I’m a school-based and private clinician, but some of my favorite therapy activities use equipment more typically associated with occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) services. When I can get my hands on them! Stability balls, sensory bins, tummy scooters … these activities are highly engaging for students and can promote progress with their speech-language goals.
Check out the following benefits of using gross motor equipment as a speech-language pathologist:
- Behavior bonus: For our students with attention deficit or other behavioral disorders, the traditional sit-at-a-table-and-speak approach can set them up for failure. These kids often struggle throughout the day in the classroom. Why not make speech a place where they can play to their strengths? Gross-motor activities can help kids succeed during sessions by providing a much-needed break from a day of sitting still. Movement activities also motivate and can be used as an incentive to kids for self-monitoring their articulation productions.
- Carryover shortcut: Wouldn’t we all like tips to improve carryover? A growing body of research into brain-based learning tells us that movement during learning actually helps the brain build new pathways. Motor movement during speech-language activities involves additional neural pathways in the motor activity of speech production. This helps generalization and carryover occur.
- Muscle-tone magic: Many, if not most, of the kids I see with unclear speech have noticeably low or high muscle tone. The longer I practice, the more I come to think that many motor speech problems originate in the body’s core. However, the reality of school eligibility guidelines makes access to OT and PT services challenging for students. I like to take advantage of my access to these students to sneak some core strengthening into sessions.
- Sit-up-straight solution: We’ve all worked with students who persistently speak in “baby talk” or with a muffled back focus because their neck was “scrunched.” Then there are those intractable tongue thrusts resulting from neck hyperextension. Gross motor play facilitates the upright posture we want to see so we can stop nagging!
- Articulation trail: Lay out articulation flashcards on the floor to create a trail. Choose a motor activity for the children to perform as they move from one word to the next: hop, ride the scooter, twirl or crisscross-jump.
- Ball card pickup: Lay articulation cards on the floor. While lying on a stability ball, the child rolls to each card, picks it up with one hand while using the other hand for support, and says the word.
- Hula hooping: Counting is a great carryover activity that my young schoolage children always enjoy. With this activity, ask the child to count the number of hula-hoop turns they can do. If the child makes an articulation error, the counting starts over.
- Line jumping: This activity works well for groups. Lay a rope or strip on the floor. Children take turns instructing the group in an action involving the rope: “Jump over the strip,” “Jump right, turn around, touch the ground and jump back,” and more. They will love coming up with creative directions! Of course, if a speech-sound error creeps in, the directions are not followed.
- Playground intervention: If you dare, change up your speech session by taking it out to the playground! Children and SLP take turns describing and then carrying out a motor sequence, such as, “Run to the swings, jump, then run back and touch the slide.”
Do you use active play with your speech groups? I’d love to hear your creative ideas!
Dvorah Waldman, MA, CCC-SLP, has been working with children for nearly 10 years in school and private practice settings. Her special interest is motor speech disorders in children. firstname.lastname@example.org