple that had previously lived in this house were kind. They were thoughtful. They knew how to treat their neighbors.

Shortly after getting settled, my husband (Justin) decided to start The Ahern Breakfast for the neighborhood to honor this couple that had made such an impact on others. The second Saturday of every month from 9-11 we invite people into our home for breakfast tacos and pancakes. We actually go door to door and hand out fliers. Justin posts it on the neighborhood website. It’s a staple announcement in the church bulletin.

And you know what? Every month I feel like we talk about how no will stop by and we will have a bunch of extra food. Or sometimes I wake up on a Saturday and think, ‘Maybe I’ll go to back to bed and Justin can entertain guests’ (that would’t even work anyway with 2 small children).  And don’t get me started on cleaning the house on a Friday night.

But every Saturday (even one weekend when it was raining buckets outside!), we have around 5-10 people rotate in and out for a little breakfast and conversation.  We have a couple of regulars every month like our 91 year old neighbor from across the street who occasionally bakes us the BEST banana bread. Or a recently widowed woman from our church who keeps us company and helps set the table. We also have had a lot of one timers and church friends who make it out.

And no matter how I felt before breakfast, I always feel (I’m struggling to describe an emotion here)….fulfilled.  And I don’t just mean with tacos. We made a connection.  It was a small group of people from all walks of life with different joys and struggles, yet we share experiences based on our similar location.  It’s almost strange to think how our weather, traffic, local events, and even code enforcement can connect us.  So….with that – cheers to next month!

What kind of community events have you planned?

 

6 Steps to Start a Diaper Bank

In 2014, I saw a news report about a diaper bank that had been robbed in North Carolina. Wait, what? A diaper bank? Why did I not know this was a thing?

Later, I causally mentioned to my husband that I would like to start a diaper pantry in our community.  He loved the idea and the rest is history.

Are you interested in doing the same? Check out some of my top tips below and feel free to ask any follow up questions in the comments below!

Get Educated!

Check out the National Diaper Bank Network and find out if there are already diaper banks operating in your area. If so, volunteer, donate, or communicate with the organization to find out what else they may need. The website is also chock-FULL of stats and info related to diaper need.

Find a Location

You’ve done your research and your eyes have been opened to the diaper need in this country.  Although diaper awareness is growing, there are still many gaps around the U.S. with diaper giveaway locations. It’s time to start asking questions.

Where are the families in your area that could benefit from receiving diapers? Start talking to your local organizations that may already be supporting families in various ways. Maybe you personally know parents struggling to purchase diapers. I received 100 emails from moms, dads, and grandparents asking for diapers the first month we opened the diaper bank in Kentucky. When you start talking about this, it won’t take long to find the need.

Where will you distribute diapers? We have done this twice now and both times we were able to do it out of church buildings. Many local churches and other service organizations are looking for new ways to help their communities, ask around if one of them might give you some space to get started. Where else might you be able to do to make this happen? Will your families easily have access to that location by foot or bus? Could you team up with another organization, say a group that provides food or medical services?

Build Up Supply

It’s now to time to GET diapers (and likely wipes and rash cream too). The first go around we spoke to several churches and charitable organizations (think scouting groups, community give-back programs at local companies, and service clubs like Kiwanis) in the area and asked for donations on a monthly basis. We asked each group if they could do a drive for us only once or if they could commit to doing so annually.

The second time we were able to team up with Hope Supply Company who serve as our primary supplier of diapers and feminine hygiene products. Each month they deliver our most needed sizes and supplies right to our door.

Gather Volunteers

Now, you can’t do this alone. You will need volunteers to greet families, provide hospitality, fill orders, and keep the bank stocked/organized. You can likely find volunteers through the same outlets where you find supplies, but also post on sites like Nextdoor, or just start with friends and family. You might even contact the nearest school to see if staff members, who are already invested in your community, might come help and invite students and parents to join in.

Advertise

It’s time to open! How are you going to let families know about it? Make simple fliers with the who, what, where, and when. Pass them out to local free clinics, WIC offices, schools (some schools have designated staff people who always looking for just this sort of opportunity), faith communities, day care centers, and other places where families with kids are likely to go.

Hospitality

Treat your families like VIP’s because they are. For example, at Diapers Etc. we provide free childcare for weary parents, offer snacks with coffee and juice, and encourage volunteers to show genuine concern for our guests largely just through listening to their stories. Depending on your context, it might also be helpful to find translators to smooth out the communication with guests who speak other languages than you. The goal here is not just to get diapers on kids, though that is important in itself, but to offer kindness and space for friendships and community to grow.

Bonus Tip: Ask What’s Next

Once you have done all that and your diaper bank is running smoothly, start asking what other items folks in your area might need. For instance, at Diapers Etc., we also provide feminine hygiene products, adult incontinence supplies, and an ever-expanding inventory of important goods like cleaning supplies and laundry detergent.

 

Have any thoughts or ideas you would like to share? Any questions you would like to ask? Please do so in the comments section below.