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Small Talk: Diagnostic Testing and Curriculum for Parents of Young Children with Speech and Language Delays

By Cari Ebert, M.S., CCC-SLP, Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist
Five in a Row Publishing

PO Box 707
Grandview, MO 64030-0707

Small Talk is a spiral-bound book of 286 pages. Created by Cari Ebert, a Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist, this specialized curriculum is designed to help young children (ages 2 to 7 years) develop strong speech and language skills. The author developed these materials to fill the void she found while homeschooling her own son. While she acknowledges the benefits of direct speech-language therapy, her desire to include the family during the therapy process can help users gain the competence and confidence to encourage better speech language development at home.

The curriculum includes one chapter that explains Speech & Language Development, one chapter of Teaching Tips & Tools, one chapter of Diagnostic Testing, one chapter of mouth exercises, and two chapters of lesson plans. The lesson plan chapters cover oral motor exercises, vowel sounds, and 22 consonant sounds. Three different diagnostic tests are included; two articulation tests for children with a 20+ single word spoken vocabulary and ability to imitate new words, and one test for children who do not verbally imitate new words and who have an expressive vocabulary of fewer than 20 words. Although designed for young children with language delays, the curriculum is suitable for typically developing preschool children as well. It can also be used with older children having difficulty correctly articulating certain sounds. Chapter Six is particularly suited for older children as it includes the lesson plans for targeted sounds, allowing parents to find help for a particular sound. Instructions for a Communication Diary are also supplied, including a printable recordkeeping page to enable parents to track progress throughout the program.

Chapter One begins by defining key terms that are helpful for users to understand. There is a developmental milestones checklist in the first chapter, and the author discusses the difference between a language delay and the possibility of a disorder. She recommends working with a Speech-Language Pathologist who can provide specific activities and strategies for you to implement at home. She explains ways to use various support products in speech activities, and she provides the websites so that you can find those products online should you desire to order them. The Strategies to Enhance Speech and Language Development are incredibly helpful, and the one-page Top Ten List is a fridge-worthy reminder that can help families every day. Even entire lyrics for songs are included to aid in the practice of sounds.

Chapter Two provides helpful tips for improving and creating opportunities for verbal interaction with children. These are excellent tips for anyone who regularly works with children. Some of them may surprise you. For instance, the author says to teach functional words like eat, ball, and cookie, rather than vague words like more, that, and please. Another surprising tip was to simplify your own speech to increase the likelihood of attempts by your child. A survey is included to help you create an individualized approach to using this curriculum.

The diagnostic testing in Chapter Three will reveal specific sounds that your child has not yet mastered. The consonant diagnostic test is a bit lengthy, with three words for each of 22 sounds and three words each for seven more blends (for children over the age of four). The Instructions for Diagnostic Testing for Children with Limited Verbal Skills gives encouragement for play, but we could have used some pointers as to when to seek professional assistance. The author does stress that the best way to determine whether a communication delay or disorder is present is to consult with a Speech-Language Pathologist, which we wholeheartedly agree with. Any diagnosis by a professional will only enhance the use of this curriculum with your child.

Chapter Four, aptly titled "Marvelous Mouth Skills," includes a helpful materials list and instructions for improving physical manipulation and exercise for your child's mouth. This chapter is written more as a general list of activities to help your child improve awareness of the mouth and tongue, not as a day-by-day lesson plan. Never in three years of speech therapy with our public school system were we ever taught these simple (but incredibly helpful) mouth exercises. The materials list includes instruction for a Marvelous Mouth Box containing household items easily gathered in most homes. The only things we had to go purchase were a bag of Dum Dum lollipops, a harmonica, and a Baby Einstein book--everything else we already owned.

Chapters Five and Six have lesson plans for Vowels and Consonants, respectively. A materials list and suggested book list are included with each section. Generally, the materials lists contain very common items found in most households with children. The Consonants chapter covers Lip Sounds, Other Early Developing Sounds, Tongue Tip Sounds, Back of the Tongue Sounds, and much more. The Lesson Plans stress focusing on the sounds, not the letter name. There are target words for each sound, and space is provided for you to add words of your own. The activities are fun! They are designed to blend seamlessly into family life; this is not a "let's sit down and work these activities for a half an hour" kind of curriculum. Many activities are reminiscent of traditional preschool activities, but they are obviously focused toward the goal of speech acquisition. As an experienced home preschool teacher holding a Child Development Associate credential, I see that the activities could easily be blended into an existing preschool curriculum. With the addition of just a few additional components, Small Talk could be an excellent preschool curriculum for any young child, whether typically developing or language delayed. A scope and sequence would have been a nice addition for those desiring to use the curriculum in this way.

This book is not only a diagnostic testing tool and preschool language curriculum; it is an education in speech therapy for parents! As a parent of a child with autism, I found the information to be phenomenal. I would recommend this book to anyone working with children, even those whose children have progressed past the point of language acquisition. If you plan to communicate with children, have more children, work with children, or enjoy and encourage grandchildren, then Small Talk is a book you need to read. The expense seems a bit high at first glance, but when you consider the ability to evaluate your own child and then track his development, the knowledge is priceless. If I had known some of these simple exercises and activities before I had children of my own, their speech development would have moved along more successfully. I would encourage parents with middle school and high school age children to read through this book as a homeschool assignment. Small Talk will better equip your children to someday work with children of their own. This incredible resource can encourage verbal communication in the smallest talkers of every household.

Product review by Donna Campos, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, LLC, August 2009

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