Tell me a Story

Becoming a good story teller

The art of being a good story teller is well regarded across many cultures.

The stories we tell help us to connect with one another, to develop our relationships and friendships, to engage in conversations and to reflect upon past events (both real and imaginary).

Story telling happens frequently in our day to day interactions with others.  Take a moment to reflect upon this the next time you meet up with friend for coffee or catch up with a work colleague after the weekend!

Some stories are brief and may contain only short episodes relaying or recalling  ‘who did what, why, where and when with what resulting consequences’.

Other stories may involve communicating multiple causal and temporal relationships between ideas with the use of a variety of sophisticated, complex and precise language that is required to paint a detailed picture for the listener.

For our children, the stories that share have social importance.  Parents often want their children to tell them about their day.  Teachers need information about events that have happened and peers want to be engaged. Good storytellers are more accepted by peers and become more adapt at solving social problems as they grow older.

It makes social sense to encourage all children to not only listen to stories but to tell stories and share these with others.

Children’s story telling abilities in the early years are also very closely related to listening comprehension, receptive vocabulary and writing.  The links between narrative or story telling skills in preschool and later reading comprehension ability 10 years later are particularly strong.  Becoming a good story teller also requires refinement of other core skills that are important foundations for a range of academic and social abilities including attention, cognition, memory, inferencing and theory of mind.

Start by helping your child to understand and use story structure

Before you can help your child to develop more complexity in his or her vocabulary, sentence structure or grammar, it is helpful to firstly make sure that your child can tell and retell basic stories that include the following structural components:

Setting      (When does the story take place? Where does the story take place?)

Character    (Who is the character in the story)

Problem or Initiating Event     (What is the problem)

Plan     (What did the character decide to do in response to the problem)

Attempts     (What did the character do first, next, and then…)

Consequences     (What happened at the end?  How did the character’s feel?)

Ideas for teaching Story Structure

Parents and Educators can prompt / model and ask questions about story structure when sharing books with children.  Stop to model some think alouds e.g. “I wonder what he is thinking to do about this problem?”  “Where did this story start?” “How did the girl feel after she solved her problem?”  Being read to is wonderful but we can really increase the benefits when we direct our children’s attention to the narrative structure of the story.

Children, even those still very young, can be encouraged to ‘tell’ their favourite […]


Teaching Early Reading and Spelling Skills: Frequently Asked Questions

There are so many good, evidence based programmes available now to support parents and educators in developing early reading and spelling skills.

These are based upon teaching phonics in a systematic, explicit manner.

If you don’t have the background knowledge about why a specific scope and sequence needs to be followed however, when things go ‘wrong’ (which they will invariably do for approximately 10% of children in any classroom), you won’t know how to adjust your teaching to ensure that all children learn and make steady progress.

Let us help by answering some of the most frequently asked questions about supporting children’s early reading and spelling skills when things don’t go as planned.

  1. What is the difference between phonological awareness and phonics?

Phonological Awareness: As we have mentioned in previous Chatterbox blogposts here ,  this term  refers to the ability to recognise and manipulate the sounds of spoken language, such as segmenting words into syllables, and identifying individual sounds (phonemes) within words. It’s a vital pre-reading skill that children require before they can then map ‘letters’ (also referred to as graphemes) to their speech sounds for the purposes of spelling and reading.

Phonics: Phonics, on the other hand, involves connecting these sounds (phonemes) to written letters (graphemes). It’s about learning the relationships between letters and the sounds they represent.

There is a difference between these two concepts and children need BOTH if they are to be successful in acquiring early literacy skills.

  1. What are the most important foundational phonological awareness skills to master?

Ideally, children will master the ability to segment words into syllables, identify sounds in various word positions and segment as well as blend sounds within words. If you had to pick the most important of these early developing skills of these to master, it would have to be the ability to segment (break words apart into component individual sounds) and blend (stretch these sounds back together to form a word) as these two skills link beautifully to spelling and reading.

So many children we meet have good awareness of individual speech sounds and the letters used to represent these (i.e. phonics), however without the phonemic awareness skills of segmentation and blending, they are unable to progress to spelling and reading simple words.

  • 3. How does speech link to literacy?

Speech and literacy are closely connected.

Reading and spelling essentially involves translating spoken language into written form.

Helping children to ‘crack the code’ involves showing them how their speech sounds map to the written form.

  1. How to help children read and spell words with less regular spellings

When encountering irregular or challenging words, so many of us are tempted to make comments such as “This is a tricky word.  You just need to remember it”.

Contrary to common belief…Very few words need be described in this way.

Sure, many words use less regular / common spellings of sounds but it is far more helpful to explain this to children with comments such as “This word has some tricky parts.  […]


Building Phonological Awareness Skills

Phonological awareness is the first building block in learning to read.

Children must gradually become aware of not just what words mean but of their component sounds.

Phonological awareness includes the awareness of how words can be broken down into smaller parts; into syllables and individual sounds.

The Education Department has made some helpful short videos to further define this concept if you are interested in learning more about Phonological Awareness

Why do we need to focus upon Phonological Awareness?

Well, it’s simple!

The level of a child’s phonological awareness skills in the first years of schooling is a strong predictor of later reading and spelling success.

Luckily, there is plenty we can do to build these skills in both the preschool and early school years:

  •  Expose your preschooler to songs that include lots of rhyme, alliteration and fun rhythms.  Talk about how the words sound?  Are they long words with lots of moving parts or syllables?  Do lots of words start with lip popping /p/ and /b/ sounds or do the words rhyme?
  •  Have some fun in front of the mirror exploring your ‘noise makers’ and how these move when you say different sounds together e.g. lips for p b m and w sounds, tongue tapping for t d and jumping at the back of the mouth for k and g, teeth together and lips protruding forward for sh
  •  Clap or tap out the syllables (beats) in long words; town names, vegetables, animals and the names of family and friends are great places to start.
  •  Some sounds are noisy (with our voice box turned on) like d b z v.  Have fun feeling your throat rumble with vibrations when you say these sounds
  •  Other sounds are nosy like m and n.  Feel the tickle in your nose as you say these sounds together
  • Other sounds don’t require the use of voice box at all and are quiet sounds.  We can feel air being puffed out onto our hand for the voiceless s f sh t and p sounds

Have fun ‘getting ready’ to say some words with your child.

See if you can detect the sound (not the letter) at the beginning of the word.

Focus on feeling, seeing and hearing the sound at the beginning of words.

HINT:  Starting with words that have ‘long’ sounds at the beginning will be a little easier to start with if your child is finding this concept tricky.  Try words like these:   shoe, Sam, sand, mine, zoo, four, farm, face and knee.

If your child shows an interest in learning more,

remember that our freely available Ready Readers Programme is available for you now!

This 8 week programme is full of extra fun, play-based activities to ensure that your child builds much needed phonological awareness skills for Kindergarten in readiness for early literacy development.

Enjoy nurturing an interest and early fascination in how words sound with your child and you will be setting them on the path for reading and spelling success! […]


Ways to Engage Your Reluctant Writer

Does your young child or a child your educate need assistance, not just with writing, but to find the ‘joy’ in writing?

This is a dilemma we face frequently particularly when working with school aged children who have struggled with speech and language skills since their preschool years.

They have often followed the trajectory of finding school work difficult.  Learning to read and spell has been hard going and the task of writing a narrative or expository text seems not only insurmountable but also just very unappealing.

It can be tricky to help these students.  We can only improve our writing by writing but how do you do this when the student is lacking in skill, motivation, confidence and interest?

Aaah…that last word….interest.  Harness their interest to find a spark and you might be surprised by how quickly a student can move from being disengaged to finding a love of writing.

Find what interests the child…what lights the fire in their belly?

For one of my students this Term, that fire has been all things Pokemon and Star Wars.  I can’t say that I know much at all about either of these topics but I am quickly learning.  It has not taken much digging to find a plethora of ideas out there to harness my student’s interest in these topics and to funnel this interest into a range of writing tasks.

We have had so much fun expanding our vocabulary and knowledge about these mythical creatures using resources freely available such as this beauty

We have been able to look at foundational decoding skills by breaking the names into syllables to read accurately and to highlight the trickier spellings of consonants and vowel sounds.

We have also been able to use the names of Pokemon to target spelling with a focus upon mapping speech sounds to graphemes / letters.

Our Pokemon themed sessions have also provided plenty of ideas for planning narratives using these interesting characters.  Targeting oral and written narrative has so many far reaching benefits for all children but particularly for those who struggle with language and literacy.  Using scaffolds such as these Narrative Scaffolds Narrative Scaffolds with a Pokemon theme doesn’t feel like hard work at all for students who have a strong interest in these little critters.

If Star Wars is more your thing….

It only takes a quick Google and you will have so many fresh ideas to incorporate this interest into a writing task.  Whether it is a narrative, a description or information report, an opinion piece or any writing text you are targeting…there is an idea within the Star Wars theme that will work.

Remember that writing doesn’t have to be an all or nothing task either.  Why not help children who struggle to get started with writing to brainstorm all they know about a topic (and believe me..students who are interested in Star Wars know A LOT about this topic).  Encourage the students to write each idea or word on a single strip of paper.  At this stage, they […]


Struggling to fit a Speech Home Programme into your life?

So you want to help your child make steady progress towards improving his or her speech but…..

Another week has passed by and you haven’t managed to do much practice at home.

Most parents, carers and educators we work with as Speech Pathologists come to us with the very best of intentions for completing practice in between speech pathology appointments.

The truth is that very few manage to do so!

How do you fit a speech pathology home programme into your life?

If you want your child to get the most out of intervention and to work towards achieving their speech, language and communication goals…home practice is just an unavoidable ingredient in getting there.

Home practice doesn’t have to be something that both you and your child dread.

It can and should be a positive addition to your week.

Here are some tips to make it happen.

Be realistic

Start by taking a good look at your week and your ‘must do’ commitments.

Block out the times in your weekly calendar or diary where you are otherwise committed.

Now that you have a visual on your specific situation, decide how many home practice times you are going to commit to doing with your child.

Be realistic and remember that a small amount of regular, well-done home practice is a great place to start. You are more likely to be able to build upon this so start small.  Maybe look at 3 times/week and keep your practice times to 15 minutes.

Remember, even for our school aged children…speech pathology home practice needs to be guided and supported by a parent, carer and/or educator so resist the temptation to try and ‘squeeze’ home practice into too many days when you are unlikely to be able to provide your full attention and support.

Book those times into your calendar.  Choose the times of the day that will be more conducive to home practice.

Times where you are likely to be less distracted by other children. other tasks and other stimuli in your environment.

Ideally, the times for home practice are those where you can dedicate your entire focus and presence towards your child.

These times need to be positive.  That doesn’t mean that you need to pull out all of the bells and whistles but ideally these times are enjoyed by both yourself and your child.  For younger children, a box of stickers and stamps as rewards for effort can work a treat.  For slightly older children, there are plenty of fun cause/effect games that can be incorporated into therapy.

Pop up Pirate , Greedy Granny, and Phil the Fridge some of our favourites.

Discuss what needs to be happening in your child’s home practice times in detail with your child’s speech pathologist.  It is really important that home practice doesn’t feel ‘too hard’ for your child and that you have some good strategies to assist at these moments in order to keep your child motivated and engaged.  We discussed some ideas to help encourage your child at these moments here

Most […]


Debunking some myths when parents ask questions…..

Let’s debunk some common myths about children and speech/language/communication development.

As an early childhood educator, you will need to be ready to accept a range of reactions from parents and caregivers when raising your concerns about a child’s development.

Every response from a parent or carer is valid and can be accepted without judgement.  These conversations definitely flow more smoothly, however, if educators are equipped with knowledge and helpful information for families.

Unfortunately, there is much available at our fingertips that is not accurate.  Let’s dispel a few of these common myths now.

My child has a speech delay.  Does this mean that something is ‘wrong’ with my child or that my child is not intelligent?

There is nothing ‘wrong’ with a child who has speech, language or communication difficulties and a delay or disorder in communication abilities does not necessarily also correlate with a child’s cognitive abilities.  We see many very bright children who just happen to have specific areas of their development requiring support.  If your child has a delay in the development of his or her speech, language or communication skills….we now know that early intervention is really key and that we can help them to make great progress if we start early.

I was late to talk.  Won’t my child just ‘grow out of it’?

Maybe.  Maybe not.  We cannot know the answer to this question.

What we do know though, is that communication skills underpin academic, social skills and are crucial to one’s quality of life.

The earlier we offer support to a child who is struggling to develop these skills, the better the outcome we can expect.

Some children will ‘catch up’ on their own but we don’t know who will and who will not.  Children who will not just ‘grow out of it’ usually respond really well to the support that a speech pathologist can provided.

Have I caused my child’s speech delay?

Speech delays are not caused by poor parenting, a parent working long hours, birth order, parents not talking enough to their children or the provision of screen time.  Instead, delays in speech, language and communication are caused by a range of factors including hearing loss and genetics.  Parents blaming themselves for their child’s delays is simply not helpful in any way.  Working towards acceptance of a child’s difficulties and developing a plan to support a child is far more positive and will result in better outcomes for all.

Isn’t my child too young to be concerned about this?

No!  The sooner we identify children who are lagging in their development of these vital skills, the better our chance of supporting them to make terrific progress.  Significant gaps are apparent in the vocabulary knowledge and use by the age of only 3 years of age.  These discrepancies tend to persist and even widen across a lifetime with implications across academic, social and emotional areas.  Early Identification and Intervention is so important.

Prepare for your conversation with families and answer their questions honestly, accurately and confidently.

If you […]


Speech Therapy: Is your child getting the right dose?

Dosage and Speech Pathology?  Isn’t dosage a term used when we are talking about medicines?

Yes, getting the dosage just right is really important when you are requiring a prescription from your doctor to manage a physical illness.

Getting the correct dosage of therapy is also really just as important for your child when managing his or her communication disorder.

What do we mean by dosage in Speech Pathology?

Dosage in Speech Pathology can refer to a few things.  It can refer to the number of planned sessions for your child, the frequency of those treatments, the time during therapy targeting a specific skill and the number of learning opportunities your child experiences during therapy, at home and at school / preschool.

Just like when medications are prescribed; different doses of treatment can be prescribed for different disorders to achieve better results.  There are also several factors that impact treatment dose.

Factors that Impact Dosage

Many factors require consideration by your child’s Speech Pathologist when prescribing dosage for your child.  These may include but are not limited to your child’s:

Disorder  / Diagnosis


Attention Level


Co-morbid conditions

Other factors external to your child such as your other family commitments, work hours and access to services also need to be considered when making a decision about treatment dose.

What do we know about dosage in Speech Pathology?

This area of research in our profession is still relatively new.  We need to know much more about the optimal doses of therapy for various speech, language and communication disorders.  We perhaps know the most about treatment doses for children with speech sound disorders.  There is an excellent review of the literature here

The evidence base for treatment dose when working with children who have language disorders is also growing.  Interestingly the ‘more therapy the better’ mantra is not necessarily true in this case.  Research is showing that children with language disorders may actually benefit mores so to low dose/high frequency or high dose/less frequency interventions than to high dose/high frequency approaches.

The bottom line?

Discuss treatment dose with your child’s Speech Pathologist today.


Less can be More

I am finding myself coming back to this theme more and more over recent weeks both in my work as a Speech Pathologist and in my personal life.

Take small steps every day and eventually you will get there.

When things feel overwhelming you can focus on this…just taking the next step.

Wow!  What a good reminder for all of us; busy Allied Health Professionals or parents of children who have complex and challenging communication difficulties.

Small Steps and AAC

Has your child been recently prescribed a high-tech speech output device?  Maybe you have been introduced to LAMP, SNAP Core, TouchChat or Proloquo2Go.  Does that sound like another language to you?  Well, learning to use AAC can be likened to learning another language.  It is another way of communicating and is quite different to using only spoken language.  Learning how to use an augmentative and alternative communication system is a BIG GOAL but…if you break it down into small steps it can be achievable in a manner that is not overwhelming for parents, educators or children.

Families we work with who have seen success with introducing AAC all seem to have one thing in common; they have taken it slowly and persisted with small steps over time.  If it is all feeling overwhelming right now, work with your Speech Pathologist to choose focus words and try introducing only 1 word at a time.  Model as well as encourage your child’s functional use of this word in everyday routines and take it slowly.

Less can be more.  We can focus upon building your child’s use of all the vocabulary that AAC has to offer step by step.  It doesn’t have to be all at once!

Small Steps and Speech Pathology Goals

So your child has been diagnosed with a communication impairment… therapy is recommended.  The next stage will be to decide upon goals.

My advice is that less is more.  Choose no more than 3 small things to achieve.  Choose goals that are important, that have meaning and that will make a significant difference for your child but keep them small and really specific.

Achieving these small goals helps your child to inch towards achieving those big, longer term goals whilst being motivated by small wins and success along the way.

This is far more effective than standing at the bottom of the ladder, looking up and giving up because it all feels too hard.


Choose a small number of goals that are specific, small and achievable.  This applies if your child is in therapy or if you are feeling overwhelmed with your role in all of this as a carer of a child who requires the services of a Speech Pathologist or other service provider.

You can say ‘no’

There are no quick fixes in therapy..not when it comes to Speech Pathology.  Families need to be able to fully commit and engage in the therapy process for children to make good progress. It is okay if now is the not the right time […]


Back to School

Those long summer days

where lunch boxes do not need to be packed, children are sometimes able to stay up on weeknights until a little later than normal and routines are not as clear are over.

School is back across the country!

Some children will be starting school for the first time whilst others will be transitioning to new classrooms, classmates and teachers.  Whatever the scenario is for you and your child, there is sure to be a period of adjustment for everyone over the next few weeks.  Luckily there are plenty of simple things you can do to help make the next few weeks run as smoothly as possible.  Here are some ideas for you to consider:

Create a Routine

When children know what to expect, they tend to feel more in control of their environment.  Creating a simple routine and sticking to it where possible, can really work wonders when it comes to helping children get used to changes in their lives.

Get bedtimes back on track.  Sleep is just so important for our overall health and wellbeing.  Unless children are well rested their brains will not be ready to learn.

Organise your shopping list to include those healthy snacks for the lunchboxes so you are not scrambling at the last minute and opting for less nutritious or satisfying options.

If your child has activities before and/or after school, draw a simple visual calendar using a whiteboard or a strip of cardboard that you can attach to the fridge.  This helps your child to understand when activities are happening in their lives and also assists in understanding concepts of time and sequence.

Add Story Time to your Daily Routine

The benefit of a bedtime story cannot be underestimated.  These special moments can be used not only as lovely moments to connect with your child but also provide you with opportunities to expose your child to new vocabulary, sentence structure and ideas.  Feel free to flesh out the story themes by discussing when your child perhaps had similar experiences to the main character or visited a similar location.  Tempt your child’s imagination by engaging in some ‘think alouds’; “Imagine if….” or “I wonder how…..”.  Understanding how stories are organised also assists children to learn how to engage in higher levels of discourse and can really provide a boost to your child’s language development, all without them knowing that it is ‘work’!

Listening Practice

School requires much more sitting and listening than perhaps other settings your child has been used to, especially if this is your child’s first year of school.  Practice listening and waiting for your turn to talk in general conversations and maybe at the dinner table when talking about your day.  No need to raise your hand to speak in these situations (haha) but learning to wait can be a tricky skill for many children!

Taking Care of Things

Learning how to organise and take care and responsibilities of one’s own belongings is a terrific life skill that you […]


Does my child have Dyslexia?

I think my child might have Dyslexia.

What does this mean and where do I even start?

Gosh…we hear this so often when concerned parents contact us seeking help for their children. Dyslexia is one of those words that unfortunately has so many myths and misinformation associated with it.  Let’s try to clarify some of this for you and put your on the right path if you are concerned that your child may be showing signs of Dyslexia.

Most children learn to read, write and spell without too many major challenges.

Some children, despite the very best of intentions and instruction from both parents and teachers, will struggle over several years to acquire even the basics of literacy. These children may have a Specific Learning Disorder with impairment in reading (dyslexia).

Okay…so how do you find out if your child does or does not have dyslexia and what is it?

A Specific Learning Disorder (with dyslexia being the most commonly diagnosed) can be defined as a persistent difficulty in a specific area of academic achievement.  These disorders are as a result of a combination of genetic, environmental and cognitive factors.  The disability with reading persists even in the presence of terrific, appropriate instruction at school over a period of at least 6 months.

What can we do to help?

Firstly we need to have these children accurately assessed to understand what is the root of the learning difficulties they are experiencing.  Importantly, what those children who are then diagnosed with Dyslexia then need is a higher dose of a high quality, evidenced based reading instruction. Sure, we need to tweak interventions where possible to suit a child’s learning preferences but these children do not require anything inherently different to the other children in the class when it comes to learning how to read.  They just need more of it!  Much more.    More time.   More repetition….but more of appropriate evidenced based interventions for Dyslexia in a later follow up Chatterbox blog post!

Let’s start with assessment.

How do you get your child diagnosed with dyslexia if you think this is what might be holding your child back from learning?

Firstly, it is important for us all to understand what dyslexia is. This Specific Learning Disorder is characterised by difficulties in accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling abilities.  These difficulties are often unexpectedin relation to the child’s other cognitive abilities and in realtion to the amount of effective classroom instruction that has been provided.

Possible signs of dyslexia may include:

  • Difficulties in learning letter sounds and names in the early years of schooling
  • Poor phonemic awareness i.e. ability to reflect upon the individual units of sound within words
  • Trouble in decoding /sounding out new words in text
  • Poor reading fluency in the high school years
  • Slow and inaccurate word recognition
  • Slow and laboured reading

If you have concerns, it is always best to start by speaking with your child’s classroom teacher who will have reading records and data from classroom […]



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