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 www.babysignstoo.com 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 http://blog.asha.org/2013/09/26/how-can-you-tell-if-childhood-stuttering-is-the-real-deal/

 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: www.westutter.org.

-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. **

Language goals in the Kitchen: Holiday cookies

With the holidays approaching, one custom that many families share in is making cookies. But as you are making delicious treats for your family and friends, you can also expand language skills!

Following directions

Target: Spatial concepts, or positional words, including: on top, over, under, up, down, bottom, in, out, in front, behind, beside, and between.

How to: After you roll out the dough, you can talk to and direct your child where to put the cookie cutters. For example, put the candy cane over the Christmas tree or Move that gingerbread man up. When putting sprinkles, icing, and candies on for decoration, you can continue to give these directions, or have the child direct you. For example have your child tell you where to put the candies on the cookie (up, over, under, etc.)

Target: Temporal concepts which include: first, then, next, last, before, after etc.

How to: As you make the cookie dough, explain to the child the order in which the ingredients will go into the bowl. Ask the child to help. For example, first put in the flour before you put in the sugar or mix together the wet ingredients before you add the flour.


Target: Add items to categories

How to: Talk about the items that belong into a category


  1. Desserts
  2. Colors (while using sprinkles)
  3. Christmas decorations
  4. Things that are cold
  5. Different types of measurements (cups, tablespoons, teaspoons, etc)


Target: Talk about how things are alike and different

How to: Try and see if your child can help you name one thing that makes two items the same, and one thing that makes them different. If one is too easy, increase the complexity by having them name two things that make them the same/different.


  1. Sugar/flour
  2. Spoon/fork
  3. Cookies/pie
  4. Measuring cup/ruler
  5. Oven/microwave

These are just a few ideas to get you started! Have fun with it, and enjoy a cookie together when you are done.

-Amanda Cox, 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 2: Meal Time

Here is the second edition of this three-part segment. If you missed Part 1, you can find it HERE. 

Meal Time

Meal time is another great part of the day to offer chances for developing your child’s language. Again, incorporate those “Wh” questions! Discuss object functions, compare and contrast, make predictions!

  • What do we use to eat soup?
  • What do we use to cut food?
  • How is a spoon and fork different?
  • What do we drink out of?
  • Where do we put our dirty dishes?
  • Why do we use a napkin?

Many steps are used when preparing or cleaning up after dinner. Talk about them! Have your child help prepare the meal and have them tell the other family members what they did! This is also great for following simple and multi-step directions.

  • Tell me the steps for setting the table.
  • Tell me the steps for making a sundae/sandwich/muffin.
  • What did you add to the bowl AFTER the eggs?
  • What did we mix FIRST?
  • Add the sugar, THEN stir it together.
  • BEFORE you turn the mixer on, add the flour.

Describe your food! Talk about the categories: is it a fruit, a veggie, a meat? What does it look like? What does it taste like: sweet/sour/salty? What does it feel like? Compare and contrast. There are so many words you can teach with food!

  • Ice cream is a dessert. It is cold. It is sweet. It has many flavors. My favorite is chocolate.
  • A strawberry is a red fruit. It has seeds. They are smaller than a watermelon.
  • The ketchup is red, but the mustard is yellow. They are both condiments.

More interesting verbs are also a big part of meal time. Acting out the action is a perfect way to provide a visual definition for a new word.

  • whisk, stir, mix
  • pinch, layer, melt
  • dip, spread, taste
  • fry, bake, grill
  • Chop, cut, slice

When everyone is sitting in their place at the table, it presents a great visual to teach possessives as well.

  • Whose napkin is this? It is Daddy’s
  • Whose plate is this? It is mine.
  • This is my
  • This is his/her/your

Part three will include two more settings: bath time and ANYTIME. In the meantime, one of the best strategies for expanding language is modeling. It may feel weird to talk about everything you are doing, but narrating out loud is a wonderful way to model for your child how to incorporate more words into their expressive language. 

-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. **

A Parent’s Guide to Expanding Language Part 1: In the Car

You have been told that your child has an “expressive language delay.” I’m sure many questions begin to run through your mind, including “What does this mean? What is expressive language? Is there anything I can do at home?” To answer the last question quite simply: YES!

Expressive language is a very general term used to describe how we USE language. This is different from receptive language, which is the ability to take in and UNDERSTAND language. Expressive language encompasses many skills: vocabulary, sequencing, grammar, descriptors, pragmatic/social skills, asking and answering questions, and making inferences or predictions. There is no one way to go about treating expressive language disorders. Depending on the area of difficulty, your child’s speech language pathologist (SLP) will address his/her goals differently during therapy sessions. However, YOU as the parent can help more than you may think right at home!

Provided in three entries are ways and times during the day in which you can create a more language-rich environment for your child and help to expand his/her expressive language abilities.

On the way home from school

Ask your child questions about their day! Try to avoid yes/no questions so that your child must provide more than just 1-word answers. Incorporating various “How” and  “Wh”-questions will offer opportunities for longer responses:

  • How was school?
  • What was your favorite part? Why?
  • Where did you have recess?
  • What did you have for lunch?
  • Who did you sit with?
  • What did you do on the playground?
  • Why do you like the swings more than the slide?

Many children with expressive language difficulties have trouble sequencing their thoughts out loud. They may show weaknesses with retelling past events, stating steps of an activity in order, or demonstrating appropriate flow of conversation. Have them explain some of their school routines or activities to you:

  • Tell me how your class gets ready for lunch.
  • What do you do to get ready for going home?
  • What is Ms. Smith’s morning routine?
  • Tell me the order of your field trip activities.

Provide opportunities for your child to describe or use various basic concepts. Using adjectives, adverbs, and other descriptors make our messages more interesting and clearer to our communicative partners. Talk about what you see when you look out the car windows:

  • I see the stop light! What do the colors mean?
  • That car is moving SLOW, but that car is moving (FAST)!
  • The tree is BIG, but the bush is (SMALL).
  • Where is the bird/dog/man?
    • UNDER the tree
    • IN the sky
    • ON the bench
    • BETWEEN the bushes
  • Colors, shapes, categories
    • shapes: circle/sun, octagon/stop sign, triangle/yield
    • animals: bird, dog, rabbit, possum
    • colors: yellow/sun, green/grass, pink/flower
    • vehicles: bus, van, car, airplane, motorcycle

The next segment to be shared will focus on meal time. It can be so easy to enhance our child’s language just by taking a more active role in our daily routines and activities!

–Shannon Greenlee M.A., CCC-SLP