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

Speech And Language Fun During The Holiday Season

My favorite holidays are coming up – the ones with food! And that means extra time spent cooking in the kitchen. This is a perfect and FUN way to enhance your child’s language skills! You will want to choose a recipe that you can make with your child. Depending on your child’s age, you can choose something easier to make or something with more complex steps. Here are some goals you can target while completing a recipe:

  • Describing
    • You can compare and contrast the different ingredients. How are they the same? How are they different? You can discuss textures, shapes, smells, tastes, sizes, and other features. You can talk about categories too – vegetables, fruits, meats, grains.
  • Verbs
    • Cooking is filled with so many fun actions! Here’s a brief list: cook, make, drink, bake, boil, burn, peel, cut, eat, scoop, stir, mix, put in, taste, pour, fill, smell, feel, pinch, break.
  • Following directions
    • That’s exactly what a recipe is! Break down the steps into smaller tasks if they are too complex for your child. Sequencing the steps aloud can help teach your child concepts such as first, then, next, before, after. You can also have your child practice recalling the steps and stating them in order.
  • Vocabulary
    • Your child does not spend as much time in the kitchen as you do. There are fruits, vegetables, spices, and tools that he or she has never heard of before. Expose them to these new labels, uses (peeling, stirring, etc), and purposes in the kitchen.
  • Articulation
    • You can pick recipes that have your child’s target sounds. For example if your child is working on s-blends, you could make a fruit salad and target stir, strawberry, smash, smooth, small, sticky, spoon, spread, etc.

These are just a few goals that can be worked on while cooking in the kitchen. Try them at home during the holiday season and enjoy time with your children learning together!

–Shannon Greenlee M.A., CCC-SLP

Using Toys at Home to Enhance Language Learning

Children love to play with many types of toys, and these can be used in a variety of ways to enhance their language skills. One of my favorites, an oldie but a goodie, is simply a bouncy or soft (plastic, foam, etc) ball. You can expose your child to so much language just by playing catch or rolling it back and forth.

Kimberly Scanlon, M.A., CCC-SLP, author of “My Toddler Talks,” provides a variety of activities that parents can easily implement in their homes with toys they already own. Helping your child expand their language skills shouldn’t be expensive! Grab one of your child’s favorite balls and try out these simple ideas!

  • First, you’ll want to be in close proximity to your child and ensure their attention is on you and the ball. Label the ball as you show it to them.
  • You can target a variety of language concepts with balls. Make sure to label the action as you model it to your child.
    • Verbs: roll, bounce, throw, kick, squeeze, put, take, clean up, catch
    • Concepts: up/down, under/over, in/out, fast/slow, on/off, all done
    • Adjectives: colors, big/little, high/low
    • Turn-taking: my turn, your turn, his turn, her turn
    • So much more!
  • Roll the ball, state “I am rolling the ball,” then stop. Look at your child and state “roll” and try to have him roll it back to you. You may have to model this a few times for him or her to fully understand the routine.
  • You can also continue this social play routine by incorporating a dump truck, bucket, or stuffed animal. You can “roll” the ball, “put” it in the bucket, and “take” it out. All while taking turns.
  • At the end of the activity, you can teach a “clean up” routine by using “clean up” or “bye-bye, ball” as you wave good-bye.

Helpful Strategies

You will want to avoid asking too many questions and making your child feel like they are on the spot or need to perform. Make sure to acknowledge any gesture or verbalization as their attempt to communicate with you, using words of praise and affirmation as encouragement. Comment and narrate what you are doing to provide as much exposure as you can to the vocabulary. You can also expand your child’s utterances as well. If he or she says “ball,” you can respond with “Yes, that’s the little ball” or “kick the ball.”

Remember, you do not have to go out and buy new fancy toys. You can use anything! Be creative!

–Shannon Greenlee M.A., CCC-SLP


Scanlon, K. (2012). My toddler talks: Strategies and activities to promote your child’s language development. South Carolina: Createspace.

The iPad Isn’t Just For Fun- It’s For Language, Too!

Let’s face it–children love to play on the iPad!  I don’t base all of my therapy sessions around my LED screen, of course. However, there are a few apps that I just simply cannot live without.  Did I mention most of them are FREE?? 

Let’s start with the perfect “cause and effect” app for young children: Peekaboo Kids.  I use this app a lot when I am working with children on requesting things such as “more” or “open”.  It is also great for labeling and expanding vocabulary.  Children have the choice to open a barn and discover different farm animals, open a garage and discover different types of vehicles, or even open a stage curtain and discover different musical instruments.  It is a HIT with my early intervention children and my young school age children as well. 


Moving right along to my next favorite app, which consists of a funny alien that performs 25+ actions: POGG.  Most of my children are laughing and giggling while answering questions such as “What is he doing?” or “Can you show me the picture where he is eating?”.  This app is great for working on present progressive tense (verb+ing) and identifying actions as well as answering “Why” questions.


The last app that I want to share with you is called Sago Mini Friends.  I allow my children to pick a character and they can walk along to different friend’s houses.  Knock on the doors and find out what fun activity is in store.  My toddlers love these activities, which include dressing up, blowing bubbles, popping balloons, and eating a snack just to name a few.  This app is great for expanding sentence length, taking turns, and also for expanding vocabulary skills.  Hopefully your children will enjoy these apps and can work on improving their speech and language skills in addition to having fun!

–Breann Voytko M.A., CCC-SLP

My child eats fine… they are just picky!

This is the first thing most parents say when I walk into a home for a feeding evaluation. Most people assume that feeding issues occur only in children with a developmental delay, problems with gaining weight, or some type of physical/mental disability. While this is typically true, as a speech-language pathologist I have discovered that many typically developing children may in fact have severe food aversions.

What is a picky eater?

Simply put, a picky eater is a child that is very selective about what they will eat. One of my favorite feeding books, Food Chaining: The Proven Six-Step Plan to Stop Picky Eating, Solve Feeding Problems, and Expand Your Child’s Diet, describes picky eaters as children who will usually eat 30 or more different foods, and will want to eat certain foods for many days at a time. Toddlers, anyone?! They are the kings/queens of picky eaters, going days at a time only wanting chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese. A few days go by and they eventually get tired of eating that particular food, and move on to something else. Sometimes you even find that they suddenly refuse a food that used to be a favorite! (A tactic I am sure they invent only to drive their mothers crazy!)   However, when that particular food is presented again at a later date, they will usually accept the food without an issue.  These children may not have an obvious medical condition but may have contributing factors leading to their pickiness, such as food allergies or acid reflux.

What is a problem feeder?

A problem feeder is a child who eats 20 different foods or less, sometimes only a handful of different foods. These children may have a strong reaction to foods they dislike, such as crying, throwing tantrums, gagging, and vomiting. They may even reject entire food groups, such as not eating any fruits or vegetables at all. Meal times for the family of a problem feeder are stressful and exhausting experiences. Problem feeders may have some type of medical condition such as a sensory processing disorder, autism, delays in oral motor skills preventing them from eating certain foods, and/or acid reflux, to name a few.

How do I tell the difference, and what do I do about it?

If you find that your child is exhibiting characteristics listed above, then you may be looking at a problem feeder. So, as a parent, what is next?  You should seek the help of a speech-language pathologist. A speech-language pathologist will be able perform a feeding evaluation for your child, letting you know exactly what is going on and help you put a plan in place for feeding success.

If you have any concerns with your child’s feeding ability, development, and/or progress, 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. Meal times should be an enjoyable experience for all family members, and we are eager to work with any family to help achieve this goal. 

–Chariti Skinner M.S. CCC-SLP

Reference: Fraker, C., Fishbein, M., Cox, S., & Walbert, L. (2007). Food chaining: The proven 6-step plan to stop picky eating, solve feeding problems, and expand your child’s diet. New York: Marlowe & Company.

What is A “Speech Disorder”?

Parents often ask, “What is a speech disorder?” and “How do I know if my child has a speech disorder”?  Young children often mispronounce sounds but, over time, typically acquire sounds by listening to how people say them, figuring out how to move their tongue around in their mouths, or learning how to alter the way they produce a sound to say it correctly. 

We know that the “r” sound is a harder sound for children to pick up easily or, sometimes, even on their own as the sound itself is fairly complex. “R” requires the tongue to be placed high in the roof of the mouth, and then and moved while producing the sound. They are also various “R” vowels involving different placement that increases the complexity. This is why parents and teachers may think it’s “cute” if a child uses “w” for the “r” sound, saying “wode” for “rode” or “eawwing” for “earring;” this is the most common substitution for “r” used by a child with a speech disorder.

Most children can pick up harder sounds such as “r” or “l” on their own while, for others, learning how to make the speech sounds correctly may be more difficult. Some children may have many sounds they are missing, making their speech hard to understand, while others may be missing just a few sounds that children their age typically have already mastered. Depending on what standardized testing scores show, the sounds missing and how they affect the child’s ability to be understood (called “intelligibility”), and which sound errors the child has may determine if a child has a speech sound disorder.

When should children be able to produce various sounds?

According to Linguisystems sound chart, children should be acquiring these consonant sounds by the following ages:

Sound  Age  Sound  Age
p 3 years t 5 years
m 3 years r 6 years
h 3 years l 6 years
n 3 years ch 7 years
w 3 years sh 7 years
b 4 years j 7 years
k 4 years s 8 years
g 4 years z 8 years
d 4 years v 8 years
f 4 years th 8 years
y 4 years zh 8 years

However, it’s important to note that not all researchers conclude that these are the ages when children should have mastered these consonant sounds, as some studies have indicated that children should have acquired consonant sounds earlier than the ages indicated in Linguisystems, Guide to Communication Milestones by Janet R. Lanza and Lynn K. Flahive (2008).

In Linguisystems, Guide to Communication Milestones, the authors indicate that researchers have used two different methodologies to determine the age of speech-sound acquisition, which is why there is not universal agreement in the field of speech pathology as to when children acquire particular sounds by what ages. For example, some studies concluded that sounds produced correctly 100% of the time were considered mastered, but for others, producing the sound 75% of the time was the criterion. Also in some studies, mastery of the sound was based on words that were produced spontaneously, while in others, mastery was based on the child’s ability to imitate sounds. Although there is variability in criteria for mastery of sounds in various studies, there is some general agreement about when children should have achieved mastery of individual sounds. Let’s walk through the progression in which children typically acquire each type of sound production:

Sounds that are produced by “nasalizing” (air coming out through the nose) are acquired earliest, typically around three years old. These sounds are “m, n, and ing.” Sounds produced by air pressure building in the oral cavity and then released quickly in a “burst” of air by using lips, tongue, or palate to produce the sound, such as “p, b, t, d, k, and g” are called “stops.” According to Linguisystems, these are typically mastered by ages three through five.  The sounds “w” and “y” are also typically mastered around this time.  The next sounds that are typically acquired are those called, “fricatives” which are produced by a continuous air stream released while using the teeth or tongue to produce sound. These include “f, v, s, z, sh, and zh.” After these are mastered, the next sounds typically acquired are the voiced (using the larynyx) “th” and voiceless (the larynx is not used) “th.” Sounds that begin like a stop, but release air similar to a fricative sound, called “affricates,” are the next sounds to typically be acquired. These include the sounds: “ch” and “j .  Lastly, per Linguistems, the “liquids,” or sounds where the tongue is positioned in the mouth to make a vowel-like consonant, are acquired, such as the “l” and “r” sounds. These can be the most difficult for children to pick up on their own and ones that can be commonly worked on when children need speech therapy.

If you are concerned about your child’s ability to produce sounds and would be interested in scheduling a speech evaluation to assess their skills, we’d be glad to have you come see us. We are able to administer standardized tests to compare your child’s speech sound abilities to other children their age, based on normed data, and therefore determine the need for speech therapy. You can call to schedule an appointment by calling our office at 865-693-5622.

If you are not local, please look on American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s website for a local speech-language pathologist near you.

–Debby Curlee Hall M.A. CCC-SLP

Additional References:

Back To School – What To Expect Of Your Kindergartener’s Communication Skills

Helping your child make the adjustment to being in kindergarten can be difficult and stressful, even if your child’s been in preschool. For parents of kindergarteners, having your child start in a new school with a lot of bigger and older children can be hard on them, and on you!

Your kindergartener might “get in trouble” with the teacher for “not listening”. Or he or she may exhibit behaviors at home due to stress in adjusting to a new situation with new expectation of having to learn to sit and obey the teacher’s rules, follow long directions, and to “do work.”

More and more is expected of children at a younger age these days, and we oftentimes forget that this is especially hard on a child that may be barely 5 years old who has had more unstructured preschool experiences and less expected of him or her. For a child who has a speech or language disorder, diagnosed or not yet diagnosed, this can be an even more difficult adjustment. If a child has difficulty making sounds clear enough for people to understand them, then it may be hard for them to make new friends because the other five year old children may “give up” if they don’t understand his or her comments or questions and walk away. Worse yet, they may snicker or even laugh if he or she has a lot of sound errors or even stutters.

If a kindergartener has an undiagnosed (or diagnosed) language disorder, then even the ability to follow one or two simple directions in a sequence may be hard for them. They may struggle with simple directions such as the teacher saying, “Push your chair in and get in line by the door” or “Get the green crayon and make a circle on the paper.”

The American Speech Language Hearing Association website ( provides information as to what children’s communication skills should be like for “Listening” and “Speaking” by the end of kindergarten. Please keep in mind that many kindergarten teachers will expect your child to be doing this upon entering kindergarten which, many kindergarteners, can already do:


  • Follow 1-2 simple directions in a sequence
  • Listen to and understand age-appropriate stories read aloud
  • Follow a simple conversation


  • Be understood by most people
  • Answer simple “yes/no” questions
  • Answer open-ended questions (e.g. “What did you have for lunch today?”)
  • Retell a story or talk about an event
  • Participate appropriately in conversation
  • Show interest in and start conversations

In Teach Me to Talk! The Therapy Manual by Laura Mize, M.A., CCC-SLP (2011) says that children should use 2,200-2,5000 words in their own expressive language by this age. Children with speech and language impairments may slide “under the radar” at school for months if the child is thought of as “quiet” or “shy,” which can be the result of that child’s awareness that people don’t understand them or because they have trouble answering open-ended questions. If a child is aware that they have difficulties with speech sounds or language, they will become less apt to participate when the teacher asks a question or to join in play situations with other children. Over time, these children’s academics or their ability to socialize and develop relationships with peers may be affected.

These guidelines for kindergarteners from the website give us an idea of what children should be able to do for speaking and listening. Those are the fundamentals to how we all use language to make our needs known, respond to others, convey emotions, and understand what is being spoken.

If you are concerned about your child’s ability to be understood or to express themselves even as a kindergartener starting out in school, it’s always better to let the teacher know of your concerns and to ask that your school’s speech therapist screen them to see if further testing is needed.

We are available for questions and arranging an appointment to schedule an evaluation with us if you have concerns. This can be done by calling our office at 865-693-5622 . If you ask your doctor to refer your child to us, we are glad to do a free screening and share our findings with him or her. Our screening would let us know if further testing is needed or if we can show you ways to work with your child at home to improve their ability to communicate with peers and teachers in order to maintain their self-confidence and self-esteem in a new school situation.

–Debby Curlee Hall M.A. CCC-SLP