Communication Games 3 – Fishing and Springy Spiders

For my third post on games, I’ve put fishing and Springy Spiders together because they are basically variations on the same theme and I use the 2 games in much the same ways.

Fishing game

  1. Turn-taking – as with any game with 2 or more players, you can use either of these games to develop turn-taking skills. They have the added advantage that you need a specific item (fishing rod or spider) to have a turn. That means you can help impulsive children to wait by using only one fishing rod/spider shared between all the players.
  2. Colours – like you did with Pop up Pirate, you can give instructions using colours to reinforce use and understanding of this vocabulary – eg ‘catch a blue fish’ or ‘use the pink spider’.ELC's Fishing game
  3. Picture naming – You can either put paper clips/Velcro on your pictures so they stick to the fishing rod/spider or just put the fish/bugs on top of them, As you ‘catch’ each picture, say the sound or word it shows.Springy Spider game
  4. Picture sorting – Instead of naming pictures as you catch them, you can sort them by category for vocabulary work, by initial sound, for speech or phonological awareness work or by number of syllables for phonological awareness.

Having written it down, this doesn’t look like a huge list of uses but of all the games I have in my storage room, these are the two I use most! I suppose it’s because they make the simple act of choosing a picture lots more interesting and fun. You can’t go wrong with a bit of fishing!

Communication Games 2 – Pop Up Pirate

And now the second instalment of Isla’s favourite communication games! Pop up Pirate is good fun and adds that element of the unexpected that may children love. If you’ve not seen the game before, take a look at this promotional video by the manufacturers, Tomy.

From a speech & language therapist’s point of view, there is an awful lot you can do with Pop Up Pirate and here are my top 5 uses for it:

  1. Looking and attention – This is a good small group activity for reinforcing the value of looking at the person who is talking and paying attention. Put the swords in a box and put it next to the pirate in the middle of the group. The rules are that you can take a sword and put it in when I look at you and wink. AND if you’re doing good looking you might get more than one go. It’s amazing how even the most distractable wee person will focus when you play like this!
  2. Colour and number comprehensionwork on these areas by giving instructions like ‘Take a blue sword’, ‘Take 2 swords’ or ‘Take 3 red swords’. You have a nice simple carrier phrase in ‘Take…sword(s)’ and you can vary the difficulty of instructions really easily by adding extra elements.
  3. Reward - You can either play the game at the end of an activity or use is as an ongoing reward throughout, for example name a picture then have a turn at the game.
  4. Treasure hunt - hide the swords round the room each with one of the pictures you want the child to name. As the child finds each one, ask him/her to name it then they can have a turn at the game. Alternatively, you can collect all the pieces and play the game at the end once all the pictures have been named.
  5. Speech work – Pop up Pirate is really good for some phrase level ‘s’ practise as the game involves swords (your ‘s’ word!) in 4 different colours. The child can ask you for the next sword using a short phrase like ‘a blue sword please’ or a longer one like ‘I’d like a red sword please’.
Using Pop up Pirate to name pictures in the mobile therapy room

I often use Pop up Pirate to make naming pictures more interesting when I’m working on a child’s speech production.



Communication Games 1 – Bubbles

I was describing how I use bubbles with children to my husband the other day and he was genuinely surprised at how many different communication skills you can target with this one simple tool. On that basis, I thought I’d do a series of posts telling you about my 6 of my favourite resources and how I use them! Every game or resource I’m going to cover is readily available to buy from most toy shops so it will be easy for you to try the activities at home if you want to. Without further ado, let me share with you how I use that most simple of toys, bubbles.

Using Bubbles to Develop Communication

Bubbles are available in most shops that sell toys or, alternatively, you can make your own with washing up liquid. The Early Learning Centre produce the best bubble mixture I’ve found so far and you can buy it in 1 litre bottles which is brilliant if you use as much as I do! ELC and other manufacturers also make a wide range of different equipment for blowing bubbles from simple wands of various sizes and colours to bubble guns and bubble blowing machines.

ELC's bubble jar and large/small bottles of mixtureSomething to bear in mind with bubble mixtures is that if the tiniest bit of saliva gets into the mixture, your bubbles will pop as soon as you try to blow them. For that reason, it’s worth having a couple of smaller bottles that you can fill from your bumper 1 litre bottle. Cunning! If the wand does get licked and saliva gets into your bottle, throw away the remaining mixture and make sure you give both the bottle and the wand a really good rinse before you use it again.

Blowing bubbles is a fun, simple and repetitive routine which lends itself really well to repeated use of the same words, sentences and nonverbal communication and is therefore an ideal communication building activity.

So how do I use bubbles for communication work then?

  1. Reward - Most children enjoy bubbles so I often use them as a reward at the end of a session. Always check with parents first if you’re a therapist working in a client’s home as some people prefer to use bubbles outside only!
  2. Anticipation – For children who are at an early stage in their communication development, developing anticipation in familiar routines is essential. It helps to build understanding & use of language as well as reinforcing the idea that communication is a rewarding and fun thing to do. You will find more information about these building blocks of communication in my post titled ‘The Fundamentals of Communication‘.
  3. Cause & effect – that idea of ‘I do something (cause) and something else happens (effect)’ is also a fundamental communication skill. Babies very quickly learn that making a sound results in them getting what they need or want and this underpins all subsequent communication development. After all, getting what you need/want is very motivating! There are lots of ways to develop this skill using bubbles from waiting for the child to make a noise before blowing some bubbles to teaching them to operate a bubble machine by pressing a switch.
  4. Eye contact - Bubbles are a nice, simple way to give tangible as well as social reward for making eye contact. I usually blow some bubbles first ‘for free’ to let the child know I have them then I wait for eye contact (or indeed other non verbal communication) before blowing more. Obviously the child needs to enjoy bubbles or this won’t work!
  5. Joint attention – When you blow bubbles with a child, in all likelihood, both of you will end up watching the bubbles as they move & pop. You can tweak the situation easily to make it into an explicitly shared experience by pointing at the bubbles, saying ‘look’ and looking back at the child. Joint attention is another one of those fundamental communication skills (LINK) that are essential foundations for more advanced communication and learning.
  6. Early expressive vocabulary - Blowing bubbles is an activity which lends itself well to practising a range of early expressive vocabulary (spoken words, signs or symbols) such as ‘more’, ‘again’, ‘stop’, ‘go’,  and the action words ‘look’, ‘pop’, ‘blow’, ‘open’.
  7. Colour & size vocabulary – you can develop understanding and use of colour vocabulary by asking the child you are working with to choose a different coloured wand each time you blow more bubbles. You can work on size words by blowing big or small bubbles or by using big or little wands.
  8. Sentence building – it’s easy to extend your single word communication to start building 2 and 3 word sentences like blow bubbles, Isla blow bubbles, blow big bubbles, mummy blow more bubbles. Once again, you can do this with spoken words, signs or symbols.
  9. Oromotor skills – the oral movements required to blow bubbles are great for developing lip control, breath control and soft palate control.
  10. Speech – If you’re working on ‘p’ and ‘b’ sounds, bubbles are good for word level practise. First you have ‘bubbles’ which you can get the child to use to request more, then you have ‘pop’ which you can say as the bubbles burst.
  11. Attention skills – If  you are feeling mean, you can try this activity with someone who is learning to sit still in the face of distraction. Have them sit on a chair while you blow bubbles over them. Their challenge is to stay sitting still until you say ‘go’ then they can pop the bubbles!

So there are some of my top uses for bubbles. There are many more I’m sure and several that I haven’t thought of. Please do feel free to email me if you have any other ideas! Happy bubble blowing and popping…