When I first started working, my preschool speech therapy students were tricky. I adored working with them. However, I didn’t feel productive half the session because I spent most of the time chasing them from one activity to the next. When students are active, have a quick attention span, and are minimally verbal, it can be rough to navigate. So, here are my best tips and tricks for working with preschool and any minimally verbal students in speech therapy!
1. Have a routine
This is a big one. In order to build those little pathways in their brains, repetition and practice can go a long way. My tip for you: do the same things every session. Maybe it will help you see what I mean if I tell you how I structure my sessions and some routines that I’ve put into place.
- We sing a song, the same song, while walking down the hall to the speech room. “This is the way we walk to speech” and we stomp our feet. –> The whole time I’m seeing if they can they imitate actions, respond to cloze in songs, follow directions.
- I stop at the door and wait. Every time. They have to tell me “open the door” before I do it. It’s locked, so if they are capable, I make them ask for the key. –> Great for MLU and articulation practice (anybody else have fronters? lol)
- I always start my sessions by reading a short book with them. I don’t always actually read all the words. We lift the flaps, talk about the pictures, label, make sentences, touch the characters, identify actions, pronouns, and prepositions. –> I want to increase their joint attention here. I go more quickly for the littles who can’t attend and go longer for the ones that can. Remember: YOU are the one in control. 😉
- Next, I do an activity sheet. Even if it’s just dabbing dot markers on a worksheet or coloring little pictures, I always expose them to paper tasks. –> I want them to learn to “sit and work” and follow directions because it prepares them for a classroom. This also lends itself to fine motor activities and pre-writing.
- After that, we play with a toy or do a more active activity. Sometimes I pair it with cards or tasks to target their specific objectives. Sometimes we’ll do songs or a sensory bin. –> I want them to practice playing appropriately and playing with others, not on their own. This is where I do a lot of requesting activities or carry-over some articulation skills into conversation.
- Then, we blow bubbles. I use bubbles with my preschoolers and minimally verbal older students every session. You can work on SO much and they love it. Even if we are running behind, I do a couple of turns then move on. –> I want them to practice “your turn” and “my turn.” They request to open the bottle, they request bubbles, they request a “big” bubble.
- Lastly, I give them their sticker or treat before they go. I always have them make a choice. “Do you want red or blue?” Then, I make them say the whole thing about what they want, if they are able. “I want a red skittle” or “I want a dog sticker.”
- Then, we sing the same song as we walk back to class. We do the same open the door routine as well.
2. Use visuals
Visual schedules make the world go round. Ok, not really, but it can make your session go much more smoothly. Any kind will work. If you aren’t familiar, visual schedules are just picture representations of the activities for the day. They can check them off as they go, which helps them know what to expect.
I really love this one by Nicole Allison and this one by Texas Speech Mom. This freebie by Type B SLP is pretty great too! Here is the one I typically use (pictured above). It’s a simple flap schedule but works well for my kiddos. I made little visuals that I attach to them too. The template is available in my free resource library if you want to grab your own!
3. Keep them moving
For your little friends who are active (and for those that aren’t), it’s important to keep them moving. Here are some of my favorite ways to do that:
- I like to do different activities in different areas of the room. Or at the very least, have them go to the shelf or closet and get the activity for you each time.
- Incorporate stretches between tasks.
- Sing songs with hand motions as part of your session.
- Have them clean up and put away each activity before going to the next one.
- Have a dance party after each activity to celebrate finishing.
4. Use music
Did you know that music occupies more areas of our brain than language does? (-Oliver Sacks) I recently went to a training that talked all about how to utilize music in therapy. It was amazing! Here are some reasons why it’s beneficial:
- Music activates the “happy” neurotransmitters.
- It increases and strengthens synapses.
- It’s an awesome tool for arousing emotions and feelings.
Singing and using music is also great if your pushing into preschool classrooms. You can use it for greetings and farewells, giving simple instructions, transitioning, or circle time. YouTube is full of preschool song suggestions. I’ll do a post on some of my favorites really soon.
5. Communicate with caregivers
As a school-based SLP, this one can be tricky sometimes. I typically have good communication with the itinerant preschoolers who come from home, since I see their parents more regularly. For my students who are in preschool classrooms, I try to touch base with parents monthly. Even if it’s just sending them a newsletter or handout, I like to educate them and have them reinforce what’s being done in our speech sessions if possible.
I like using these monthly parent handouts that come with lots of ideas for home practice including an emphasis on core words.
I hope some of these ideas help you with all your preschool adventures! Head over to my TPT store and hit the preschool category if you’re looking for more resources.