Defining Receptive Language

Children’s receptive language (ability to understand language) typically develops before expressive language (ability to use language to express wants/needs). For example, by 18 months, typically developing children understand approximately 200 words (receptive language), and produce approximately 50 words (expressive language). Receptive language is important because it helps children understand what is happening around them and in learning to identify desired objects/actions in their environment. Playing, talking, and reading books to your child will certainly help increase your child’s receptive language. There are more specific strategies that a speech-language pathologist might use during language therapy to focus on improving your child’s receptive language. Some of these are listed below!

  1. Hold objects/pictures in your child’s field of view and verbally label each one so that he/she can learn to associate a verbal word with a real object/picture.
  2. Model how to point to objects so your child can observe how to identify objects using hand and finger movements. If necessary, you can help your child by guiding his/her hand to an object (hand-over-hand movements).
  3. Present 2 or more objects/pictures (apple, train) to your child and ask him/her to show you one (“Show me apple”). Encourage your child to grab or point to the named object. You can also use this as an opportunity to allow your child to indicate his/her wants or needs by asking, “What do you want?” and encouraging him/her to point to it. Immediately give your child the object that he/she chose to teach him/her that his/her actions can bring about a change and get him/her want he/she wants (cause and effect).   
  4. Use errorless teaching to limit frustration and increase your child’s success when you ask him/her to identify objects. Errorless teaching means you give your child as many cues as he/she needs to be successful and not make any errors. For example, while completing a puzzle with your child, hold up two objects (truck, car), and say, “Show me truck.” If your child starts to reach for the car, move the car out of his/her reach, so that he/she reaches for the truck and therefore successfully identifies the correct object. Praise your child for choosing the correct puzzle piece and immediately give that piece to him/her as an award. From here you can increase the complexity as their ability increases in order to attain their specific goals.
  5. Ask your child to find things in your home. For example, you can ask them to find a specific food on his/her plate or in the refrigerator. You can also ask your child to find their body parts, clothing items, toys, or other household objects. 

Try implementing some of these strategies into your daily routines to help your child learn new words. Learning really can be fun! Good luck!

-Andria Burris, 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. **

How Do I Practice Speech With My Child At Home?

Your child’s speech language pathologist (SLP) asked you to practice the /k/ sound at the beginning of words at home. But how do you go about doing that? It doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive. Here are a few ideas!

  • Scavenger Hunt – You and your child can go around your home to search for items that include your child’s target sounds in their name. Ex: toy car, cup, cartoons, coat, candle
  • Books – While reading a story together, look for words or pictures in the book that include more target sounds. Depending on what your child can produce correctly, have them repeat the word back to you or put it in a phrase such as “I found the car.”
  • Coloring/Painting – Grab some crayons, paintbrushes, paint, and some paper and draw pictures of animals, toys, or other objects that include certain sounds. Ex: car, cat, candy, kite
  • Play-doh – create objects out of the Play-doh that start with your child’s target sound. You can pretend to bake a “cake” or “cookies” together.
  • Catch – While playing catch with your child, say a word using the target sound before each throw. For repeated practice in short phrases, you can say “I caught it” after a catch.

If you are having difficulty coming up with words with your child’s target sounds, be sure to ask your child’s SLP to provide you with a list of possible words. I am sure he or she will be thrilled to help you!

This can be done targeting all sounds in all word positions, so take these ideas and run with them to practice the sounds that are applicable for your child’s therapy. Working on sounds in your home outside of direct therapy sessions is extremely important for developing carry-over skills of your child’s target sounds. Hopefully these ideas can provide more opportunities for fun practice together!

-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 Vocal Hygiene

What are the things that truly define you?  Your personality?  Your appearance?  Your career?  All of these things make up different parts of who we are, but one part of us that people often leave unaccounted for is our voice.  Your voice is a defining aspect of your identity.  Protecting your voice is important.  The act and art of keeping your voice healthy is called vocal hygiene.  Vocal hygiene involves taking steps to keep your vocal folds healthy and your voice strong and clear. 

Our vocal folds are covered by a thin layer of mucous.  This mucosal layer is vital to the correct vibration of the vocal folds.  To function properly, the mucosal layer needs to stay moist.  Adequate consumption of water is vital to keeping the mucosal layer moist.  Water is your best ally in practicing good vocal hygiene!  One of the worst enemies of vocal hygiene is caffeine.  Caffeinated beverages (coffee, soda, etc.) dry out the mucosal layer, resulting in a rough voice and possible damage to the vocal folds.  Drinking water and avoiding caffeinated beverages is one of the best (and easiest) ways to maintain healthy a healthy voice.  Of course, water has many other health benefits as well.

Another important aspect of vocal hygiene is protecting your voice from abuse.  Vocal abuse occurs when the vocal folds are used improperly.  Do you love to cheer on the Vols every Saturday in the Fall?  Are you a teacher or a pastor?  If so, all your enthusiastic and heart-felt cheering or teaching might just be harming your vocal folds.  This “vocal abuse” occurs when the vocal folds are used improperly, such as with loud or prolonged shouting, cheering, screaming, or even talking.  While you are cheering or shouting, your vocal folds are slamming together hard.  After a period of time, this slamming could result in pathologies, such as vocal fold cysts or nodules.   These can be painful and result in permanent damage.  Protect your vocal cords from abuse!  If you find yourself led to cheer, do it!  Just be sure to have plenty of water on hand and rest your voice for a few hours afterward.

Following these simple steps will put you on the road to good vocal hygiene.  Drinking plenty of water and treating your voice gently (i.e. not using a loud voice or yelling frequently) both go a long way in preserving one of the most important parts of who you are:  your voice.    

Katherine “Kacey” Clark M.S. CF-SLP

**If you have any concerns with your child’s speech, language, hearing and/or feeding development, please contact Deborah L. 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. **

Teachable Moments


Everyday can be filled with teachable moments. It’s easy to forget that your child is always taking in information. During the first few years of your child’s life you should be looking for new ways for them to experience language and practice their developing sounds. Below are just a few ways you can expose your child and help them grow.

It’s Playtime

Playtime is a great way to teach your child. Children learn by seeing you in action. Jump in there and have some fun. You don’t have to take control, just follow your child’s lead. Remember they are watching everything you do and provide a good clear example. As you play you can in a way “talk your way through it” by saying what you do out loud. This is called “Self- Talk.” For example, if you are walking a toy through a door you may use a dialogue such as, “Boy goes through the door” or “door open” and “door close”. If this feels difficult, keep practicing and you will get the hang of it. Practice makes perfect! Some things you can target during play include:

  • Producing “p”, “b”, and “m” sounds
  • Spatial concepts (in, out, over, top, under, next to)
  • Colors
  • Nouns
  • Adjectives
  • Follow directions
  • Turn taking

Let’s go to the Park

Going to the park with your child can be a fun way to expose them to new vocabulary items. Though you may think they’ve been to the park many times and are familiar already, repetition is important. Exposure will provide them with a hands on experience that they can associate with new words. Be sure to use the words in your surroundings as much as possible when in different environments (e.g. bench, swing, slide, mulch, etc.).

Story Time

You can visit a local library or other child development centers and have your child participate in story time. This is a wonderful way for your child to work on social skills while increasing their knowledge in expressive/receptive language. Providing this experience will help them learn from peers and understand how to create appropriate interactions. This is can also be a fun time for you to be around other parents and discuss other opportunities to help your child learn.

This list is not inclusive don’t forget to be creative and have fun!

Gina McCurry M.S. CF-SLP

“Hunting” For Language!

With spring and Easter coming up, it is the perfect time to plan an activity that will be both fun and a great way to stimulate language. For this egg hunt, it is likely that many of the items I am going to suggest are already in your house or easily accessible at a local store. Using plastic eggs, fill them with spring themed items. Such items could include candies, flowers, a plastic butterfly or other insects, seeds, etc. Depending on whether the egg hunt is inside or outside, lay out other items that may be too large to fit inside an egg, including a fluffy bunny or a shovel. Once the set up is complete it is time to start the game!

Specific Language Targets:

Following Directions/Learning Concepts:

Rather than letting the child wander freely to each visible egg, direct the child to a specific egg. For example, you could work on the concept of colors by instructing, “Go get a yellow egg.” Another possibility is the promotion of spatial concepts, “Get the egg in the basket.” “Find the egg beside the bunny.” “Find the egg under the table.” The complexity of the directions can be adapted to fit ability level and age. You could direct a child to two different eggs at different locations, or you could make the child discriminate between choices at the same location by indicating, “Get the blue egg in the basket.”

Answering Questions:

Either with each egg or once all the eggs have been collected, open them up and begin to ask questions. Start with “What did you find?” or “What is inside?” If the child does not know explain what he/she has found. In this way you will be working on expanding vocabulary along with answering the question. After the child has identified an object begin to ask questions about the object itself. If the child has found a flower some sample questions could be, “Where does a flower grow?” or “What makes a flower grow?” To stimulate language a child does not need to always be answering questions.  It is likely that a child will grow bored of the activity if all you do is ask questions constantly. Allow time for the adult to talk about the item without expecting any response to maintain interest. “You found a flower. That flower is a daisy. It is white and has lots of petals. Mommy grows flowers in her garden.”

This activity is limitless in its possibilities. Do not feel constrained by my suggestions. Instead, be as creative as you can.

Happy Hunting!

Erin Norwig, M.A. CF-SLP

**If you have any concerns with your child’s speech, language, hearing and/or feeding development, please contact Deborah L. 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. **

Hearing Impairments: Building Your Child’s Language Made Easy

Often times, learning that your child has a hearing impairment/loss can leave you with a wide range of emotions and questions. One of these questions often comes when we start to think about how this will impact a child’s language. Since a child’s exposure to sound and talking is crucial to developing their language, it is important for amplification (hearing aids, cochlear implant, etc) to be worn as much as possible.

Bombard your child with as many environmental sounds as possible, label every item you see, talk about what you’re doing, talk to them all day every day- you cannot interact and talk with your child too much. When possible, make sure that they can see your face and that there is minimal background noise.

Easy strategies used to enhance a child’s listening experience:  

  • Create an auditory sandwich – Pick a familiar routine for your child, for example, ‘Time to brush your teeth’. First you say the phrase to your child ‘Time to brush your teeth’. Next you say the phrase and use visual cues to reinforce what you are saying, ‘Time to brush your teeth’ + model brushing your teeth’. Last say the phrase again without any visual cues, ‘Time to brush your teeth.’
  • Acoustic highlighting – Use this to emphasize a particular sound or phrase when talking to your child. You can follow your child’s lead when using this strategy. If your child says they see a ‘tar’ you can replay by saying ‘No, that isn’t a tar that’s a caaaar’. By emphasizing the word car it differentiates between the wrong word and the correct word. You can implement this when teaching new vocabulary or sounds. This not only reinforces the use of new words/sounds but also promotes better listening skills.
  • Self talk – Talk about what you are doing. If you are cooking than say out loud what you are doing. ‘I am cooking. I am cooking on the stove, I am cooking supper on the stove’.
  • Parallel talk – Talk about what your child is doing. If your child is playing with cars than say what they are doing. ‘You are driving a car, you are driving a red card’.
    • For Parallel and Self talk use both of these as opportunities to say a phrase and expand on what you are saying. This allows your child to first hear a simple phrase and then to build on it as provided in the examples given above.
  • Recasting – When your child says a phrase such as ‘daddy go’, use this opportunity to put your child’s utterance into a question ‘Oh, did daddy go to work?’.

Good luck!

Danielle Beaudette, M.S. CCC-SLP

**If you have any concerns with your child’s speech, language, hearing,  and/or feeding development, please contact Deborah L. 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 5 Best “Baby Signs” to Teach and How They Lead to Verbal Communication

Although there is considerable debate about the benefits of baby signs, numerous research studies have proven that baby signing is positive for communication as well as other areas such as emotional development and self-regulation (i.e. sleep/wake cycles, feeding, etc.). Results from the Original Baby Signs Study by Drs. Acredolo and Goodwyn showed that those children who received signs averaged a three month advantage in their language capabilities versus children who did not receive signs. Similarly, children who received signs had longer sentences thus putting them a full year ahead of their peers. 

To be effective, caretakers should begin signing when their baby is, at the latest, 8-9 months old; however, signing can begin as early as the caretaker prefers. Signs are very easy to learn (the five most common are explained below), but they must be produced correctly in order for the child to learn from them. They should be always be accompanied by the caretaker’s speech (e.g. signing while speaking the word) and repeated often. This will provide the maximum input for the child, thus the most opportunity for the child to imitate the caretaker’s speech and signs.

The baby may begin to sign back between 10-14 months, with vocalizations beginning soon after. Signs will begin before speech and then will gradually fade when speech becomes the prime mode of communication. Baby signs are a simple boost that a caretaker can give their baby to kickstart their speech and language development. See below to get started!


  • This sign is done with the baby repeatedly opening and closing his fist.
  • To teach your child this sign it is best to use it before, during, and after feeding your child. Make sure the child maintains eye contact while signing and make it clear that you are referring to “milk.” At first, make sure the milk is present while signing. After a while your child will be able to do the sign without the milk present.
  • This is generally taught to help your child recognize symptoms of hunger. It can be used for breast milk or formula, and it helps your child let you know when they are hungry. This often prevents fussing and tantrums because instead of crying, your child uses signs as communication to let you know that they are hungry. Using this sign along with verbal language will help develop your child’s communication skills.

All Done/ Finished

  • This sign is made by turning both hands to alternate palms up and down.
  • To teach this sign, look for indicators that they are finished with their meal (fussing, throwing food, etc.) Ask them if they are “All done?” while doing the sign repeatedly. Soon, your child will recognize this context and copy you.
  • This is a great sign to use at the table, or while nursing your child. Babies dislike being overfed so this may let you know when they are finished. This prevents fussing and throwing food, but also facilitates communication between you and your child. This sign can transfer into other activities throughout the day as well.


  • This sign is made by putting your fingertips towards your thumb and repeatedly moving your hands together and apart, letting your fingertips touch each time hands are brought together.
  • This is a great sign to do at the table when feeding your child and also to facilitate play, such as asking for “More blocks?”. To teach this sign, look for cues that they want more (such as reaching for the food, toy, etc.) and demonstrate the sign while asking them if they want more, encouraging them to shadow your movements. If they are still having trouble, it may be helpful to gently help put your child’s hands together to sign.
  • Using this sign along with verbal language will help your child to communicate more efficiently during play and at the dinner table.


  • This sign is made by putting your hand to your chest and making a clockwise motion.
  • This is a great first step in teaching your child manners! This sign can be done in any context, whether it be at school or during bed time.
  • Do this sign while you say ‘please’ and encourage them to imitate you. Soon they will associate the sign with the verbal cue.


  • This sign is made by having one hand’s fingertips touch your thumb and repeatedly putting your hand to your mouth.
  • Do this sign whenever you are asking your child if they want to eat or encourage them to respond with this sign (after it has been learned).
  • By pairing this sign with the verbal cue and positively reinforcing the behavior with giving them food, your child will start associating the sign with the desire to eat.

Check out the website for more information!

Sara Lowczyk M.S. CF-SLP

**If you have any concerns with your child’s speech, language, and/or feeding development, please contact Deborah L. 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. **

Slow down, breathe, take your time ….

People who stutter face a lot of stress when speaking. Most of the time they are nervous because of the embarrassment. We think we’re helping when we are telling them to slow down, breathe, take your time, and think about what you’re trying to say. We are actually doing the opposite! We are putting more stress on the person who stutters.  The best way we can help a person who stutters is to LISTEN!! Don’t try to finish their sentences or give advice.  Be patient with the person, maintain eye contact, and most importantly LISTEN carefully.

It’s important to remember that young children have normal disfluencies during the time when they are starting to develop more advance language. How can you tell if your child has normal disfluencies or if they are truly stuttering? See chart below.

Typical Disfluency


Speech Characteristics

•   Multisyllabic whole-word and phrase repetitions

•   Interjections

•   Revisions

Speech Characteristics

•   Sound or syllable repetitions

•   Prolongations

•   Blocks

Other Behaviors

•   No physical tension or struggle

•   No secondary behaviors 

•   No negative reaction or frustration

•   No family history of stuttering

Other Behaviors

•   Associated physical tension or struggle

•   Secondary behaviors (e.g., eye blinks, facial grimacing,

•   changes in pitch or loudness)

•   Negative reaction or frustration

•   Avoidance behaviors (e.g., reduced verbal output or word/

•   situational avoidances)

•   Family history of stuttering

**Coleman, C. (2013). How can you tell if childhood stuttering is the real deal? Available from

 If you have a child who stutters, locate a speech language pathologist in your area and have your child evaluated. It’s ok to seek help. Educating yourself is the best way to help your child.  

Remember the most important way you can help a child who stutters, LISTEN CAREFULLY!

For more information regarding stuttering and ways you can help your child visit:

-Jennifer Henderson, M.S. CCC-SLP

**If you have any concerns with your child’s speech, language, and/or feeding development, please contact Deborah L. 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. **

“What did you do in School Today?” – for Parents with Preschoolers

The way that you connect with your children on a daily basis is so important for their social and cognitive development.  What do you do when you ask your children a question about their day and they say nothing or cannot tell you anything new?

First and foremost, understand that very few preschoolers are able to answer such open-ended questions.  Preschoolers are concrete thinkers, unable to verbalize past events unless there is something available (such as a picture or toy) to help them remember, or the activity or event was so fun/exciting/memorable to them that they prioritize it in their thoughts.

Here are a few “conversation starters” for helping your child:

  • Look around the classroom, hallways and/or in book bags for pictures, art activities or classwork. Then comment on what you see (e.g., “Look at all of these dots.  You made the letter _____.”).  Let your child fill in the answer.  Don’t forget to use the information from your child’s classroom plans as a way to stimulate conversation about the day.
  • Be specific about an activity and give choices (e.g., “Did you have apple juice or water at snack?” or “It’s a sunny day today. Did you go outside?  What was your favorite thing to do outside?”).
  • Ask “who” questions to stimulate naming a specific friend or teacher (e.g., “Who did you sit next to at Circle today?”).
  • Affirm all of your child’s answers and comments.

Don’t shy away from asking your child about their day, but instead just change the way you ask! Good luck! 

-Nicole Reynolds, M.S. CCC-SLP

**If you have any concerns with your child’s speech, language, and/or feeding development, please contact Deborah L. 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. **

A Parent’s Guide to Expanding Language Part 3: Bath time & Anytime

This is part three of a series! If you missed the other posts, you can find PART ONE and PART TWO here!

Language is ongoing. We use it constantly. Therefore, with these language ideas, it doesn’t have to feel like “homework.” You can be using them in daily living activities while you are doing the essentials as a parent you are already doing, such as giving your child a bath, going shopping for groceries, driving in the car, at mealtimes, and many more activities.

Below are a few more ideas of how to incorporate language into ordinary activities to help your child’s expressive language skills progress.

Bath time

Bath time is fantastic! It’s fun, and it involves play, so it’s a perfect setting to work on language while a child is having a fun time. Get those “Wh” questions flowing again:

  • What do we do with soap?
  • What does the water feel like?
  • Where do we take a bath?
  • When do we take a bath?
  • What is shampoo/conditioner used for?
  • Why should we take a bath?

Bath time is typically a daily routine. This is a great setting to talk about the steps for taking a bath to help a child with sequencing ideas:

  • Tell me the steps to washing your hair / taking a bath.
  • Use words such as “first, then, next, etc.”
  • What did you use BEFORE the conditioner?

Again, this is great way to incorporate various vocabulary, verbs, and concepts, such as opposites and descriptors. Bath time gives you an opportunity to introduce comparing and contrasting ideas that we talked about in the first two posts. When you ask, “What does the water feel like?”, for example, you can introduce “warm” or “cool” for the water temperature or comparatives like “hotter” or “colder”. You can also introduce:

  • before/after
  • wet/dry
  • clean/dirty
  • body parts
  • verbs
    • pour, blow (bubbles), scrub
    • floating, washing, splashing
    • crash, bump (toys crash into another toy)

ANYTIME – Strategies to try throughout your day!

  • Attention
    • Give full attention to your child when he/she is talking. We want our children to feel encouraged to express their thoughts! Make sure you give them direct eye contact and you’re not just “half listening” or it may discourage them from having a conversation.
  • Make sure they are fully paying attention to you when you are talking. If their head is faced down to the tablet in their lap, they probably won’t notice your language-rich narration about the bird out the window.
  • Talk
    • about what you are doing
    • where you are going
    • what you will do when you arrive  
    • who/what you will see

  • Count
    • shoes at the door
    • socks in a drawer
    • silverware on the table
    • cupcakes being frosted
  • Expand utterances
    • Introduce an unfamiliar word and offer its definition or use it in a context that’s easily understood. For older children, introduce higher level concepts such as “vehicle”
      • ex: I think I will drive the car, or vehicle, to the store.
    • Expand on what child says.
      • ex: If the child points to the cat’s nose, say: “Yes, that’s her nose. What does she do with her nose? She smells her food and the outside air. What do you do with your nose? You smell flowers and popcorn!”

As you can see, language is a continuous concept. It is a part of every activity that we do every day. As a parent, you can influence your child’s language skills just by modeling and providing more opportunities for him/her to use them! Good luck!

-Shannon Greenlee M.A., CCC-SLP

**If you have any concerns with your child’s speech, language, and/or feeding development, please contact Deborah L. 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. **