As a preschool-based speech-language pathologist, I help students with severe communication impairments acquire the functional and academic skills they need to communicate at home and school. During the toddler years, children learn through exploration and play. My sessions with preschool students closely follow the framework I see in their classroom instruction. I include both play and structured learning activities.
An SLP improves outcomes for early-intervention clients by changing the way she relates with parents.
Speech and language interventions in preschool sets the stage for grade school. Students learn to follow multistep directions, attend to and complete tasks, and work cooperatively with peers.
So, how do we work with parents and teachers to help preschoolers with communication impairments succeed in their classroom and beyond? These five tips work for me when providing services to preschoolers:
- Make language accessible. One of the most important things I do as an SLP in a preschool setting is provide emergent language-learners the tools they need to communicate. Whether they need an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device, core vocabulary board, object schedule or sign language, I ensure they engage with language in some way during every part of their day. For example, I post picture symbols near the sink, on the back of the classroom door, on the playground equipment, at the lunch table and near the water fountain.
- Structure for success. Preschool classrooms are typically busy and noisy and include multiple transitions. Lessons balance play with structured academic experiences. Preschool students with communication issues might find participating in a 15-minute large-group session on phonics, for example, too challenging. Try offering more frequent transitions—one every 5 to 7 minutes—or create breaks from large groups for a few minutes. Our students may also need a modified curriculum, sensory strategies and visual cues to help them attend to and participate in mainstream classroom activities.
- Think about language function in the classroom. SLPs can look at daily routines and easily identify language opportunities. Although we might find ourselves limiting our students to “requesting” and answering “yes/no” questions, we should work with teachers to facilitate a variety of language functions in the classroom. I try to find times during each week’s classroom activities to incorporate requesting, labeling, commenting, denying, negotiating, taking turns, participating in literacy activities and socializing with peers.
- Be strategic when planning peer groups. Play groups generate ideal situations to use the powerful tools of peer modeling and peer facilitation. By pairing strong language models with compatible personalities, play groups can develop into positive social experiences. Peer models and peer facilitators make learning fun. They help students improve their communication goals without even realizing it.
- Balance in-classroom with pull-out treatment. As I learned over the years, working with preschoolers is not a one-size-fits-all program. Pull-out sessions might be more appropriate for students with severe speech sound disorders who need systematic direct instruction, or for students needing a more structured, quiet learning environment to target goals. Providing treatment in the classroom setting, on the other hand, offers the benefits of co-teaching, working with several students at once, monitoring the transfer of new skills, modeling strategies for teachers and teaching assistants, and targeting skills in the natural context of a classroom.
No matter what type of preschool classroom I’m in, I find it important to be flexible in my approaches to different students and on different days. I also work hard to build positive relationships with teachers and caregivers.
Do you have a collaboration tip for SLPs working with preschoolers? Leave a comment below and share your successes.
Lisa Erwin, MS, CCC-SLP, is public school clinician with 26 years of experience working with adults and children as an SLP, special education teacher and early childhood teacher. She works on an elementary campus in Amarillo, Texas, and specializes in literacy and language intervention. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram and her website, www.myspeechtools.com.