Monday, February 23, 2015

Five Electronic Free Options to Stimulate Communication

Chances are you are using your iPad, phone, or laptop to read this post.  Truth be told, I'm using my iPad to write it and later, I will use my laptop to publish it.  I'm on some form of electronic all the time.  Either I'm checking work emails; updating my client calendar; billing for sessions electronically; texting for my son's swim or soccer carpool; checking swim stats; paying bills; or keeping up with new and fun ideas for speech sessions on Instagram.  I dislike being connected to devices and I despise the example that I am setting for my nine year old son. Maybe that's why I still enjoy reading books- you know, actual books that I can purchase or borrow from my library.  It's the one time I can be off a device and model a leisure activity that doesn't involve something that I need to charge later.

Alas, my son is just as reliant on his devices (kindle, computer, DS) as I am, but he decided (ok, I coaxed him into it) to give up playing games on all devices for Lent.  That's right, for 40 days, we put away his kindle and DS and set his computer on the charger.  I have to say, he's been doing really well this first week, but we needed a game plan for his swim meet this past weekend.  You see, swim meets are a time to zone out on devices or tune out those around you with earbuds or headsets, eat, and wait until your next event.  I feared he might break into a cold sweat without his DS, but I was pleasantly surprised by what happened instead!  He easily rallied a group of his peers to play Uno Robotics.  As a communication professional, I loved listening to them make silly voices to record their names and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing their laughter as they played a round or two.  WINNING!

Being electronic free made me recall a time a couple summers ago when we didn't have devices and my son was participating in his first swim season.  Back then, I hole punched some dry erase activity cards; divided the cards into two stacks; attached them with a binder ring; threw a few markers and tissues in the swim bag; and watched the kids sit for at least an hour going through each and every card in his or her deck.  Since my son and his friends have out grown the activities on the cards, I divided the decks even further and will be giving these out to my private clients.  SUCCESS!

I started thinking about games that I used to play with my sister at restaurants when we were young and didn't have iPhones to keep us busy while we waited for our meals.  I remembered enjoying hangman, so I drew a page and slid it into a page protector.  Since the fall/ winter swim season just ended, I am going to test out this hangman game at the summer swim meets.  In the meantime, I will give it a whirl the next time we are out to eat. FINGERS CROSSED!

This next idea is one that requires nothing more than your voice.  No materials, pens, markers, or devices are necessary and you can safely play it in the car with your kids while you drive.  It's the alphabet game.  All you need to do is call out something you see while driving that begins with a letter in the alphabet.  The object is to "spy" things in alphabetical order before the journey is over or until the next rest stop.  Admittedly, I have found that the boys that carpool with us do not always enjoy this game over and over again, so sometimes, we mix it up and work on multiplication tables.  Most kids are always up for a little competition, so this has been a hit with the third graders in my life.  BOOM!

Last, but certainly not least, there are books!  When my boy was a toddler, I had mini books in my diaper bag such as First Words/ Signs and Lift-the-Flaps.  His favorite "books" were mini photo albums filled with pictures of him with family and friends enjoying trips to the zoo or parties.  These kept him busy and entertained while in the shopping carriage or at the restaurant table.  Nowadays, there's a Harry Potter book or Diary of the Wimpy Kid one in the car and occasionally, there are USA swim magazines or Cub Scout Newsletters tucked in the backseat pouch.  YES!

Don't get me wrong, there are so many great, educational apps out there and I didn't write this post to say that we don't need these devices in therapy.  In fact, I often recommend apps for articulation practice and improving language skills, but electronics do not need to be the only thing in your bag or car, especially for those kids who get lost in them.  It's virtually impossible to build turn taking and communication skills when a young child plays on a device.  I rarely use my iPad as a reinforcer for completing tasks in speech sessions because it closes the door rather than opens one for expanding communication.  Some time ago, I cleared all the games off my phone and reclaimed this as mine once again!  When my son asks me when he can have his own smart phone or iPad, I respond with the age that I was when I got mine, which was just a few years ago.  You can do it too, it's not too late!  If nothing else, then shut your phone off when you are at the park with your kids or during speech sessions if you happen to sit in on these.  Trust me, you will be amazed with the interactions that occur when you become present.