Last winter at our Speech Pathology staff meeting there was a retirement video tribute for our colleague Gary Ward. In the video Gary was filmed with his puppets – therapy tools he used to encourage children to talk. He used them as motivators in therapy – and he did the voices!
I was a little skeptical of this “technique” but thought I’d give it a try. One day I marched myself down to the hospital gift shop, paid my $15, and walked out with my new Elmo puppet. I was eager to try this out with my patients. This little puppet has been worth its weight in gold.
So how does a puppet help children talk?
Children need to focus to participate in therapy. If I’m working on the s-sound it can be pretty boring business. That’s where Elmo comes in.
Jennifer, “Do you want Elmo to help you say your words?”
From there I have Elmo say the words correctly and sometimes incorrectly so the child can correct him. I have also used my Elmo puppet as a third person to help with early conversations. Elmo asks the child questions about the therapy activity. I am always surprized how interested they are in talking to Elmo instead of me. Aren’t I interesting enough?
I’m no Kevin Clash but my squeaky voice does the trick. I get immediate attention from my young patients. Elmo (on my hand) gets smothered in hugs and kisses – and encourages communication. Puppets can be used to help the child with Down syndrome practice speech and language skills at home including:
- Speech articulation skills; Use the puppet to model speech
- Work on vocabulary; Look at pictures and pretend the puppet doesn’t recognize them. Ask the child to tell what he/she sees
- Work on early literacy; Take turns with the puppet ‘reading’ a page in a book. Have the child read or explain what they see on the page
- Encourage imaginative play and simple conversation skills. Include asking and giving information about the activity. This can be done with a toy farm, cars, tea set etc.
Unsure about your own skills? Watch Sesame Street to get great ideas on how to use puppets with children. Talk to the puppet like he’s another member of your activity. Use a silly voice to engage the child – Don’t be afraid to look absolutely ridiculous! Kids like that!