The Joy of Story Telling

Story telling is fundamental to human interaction.  It is the way that we share experiences, relate to one another and empathize with others.  Story telling is the way we keep family memories alive, study history and understand our place in the world.  Story telling starts very young.  Children as young as 2-3 years begin to share experiences by stringing sentences together (called Heaps by Hedberg and Westby (1993)) and very soon thereafter (age 5) begin to tell well organized cohesive stories with a central character and sequenced events.  But, like so many other communication skills that come easily and naturally to many, narrative skills don’t come easily to all.  Children may struggle with the linguistic components of a narrative, they may struggle with word retrieval and formulation or they may struggle with taking the perspective of the listener.  For these kids, the joy of a story well told is often unattainable.  But there is help available.

The Story Grammar Marker 

MaryEllen Rooney Moreau, founder of  Mindwing Concepts , developed the Story Grammar Marker© more than 20 years ago to support children’s narrative development.   According to their website, “ MindWing’s methodology stems from research on oral language development, narrative structure and narrative development by Applebee (1978), Stein and Glenn (1979), Roth and Spekman (1986), Merritt and Liles (1987) and Westby (1991). Our research-based methodology and multi-sensory tools provide an explicit, systematic approach to instruction and intervention on narrative (story) development and expository (content area) text. Our methodology is designed to be implemented across the curriculum and throughout all grade levels targeting the development of oral language skills necessary for comprehension, writing, critical thinking and social-emotional growth.”  And now… the Story Grammar Marker is available as an app for the iPad!

And Now it’s Digital

Together with all4mychild, the Story Grammar Marker app was developed to provide teachers, therapists and parents another way to expose kids to this amazing tool.  This versatile app can be used to teach the individual components of a narrative or can provide a story scaffold appropriate to the child’s developmental level.


Text and images are easily imported onto a virtual Braidy (the Story Grammar Marker’s nickname) building a visual support …

Once the Braidy is complete, the child can record the story and have it played back as though he is a newscaster on WSGM…


For Younger Kids

All4mychild has also developed the Talking Train app to provide support for our youngest story-tellers.  This engaging app uses the framework of a train to provide support for a main idea or story topic (the train engine) and 3 or more details (the train cars)..


Once the child has recorded the story, it can be played for instant feedback or emailed along.   The email includes the Talking Train image as well as the child’s recording.  But the best part of all is that when the child hits the “GO!” button the train chugs down the track, disappears for a moment, and then comes right back and this is all accompanied by delightful train sound.

So whatever the age of your little story-teller, these two apps will provide the just-right support.

photo by Alexander Lyubavin

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Body Talk

Many years ago, I first heard that communication was more about body language than words.  As an OT who worked with children who had motor planning challenges, I was fascinated by how limiting their inability to imitate was on communication.  Ever since Albert Mehrabian’s famous study in 1967, people have quoted his formula, misquoted it and speculated about it’s validity.  (Mehrabian, A. (1972). Nonverbal Communication. New Brunswick: Aldine Transaction.)  His striking claim established that communication is 55% body language, 38% tone of voice, and 7% spoken word.  Others have stated everything from 60% body language and 40% words to 90% body language and 10 percent spoken word.  The important takeaway here is that body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and context, are all essential to being an effective communicator.

 My friend has a new baby.  It has been a blast watching this 5-month old stare at her mother’s face.  She mimics her mother’s expressions by smiling or displaying scowl marks on her little forehead.  Her miniature body moves in accord with her moods.  Excitement elicits wild arm and leg flapping and high-pitched squeals.  Sadness gives way to the pouting lower lip and tight limbs pulled close to her body.  This little one has no words but man… can she communicate! What happens when a child in school does not attend to his teachers’ face because he simply doesn’t understand that it is communicating anything?  The importance of body language, facial expressions, context and tone of voice has always been important to me – as a teacher, a mom, and an OT.  Yet, I STILL need reminders.  John, in my social cognition group flips around the room giggling and specifically NOT doing what I ask.  When I stop his body, get down to his level and say, “Look at my face.  What does this face mean?” and he doesn’t have a clue, I am still surprised.  When I say to another, “Listen to my voice.  Is this a happy or mad voice?” and Sara can’t tell me, I am still surprised.  When all the kids are assuming my favorite yoga pose, child’s pose, on the floor and Gabe is sitting in his chair and talking and I say, “Look at what the other kids are doing.  Can you make your body do the same thing?” and he simply sits on the floor, I am still surprised.   I don’t mean to imply that if I have a hard time remembering that many kids don’t use nonverbal communication well that you won’t.  I do strongly suggest that we are an incredibly verbose society and words are often our first line of action.  My go-to activity when I need reminders is to engage the kids in the STOP ‘N GO game featured in our Social Adventures App.  This game is played much like Mother May I? but without words.  It is important that the leader be an adult so that clear nonverbal communication can be provided.  When the leader looks at a child, the child needs to point to her chest to confirm that she knows she is the chosen one.  The leader then uses gestures, facial expressions, and body movements to communicate how that child should move forward:  big steps, little steps, crawling, jumping, fast, slow, backwards, etc.  After this game, the kids are primed to at least try to gain information from the teacher and peers by looking at them. Please check out our Social Adventures App for more activities addressing social interaction.  The app also includes 4, 8-week programs to be used with social cognition groups.  Most importantly, please consider the impact of non-verbal challenges when you encounter kids who seem to be acting out behaviorally.  They may want to follow your direction but just don’t have a body clue!

by Jill Perry, MHA, MS, OTR/L

PHOTO copyright : Lars Plougmann




Social Skills Groups 101

Today, we are blogging over at Special-ism.com.  As interest in social skills development has increased, so has the understanding that some children have more difficulty than others decoding the various social cues that many of us take for granted.  We have begun to appreciate that many children who are struggling socially do so not because they are “attention seeking” or because they have “behavior problems,” but rather because they are misinterpreting the rules of social engagement.  Read more…


College Roommates

Ultimately, they will get to know each other and appreciate each other even if they don’t become best friends. They will learn to communicate and talk about the hard stuff while laughing at what will seem silly to them in the end. They will become skilled at negotiating and compromising.

These are the thoughts that swirled in my head as I met my daughter’s college roommate. This freshman year is a big one. Each new acquaintance means a hundredfold what they might mean to the rest of us who have been around the block a time or two. However, on this drop off day, my sensors, like my daughter’s, were heightened. Since that day, Jess and I have had several conversations about how to navigate the roommate situation. Eventually, because of my experience working with children and groups, she asked me to give her some tips.

In case you are not aware, I work primarily with young children, ages 3 – 10, many of whom come to our clinic for help in developing skills in social interactions. What could I offer Jess from that experience that would help her with an 18 year-old roommate? First, let me tell you a little about her roommate. She is very talkative. In fact, she talks most of the time without leaving space for anyone else to talk. She doesn’t ask Jess any questions, and if Jess begins to talk, Roommate’s response has little or nothing to do with the topic. As my daughter stated, “She starts talking without introducing a topic or even saying my name to see if I’m even listening.” When Jess is talking with others, Roommate comes in, stands too close, and interjects comments uninvited.She slammed the door, not in anger but unaware of the impact on another person, while Jess was sleeping, and yelled, “Bye Jess!”

Hmmmm… what advice could I offer? Surprisingly, a LOT. I suggested that she talk withRoommate to give her the following tips: Say a name before beginning a conversation and wait until the person is looking before talking. Ask a question, and ask another after hearing the response before telling your story. Look for body clues. If another person is reading, writing, has  headphones on, or sleeping, they may not want to be bothered. First ask if it’s OK to talk. If you are going to change the topic, tell the listener you plan to do so before diving in. When someone is talking to you, acknowledge that you heard him or her. When you are entering a group of people,don’t stand too close and wait for a break in the conversation or an invitation to join in. Let your facial expression mirror the talker’s. If a person is telling a funny story, laugh with her. If someone is telling a sad story, show compassion on your face.

Guess what? These are the very things we teach our young children to help them navigate the waters of social interactions. These are lifelong skills that can be used… and taught…at every age. My daughter is a very compassionate person and Roommate is smart and brave and willing to learn. I wish she had been taught these straightforward concepts at a younger age but I truly believe it’s never too late and these simple tips can open a world of relationships.

In the end, we are all looking forward to a successful year in which Jess and her roommate will be able to grow and learn with each other and they are off to a fine start.

By:  Jill Perry, MHA, MS, OTR/L

IMAGE:  Copyright : A. Singkham




Tips for Adjusting Voice Volume and Tone

Today, we are blogging over at Special-ism.com.  Voice volume and tone of voice are both subtle but critical aspects of social interaction. We all know a child who talks too loudly during interactions, their voice overpowering the conversation and negatively affecting their peer interactions.  There are the children who don’t speak loud enough for their opinions and thoughts to be heard by others, affecting their ability to maintain these peer interactions. Then there are the children who speak too harshly or aggressively, read more…


Heidi from Pediastaff Helps Bring our Tagline to Life!


When we founded all4mychild in the spring of 2011, we thought long and hard about our tagline.  We wanted it to truly represent our mission.  We wanted it to let people know that we believe that collaboration always brings about the best ideas.  We also wanted to provide helpful tools to parents, teachers and therapists and to do so by taking advantage of the amazing new technologies available to all of us.  So, “collaborative tools and technologies” became our tagline.


Within weeks of posting our first books4all review, we were contacted by someone who defines collaboration:  Heidi Kay, from Pediastaff.  She asked if she could link to one of our posts, we said “YES!” and so began a 2-year journey of collaboration. (If you don’t already know Heidi, you can learn more about her over at Pediastaff.com).  Heidi is incredibly passionate about bringing people together and one of the people that she connected us with is Bill Blinko over at LessonPix.com.

One day, we were thinking about adding an image library to our Talking Train App and we started looking around on Google.  We just weren’t finding the kind of iconic drawings we were hoping for so we took a break and checked our email.  Well, it must have been a Friday because we opened email to find our weekly Pediastaff newsletter and that’s when we thought of Bill and had the brilliant idea to contact him to see if he would like to collaborate with us on our Talking Train app.  And he did…

Bill generously offered to give us 100 fantastic images to add to our app and we offered to add a link to his incredible site.  And now the Talking Train is fully customizable and can be used as a visual support for all kinds of activities for kids from story-telling to drill practice to sending thank you notes notes to social skills to social stories.  You name it, if it’s visual, it’s possible and now it’s adorable because of the addition of these awesome images!


Thank you, Heidi, for bring us all together and here’s to many more years of collaboration!



Profile of Phonological Awareness


The ProPA app is a must have for a speech language pathologist, or any educator who is working with preschool to early elementary students. Created by the brilliant Tanya Coyle (known at @SLPTanya on Twitter), it is filled with valuable information, and is easy to administer. As stated within the app itself, it was created “for the purpose of evaluating and describing the phonological awareness skills of children.” It assesses the following skills:


The educator reads the stimuli, and the student responds. You then press the appropriate button (i.e. not administered, correct, missed). The app provides an “info” button at the top of each page which provides the administration guidelines and exactly what to say.


She has really thought of everything. There is a place to write notes on test behavior or patterns you’re noticing (i.e. difficulty changing set, needs frequent breaks, etc.). Information is saved. If you run out of time, you can always complete the test later, you can even “skip” sections of testing if it isn’t appropriate for your student. Once your testing is complete, you have the options of opening the results in PDF form within a program on your iPad (i.e. Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive etc.) or Sharing it (i.e. emailing or printing). I’m really impressed with the results page itself. It looks extremely professional with all necessary diagnostic information included, description of the test, and interpretation of results. This is fantastic to share with families, and makes assessment a breeze. The Manual within the app provides age approximations for skills as well.


If there is any user confusion with this app, Tanya has provided video tutorials, a very thorough manual, and easy access to Smarty Ears (the developer) via email.

Why I love this app:

  • It can be administered in about 20 minutes or so. This is ideal for us treating therapists with many kiddos on our caseloads. It will be a great tool to re-administer to track progress as well.
  • You’re able to “skip” portions if necessary if the child doesn’t understand or if the skill isn’t appropriate for your student
  • The results are organized in a visually appealing way, and explained thoroughly. Easy to share.
  •  Can be used in a group or individually

Assessment has never been so easy. I look forward to more assessment tools being created for the iPad. Thanks Tanya and Smarty Ears for a great tool.

You can find their description of the app here.

Submitted by: Meghan G. Graham M.S. CCC-SLP

*It is noted that this clinician received a promotion code for this app. However, opinions are entirely my own.



Do not push

Stop Pushing!


Recently in our group we attempted to help our kids understand the concept of “pushing buttons,” or doing something purposely to make others mad. We have written on this twice before. You read those entries here and here. This was happening a lot in our group, and taking away from our time to address other social concepts. We realized that they were pushing buttons for the obvious reason of getting a reaction but also because they often didn’t know what to do instead. How else could they interact or make their friend think positively about them? In came some role-playing and visual supports to the rescue.

First we established what pushed each others buttons. The funny thing was it was easy for the kids themselves to tell us what bothered others! They were usually spot on. Great perspective taking activity on its own. We talked about how we could tell it bothered them (i.e. body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, etc.) We wrote these behaviors out and added a picture using Lessonpix, to help our non reading friends as well as to help with understanding. For example, B can’t stand when other kids tell him what to do. We found a picture of a teacher on Lessonpix and placed it next to B’s name under a column with a “mad” face. We then brainstormed what we could do instead of telling him what to do? How about asking him vs. telling him? “Do you wanna be a policeman?” Vs. ” You’re the policeman, I’m the bad guy!”   We role played this several times, used our visual and catch phrase from Social Adventures App “Teachers tell, friends ask” (found here) and found an image from Lessonpix of a child asking. We placed this image next to the “telling” picture and under the column with a ” happy” face.


This seems simple enough, yet it was critical to make these concepts concrete and visual. We did this for the entire group for different behaviors that “pushed” buttons such as using too loud of a voice, to shouting out who is first in line. We generated alternatives to make friends happy instead of mad. The visual chart is now in our group room for reference and a copy was sent home with each kiddo so they could discuss with their families and review before group. Families report that they were able to carry over this concept at home too with button pushing of siblings.

We have had much less button pushing and more time for fun!

Photo by: Les Chatfield

Submitted by: Meghan G. Graham M.S. CCC-SLP