Language in the Kitchen

With Thanksgiving this week, remember that the kitchen can be a great place to get your kiddo involved! Think of all that goes into getting food onto the table, from planning your menus to food preparation, and all the language involved in each task! Let’s talk about ways you can involve your child in this fun process. Make sure to include your child in the following:

• Meal planning
• Preparing a shopping list
• Going to the store
• Meal preparation
• Clean up time

Don’t worry I won’t just leave you with a list. I’d like to talk about how you can include your child in each one of the activities mentioned above. Here we go!

Meal Planning
Who doesn’t like to decide what’s for dinner? You can create a list together with your child of all of their favorite and the family favorite choices for the upcoming meal. This is also a great time to talk about food groups and things to include in every meal. If you happen to be crafty or just love organization you can go crazy with color coordination and make cards for each food group with proteins, grains, vegetables, etc. that can be included in each meal. If this is all too much for you no big deal just set up a simple written out menu. Some goals to target depending on the age of your child can include:

• Categorization of foods
• Learning days of the weeks/months on the calendar
• Sequencing for families that like to have themed meals (etc. Macaroni Monday, Taco Tuesday, etc.)
• Sorting foods by their food group

Shopping List
This one is going to be a little more simple. You can pull out your recipes and talk about what you will need to prepare each meal. You can teach your child to make your list in whatever way you prefer. You may think about where items are located in the store or have them sorted by category again (breads, meats, dairy, etc.). Setting up the shopping list should focus on:

• Sequencing items by placement in store or in order of when you will cook each meal
• Sorting items by their food categories
• Introducing new vocabulary

At the Store
This is a great way to give your child some control. This can be their time to shine and really run the show. If your child is able to read you could split up the list and each of you can handle finding the items. This is much more advanced so I would start out working together to decide where items are located and getting them to the cart. Things that can be targeted at the store are truly endless, however here is a list of some ideas below:

• Vocabulary (find items that are new to the child)
• Sequencing (going in order to find items by their food category)
• Spatial concepts (the “Lucky Charms are below the Frosted Flakes”)
• Problem Solving (If we have $5 for bananas how many pounds can we get?)
• Social interaction (Let talk with the cashier and possibly handle payment)

Making Dinner
Let them help with as much as you feel comfortable with. Again, this is another area where you have a ton you can do. The ideas are really endless:

• Problem Solving
• Sequencing
• Spatial Concepts
• Safety awareness
• Vocabulary Awareness
• Following Directions

Clean it up!
Have them help out with clearing the table, doing the dishes, and putting it all away. They should be included in the entire mealtime routine. This will help them be able to follow a pattern. As you target mealtime and help in the kitchen they can become more involved. Start out small by having them just get the dishes and bring them to you. You will also want them to stay in the kitchen and be with you after so they will know what steps will come next. This also a great time to really focus on some safety tasks if your child struggles with pragmatics. Some things to discuss:

• Safety with kitchen tools
• Water temperature
• Being careful at the stove
• Naming different kitchen tools
• How to use a dishwasher
• How to use the microwave
• Safety with microwave, dishwasher, and disposal

As you can see the possibilities in the kitchen are just limitless. Just have fun and always be looking for teachable moments!

Gina McCurry M.S. CF-SLP

**If you have any concerns with your child’s speech, language, hearing and/or feeding development, please contact Curlee Communication Consultants at (865) 693-5622. We have a team of experienced speech-language pathologists that would love to meet with you and discuss options for your child. **

Self-Talk and Parallel-Talk

When I work with families that have “late talkers”, generally preschool-aged children with limited verbal output, I am often asked what can be done at home to improve outcomes. Although there are a multitude of answers, I always suggest stimulating language with self-talk and parallel-talk. Self-talk simply means describing what you are doing while parallel-talk refers to describing what the child is doing.

In theory, self-talk and parallel-talk are meant to be incorporated into existing daily routines and experiences. Unlike some other interventions, self-talk and parallel-talk should not be burdensome or require a parent to set aside time to complete “speech therapy homework”. However, this does not mean the intervention is any less beneficial. According to Finestack and Fey (2013), the benefits of indirect language stimulation include increases in vocabulary, intelligibility (ability for a child be understood), and socialization.

With self and parallel talk, the parent is the model that provides exposure to language that the child can then imitate. Below are some examples of how to use self and parallel talk during daily routines.  

Lunch Time:

Lunch is an opportunity to engage in both self and parallel talk, beginning with the meal preparation. Situate the child to be able to see what you are doing. The parent’s monologue could begin like this: “It’s time for lunch. I’m hungry. I’ll open the fridge. I see an apple. An apple is red. It is also a fruit. I am cutting the apple into slices. What else should we eat?, etc.”

Once the child has the meal in front of him or her, parallel talk begins because the child is now involved in completing actions. Here the dialogue could take the form of,  “You are sitting in your chair. Are you ready for lunch? Oh, you are eating the apple. Mommy likes apples, too. You got your drink. That cup has milk inside., etc.”


Pretend play emerges around 12 months of age. Playtime is an excellent time for parallel talk because the child is already actively engaged in an activity. As an example, let’s consider a child playing with blocks. If the child is stacking the blocks and then knocking them down, parallel-talk could sound like: “Wow, you are making a tall tower. It’s so high. You put the red block on top of the blue block. You kicked them and they all fell down. Oh, you are going to make another tower., etc.”

This parallel-talk could easily transition to self-talk by making a new activity with the blocks such as building a road for cars to travel on.

Final Thoughts:

At first, self and parallel talk can be uncomfortable because you are talking aloud when perhaps knowing the child will not respond. Remember that the goal is exposure to language. There should not be any expectation that the child will respond. There is no one right way to implement this intervention. If your child is already in speech therapy, it is likely the therapist is already using this technique. The therapist can provide models and examples and become an ally for at home implementation.

-Erin Norwig, M.A. CF-SLP


Finestack, L. and Fey, M. (2013). Evidence-Based Language Intervention Approaches for Young Talkers. In Rescorla & Dale, Eds. (2013). Late Talkers: Language Development, Interventions, and Outcomes

**If you have any concerns with your child’s speech, language, hearing and/or feeding development, please contact Curlee Communication Consultants at (865) 693-5622. We have a team of experienced speech-language pathologists that would love to meet with you and discuss options for your child. **

Movies and Language Learning

Whether it’s Disney’s Frozen or Pixar’s Finding Dory, going to the movie theater is one of most common activities that children do with their parents. And what’s not to love? Popcorn, cute characters, and a memorable experience for both you and your child.

Did you know you can work on furthering your child’s language skills just by going to a movie? All you have to do is talk about it afterward!

A movie consists of so many aspects of language: describing, sequencing, comparing/contrasting, main idea, parts of a story, vocabulary. And the list goes on! Here are just a few ideas:

  • Describing: Talk about the characters and the setting. Discuss what adjectives we can use to describe people and the places around us. Compare how people/characters are the same or different.
  • g. Dory and Marlin are both fish. Dory is blue, forgetful, and friendly; whereas, Marlin is orange, mindful, and cautious.
  • Sequencing: What happened first in the movie? What happened last? Use words such as before, after, first, second, last, next, then, etc.
    • Ex: After their parents passed away, Elsa became queen.
  • Parts of a story: Beginning, middle, end, characters, setting, plot, resolution, ending are some of the words used when talking about a storyline. A higher-level task could be problem solving with your child about how the ending could alter if a character changed or didn’t complete a certain action.
  • Wh-questions / Main idea: Ask your child questions about what they just saw. What, where, who, when, why, how? What was the overall point or message of the movie?
    • Ex: Frozen- Who are the main characters? Elsa, Anna
    • Ex: Finding Dory- Where does the movie take place? In the ocean; Marine Biology Institute
  • Vocabulary: You can incorporate object function, synonyms and antonyms, and categories into your conversation as well. What category of movie is? Scary? Funny? You can use the synonyms or antonyms to describe the characters too – was he careful or spontaneous, forgetful or attentive?

These are just a few ideas for you to get started. Grab a movie from Redbox, get that bag of popcorn in the microwave, and enjoy

-Shannon Greenlee M.A., CCC-SLP

**If you have any concerns with your child’s speech, language, hearing and/or feeding development, please contact Curlee Communication Consultants at (865) 693-5622. We have a team of experienced speech-language pathologists that would love to meet with you and discuss options for your child. **

The Importance of Mealtime Routine for Children with Feeding Difficulties


Many children who have difficulty with feeding from a sensory standpoint have a fear of the unknown. A child may fear a type of food because it is an unknown or non-preferred color, texture, smell, flavor, or sight of food. Giving children an opportunity to know exactly what to expect during a mealtime through utilization of a mealtime routine can minimize the fear of the unknown in feeding.

Getting Started

For sensory feeders, start mealtime with hand washing using a plastic shoebox sized tub of warm water with dish soap. Let your child splash in the water, play with the bubbles, and wipe their hands on a paper towel or washcloth when they are finished.

Introducing Food

After this, begin by introducing a preferred food to your child.  Presenting a child with a preferred food helps them to know that they are in control and that they will always have a food present on their plate that they are comfortable with. Next, present a child with a non-preferred or sometimes-preferred food that they can choose whether they want on or off of their plate – again, re-emphasizing that the child is in control of the food being put into his body.

Modeling Positive Interactions

Utilize positive mealtime language during mealtimes and model your own comfort with different food items by touching, smelling, and talking about interactions with different food items. Get creative! Turn your carrot sticks into cars and make them drive around a plate or up your own arm like a race track. Show your child how you can make bite marks in your food without actually taking a bite.

End of Mealtime

When it is time to finish eating, take turns placing one item of food into a designated “bye-bye bowl” at a time. Encourage interactions with food at the level where the child has demonstrated the most comfort. For example, if they take a bite of applesauce, have them take a bite of applesauce and place their spoon in the bowl. If they only tolerate touching a cracker, have them break it in half and place it in the bowl. Some families find that a reward at the end of mealtimes can also be a helpful incentive. Try giving a sticker, blowing bubbles, or playing with special toys designated specifically for post-mealtime play.


            The creation of a mealtime routine can revolutionize the way that your child interacts with food. Mealtime routines can also help children to be able to interact in a more comfortable way with both preferred and non-preferred foods by helping them understand the clear expectations of positive interactions with foods by utilizing verbal and visual models. 

-Laura C. Kinney, M.S. CF-SLP

**If you have any concerns with your child’s speech, language, hearing and/or feeding development, please contact Curlee Communication Consultants at (865) 693-5622. We have a team of experienced speech-language pathologists that would love to meet with you and discuss options for your child. **

Language Development in Bilingual Children

Some parents we have come in contact with over the years ask us, “Should my child be exposed to multiple languages?” Approximately 20% of the U.S. population is bilingual, with most people speaking Spanish and English. At one of the schools I serve in Tennessee, 52% of the students are Hispanic. Many of them speak Spanish or at least have exposure to the language. Below are the stages of learning two languages simultaneously, and what to expect regarding speech and language. 

Stage 1

In the first stage, children may have different language systems, vocabulary in particular , that they use whether due to context or functionality. Approximately 30% of bilingual toddler vocabularies are comprised of the same word in both languages such as cat in English and gato in Spanish (Nicoladis & Genesee, 1996). However, the other 70% of their vocabulary has words that are only known in one language which is why a Spanish word could be used during a conversation in English. There is some evidence that learning two (or more) languages delays children’s discrimination of speech sounds in words (e.g. big vs. dig), but the delay is very minimal.

Stage 2

With stage two, the child has developed two separate vocabularies but may apply the same syntax, or rules regarding grammar, to both languages. As with any child, the simpler sentence structures will be learned first before ones that are more complex.

Stage 3

At this stage, the child has two separate vocabulary and grammar systems. There still may be some crossover between languages, but it is primarily confined to grammar errors. A child, if there is constant exposure to both languages, tends to reach this stage around age seven.

It has been suggested that learning two languages can be confusing and detrimental to a child; however, research has not supported this notion. In fact, according to the American-Speech Language Hearing Association, the benefits of bilingualism include: learning new words, learning reading skills, coming up with solutions to problems, listening to others, and connecting to others. By exposing a child to multiple languages the child gains insight into another culture. In regards to speech therapy, a child who is bilingual can have speech and language problems just like other peers. If there is a speech or language disorder, the errors should be observed in both languages. A trained speech language pathologist should able to recognize a disorder versus a difference based on the combination of two languages.


Nicoladis, E. & Genesee (1996). Word awareness in second language learners and bilingual children. Language Awareness, 5(2), 80-89.

Owens, Jr., R. E. (2012). Language development: An introduction (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education

The advantages of being bilingual (n.d.) Retrieved from

-Erin Norwig, M.A. CF-SLP

**If you have any questions concerning your child’s speech and language skills, please contact Curlee Communication Consultants at (865) 693-5622. We have a team of experienced speech-language pathologists that would love discuss options for your family. **

Traditional Articulation Therapy Explained

You know your child is receiving services at school to work on their speech sounds, but every time you ask your child what they do in therapy, they say, “we work on making funny sounds” or “we just say words and play”. What is your child doing in therapy all day?

Articulation therapy or speech sound therapy is working on the placement of articulators (lips, tongue) inside of their mouth to correctly produce their sounds. To master these sounds, speech language pathologists will break down sounds into 7 different levels.

  1. Isolation Level: If possible, without adding a vowel, your child will work on producing the correct sound in isolation (ex. s or t)
  2. Syllable Level: At this stage we add vowels either before or after the sound to practice making the target sound (ex. ko, koo, kay, key, ki). This helps them put their articulators in the correct placement making the correct sound.
  3. Word Level: Here the target sound is introduced in single words at the beginning, middle, and end of the word (ex. /k/: cat, jacket, back). Many different sounds affect our ability to produce the target sound correctly when its position in the word differs.
  4. Phrase Level: Now that your child has mastered the target sounds in words we add a few words together including a word that contains the target sound in the beginning, middle, and/or end (ex. the black cat).
  5. Sentence Level: Here the target sound will be addressed in grammatically correct sentences (ex. The black cat sat on the wall).
  6. Reading Level: Speech language pathologists may skip this level. Usually this level is addressed when the child is having difficulty carrying over their skill from the sentence level to conversation.
  7. Conversation Level: At this stage your child has almost mastered the target sound. We observe your child producing the target sound correctly during games, conversations, and other tasks, correcting their errors as they occur.

Conversation level can be the most crucial part of determining a child’s readiness for discharge from speech therapy. This level involves a child no longer needing “cues” or “reminders” to correct their speech, but rather requires the child to monitor and correct (if needed) their own speech. It also involves a variety of conversational partners, in various settings, and therefore carryover of their newly acquired speech skills is crucial. After a child has mastered the conversation level in therapy, they may be observed in a classroom setting to ensure that the sound has generalized or that they are successful in using the sound correctly outside of the therapy room. If successful, they will be discharged from therapy for the target sound.

If you continue to have questions about what your child does in therapy sessions, you should speak with your child’s therapist for more detailed information!

Natalie Keller, M.A., CF-SLP

**If you have any concerns with your child’s speech, language, hearing and/or feeding development, please contact Curlee Communication Consultants at (865) 693-5622. We have a team of experienced speech-language pathologists that would love to meet with you and discuss options for your child. **

Apraxia-What Is It and How Can I Help?

What is Apraxia?

Apraxia is when a child has difficulty making the movements to produce sounds. The child knows what he/she wants to say; however, the brains ability to tell the muscles how and when to move to form speech is interrupted. Your child needs speech therapy to learn how to plan movements and how to make the movements to produce speech. The goal of therapy is to make speech more automatic. Think of it like riding a bike, at first you have to think about all the different movements you need to make to ride the bike. Once you have practiced multiple times, you no longer need to think about what you are doing it just becomes automatic. With apraxia, the more practice with the movements needed for speech the more they become automatic and easier for the child to produce.

How Can I Help?

Simple CV, VC, CVC and CVCV words are a great place to start for kids practicing movements to create sounds and words. Kids with apraxia benefit from using all of their senses to better understand placement of sounds. Having them watch your mouth to attempt to imitate what your mouth is doing, using finger placement cues on your face to help them understand what their tongue and lips should be doing (i.e., touching lips to produce /b/ sound) and using hand movements to understand how to produce sounds (i.e., sliding hand down arm while saying /s/ to demonstrate the continuous flow of air) all help them to grasp the concepts better.


Some great resources to learn more about apraxia and for free materials to practice with your children at home can be found at these websites:

Alexis “Lexie” Jones M.A. CCC-SLP

**If you have any concerns with your child’s speech, language, hearing and/or feeding development, please contact Curlee Communication Consultants at (865) 693-5622. We have a team of experienced speech-language pathologists that would love to meet with you and discuss options for your child. **


FAQs About Your Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Device

Want to know more about Augmentative and Alternative Communication? Read on! 

Q: AAC…what does that mean?

A: AAC is an acronym for Alternative Augmentative Communication.  The 2 A’s in AAC are important to understand. The first A stands for Alternative. Meaning simply, an alternative method to communicate. If a child is unable to verbalize, then in order to have communicative exchanges, there needs to be some alternative. The second A is more overlooked and less understood: Augmentative. What do we mean by “augmentative”? Basically, it is used in a supplementary role. This means the child may have limited verbalizations but AAC is there to support the child in expanding their ability to communicate with a variety of people across many different settings.

Q: My therapist has started suggesting that we use AAC? What exactly does that entail?

A: AAC basically covers any type of communication that does not use verbalizations to communicate. This can take many forms, including (but not limited to): Sign language, objects, pictures, and speech generating devices.


Q: Has my therapist given up trying to have my child communicate verbally?

A: The very simple answer is: No. In fact, a recent study has shown that introducing speech generating devices may increase verbalizations in children with Autism (Schlosser and Wendt (2008)). But the fact is that a tremendous amount of growth in children’s communication skills happen from birth to 3. And for older children, being unable to fully communicate can lead to high levels of frustration, which in turn can lead to behavioral issues. If a child is struggling to communicate verbally, only working on verbal communication while not supporting the child with another pathway to communicate locks them out of a multitude of communication experiences.

Q: Will using AAC stop my child from communicating verbally?

A: No. When people communicate, we use the fastest, most efficient communication that we possess. If a child is able to get their message across verbally, that is what they will do. Using AAC requires more planning and more steps. For example, if a child needs to go to the bathroom, the easiest thing to do will be to say “potty”. The more complex task is to sign bathroom, find a picture, or use an icon on a device that says “potty”. But, if for whatever reason a child cannot verbalize the need to go to the bathroom, then ideally he or she will have another way of letting you know. From my own personal experience as a therapist, I have had children master high tech AAC, but use their limited verbalizations as well. And if the child can get their listener to understand their verbal message; that is ALWAYS what they use first.

Q: What is the best AAC to use?

A: There is no one size fits all, best AAC to use. Every child is unique in their abilities and their areas of need. What works fantastically for one child might be completely wrong for another child. All methods of AAC have pros and cons. You and your therapist should work together to select what is right for your  child.

Q: What different types of AAC are there?

A: AAC is often organized into 3 broad categories: No tech, Low tech, and High tech.

  • No Tech: Sign language, gestures
    • Pros: No cost. Available to the user at all times. No additional equipment needed.
    • Cons: Limited to the people who understand the signs and gestures. For example, the general population does not understand the sign for “more”.
  • Low Tech: Object/Picture Exchange
    • Pros: Low cost. Can use actual object representation or print out actual pictures of specific objects or use abstract symbols. Understood by a wide variety of people.
    • Cons: Difficult to transport. Difficult to have every symbol printed out and available at all times for every situation. Can be time consuming to use. No voice output.
  • High Tech: Speech Generating device
    • Pros: Voice output. Messages are easily understood. Can call out to people to gain attention/communicate with people who are not directly looking at the individual. Individuals get auditory feedback of their message. Can generally communicate a wide variety of messages (dependent on the device)
    • Cons: Wide range of cost. Devices can start at a couple of hundred dollars (generally these devices are limited in the amount of messages that they are able to communicate, such as devices found at: to thousands of dollars. More expensive devices can be explored through companies such as TobiiDynavox ( and Prentke Romich ( Some insurances will cover high tech devices. They can also be broken, not charged, or otherwise not available, then the individual will not be able to communicate.

Q: Does my child have master no tech/low tech AAC before getting a high tech device?

A: No. These classifications should not be seen as a hierarchy to move through. In my experience as a therapist, I have had many children-especially those with Autism- struggle with sign and picture exchange, but become highly skilled at using high tech AAC. Again, the system that you use is dependent on the child’s needs and should be chosen in collaboration with a Speech Language Pathologist. 

-Amanda Cox, M.S. CCC-SLP

If you have more questions regarding speech/language impairment and AAC devices, please contact contact Curlee Communication Consultants at (865) 693-5622. We have a team of experienced speech-language pathologists that would love to meet with you and discuss options for your family.

Language Scavenger Hunt

Who doesn’t love a good scavenger hunt?  The best part about this particular scavenger hunt is that that you can do it from the comfort of your own home.  Did you know that you can target multiple language skills during a scavenger hunt?  I can think of five language skills off the top of my head—and yes, I am here to share them with you!

  • Object Function: a typically developing child should understand the use of objects between ages 3;0-3;5 and expressively tell how an object is used between ages 4;6- 4;11. Some ways to target object function while scavenger hunting could be:
    • Show me the object that (insert function).
    • What does (insert object) do?
    • What do you do with (insert object)?
  • Following Directions: a typically developing child should follow commands/directions without cues between ages 2;6-2;11. Some directions to follow while scavenger hunting could be:
    • Go to the kitchen.
    • Go to the bathroom and look under the sink.
    • Go to your room and sit on the bed.
  • Prepositions: a typically developing child should understand spatial concepts (in, on, out of, off) between ages 3;0-3;5 and expressively use prepositions (in, on under) between ages 4;6-4;11. Some examples of how to target prepositions while scavenger hunting could be:
    • Where is the spoon? (on the table, under the bed, etc.)
    • Place the ball under the couch.
  • Describing: for this skill, I like to start off describing an object by stating its category. A typical developing child should be able to expressively name categories between the ages 5;0-5;5.  Some examples of how to target categories while scavenger hunting could be:
    • A bed is a type of (insert category).
    • A hat is a type of (insert category).
    • Can you name two more types of clothing?
  • Vocabulary: your child’s vocabulary is continuously expanding. By introducing more and more objects each week, your child’s receptive and expressive vocabulary skills will begin to grow.   It’s as easy as that!

All developmental milestones were taken from the Preschool Language Scales, Fifth Edition basic developmental milestones chart.  See additional resources section below for more information. 

Here is a list of objects to get you started on your scavenger hunt: a napkin, scissors, crayons, a spoon, a key, a telephone, milk, a cup, soap, a bed, a hat, a chair, a ring, an apple, and a lamp.    When it isn’t raining, head outdoors and find some things around your neighborhood!Try mixing it up and add some new objects each week. Be creative, and HAVE FUN! 

Breann Voytko M.A., CCC-SLP

**If you have any concerns with your child’s speech, language, hearing and/or feeding development, please contact Curlee Communication Consultants at (865) 693-5622. We have a team of experienced speech-language pathologists that would love to meet with you and discuss options for your child. **

Additional References:

Milestones taken from PsychCorp. (2011). Preschool Language Scales, Fifth Edition. Person, Inc.

Six Communication Tips for Speaking to a Loved One with Dementia

Dementia is a neurological disease that impairs the brain in areas of cognition, such as memory loss and judgment. As the disease progresses, your loved one’s social skills, such as carrying a conversation, will be impacted. Here are some helpful tips to successfully communicate with your loved one affected by this disease.

Communication Tips:

  1. Use normal tone instead of talking to them as if they were a child, slow down your rate of speech, and as appropriate, increase volume.


  1. Minimize environmental distractions when conversing, such as the TV or radio volume, or choose to engage in conversation in a quieter environment without other ongoing distractions.


  1. Increase your pauses and allow your loved one extra time to think and respond. They need extra processing time to understand and create a response. Try not to complete their thoughts or finish their sentences, but rather let them collect their thoughts and speak on their own. 


  1. Use specific vocabulary, rather than non-specific words such as “it” or “he/she/they”. Rather, identify the object using its specific name or person’s name. Additionally, avoid using sarcasm as this type of figurative language is difficult for your loved one to understand.


  1. During a conversation with more than one speaker, take turns speaking while providing extra processing time.


  1. Use external aids as appropriate. Use of calendars, photos, and memory books may help orient your loved one to the topic on hand, helping them communicate.

Natalie Keller, M.A., CF- SLP

**If you have any questions concerning your loved one and their communication, please contact Curlee Communication Consultants at (865) 693-5622. We have a team of experienced speech-language pathologists that would love discuss options for your family. **