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The Yin Yang of Bells and Whistles

I have been thinking a lot lately about what makes a toy or a book or an app or a game a good pick for therapy. It needs to be something interesting enough to capture the child’s interest and imagination, but not so exciting that it is more fun to play alone than with me. This can be a tricky balance. I know I am giving away my age here, but when I started treating there were very few toys with “bells and whistles.” The standards were the plastic farm and house, Potato Head, wooden puzzles, doctor kits, Play-Doh… you get the drift. As embellishments have come along, I have given them a try, but for the most part, I have gone back to basics. I have found that lots of cause/effect sounds and voices draw the kids away from me and what I am trying to model for them.

And then the iPad came along and so many amazing apps along with it. Talk about “bells and whistles”. Every screen is absolutely teeming with excitement and I have to admit, I downloaded many of them just because the graphics and effects were so magical. But as the shine has tarnished a bit, I find myself seeking out the apps that are a little more simple, a little more basic, especially for my younger and more impulsive kiddos. So many apps have the potential to address speech and language goals, yet I often find it hard to reach this potential because the kids just want to touch everything to see what will happen. Don’t get me wrong, many of these apps are fantastic for the less impulsive kids on my caseload, but I often find myself yearning for an old-fashioned, boring ol’ classic toy-equivalent.

So now, I am going to engage in some blatant self-promotion. My partners, Jill and Meghan, and I have been running Social Adventures Groups for a good many years and we have all consistently found one game that brings kids together (and to a place of calm) like no other. We call it the “Bag Game”, but we certainly didn’t invent it and it is definitely a classic. You put an object in a bag, ask the kids to ask questions to try to guess what it is, and then… Voila, the item is revealed. No bells or whistles, and yet each kid is riveted. I sometimes think the joy of guessing is itself hard-wired. It just never gets old.

So here comes the self-promotion part. Next week, we are releasing our newest app. You guessed it. It’s the Bag Game in app form, and every bit as simple. It comes with more than 100 adorable “objects” to hide which range in difficulty and we have plans to add more regularly. Since it has been available as part of our Social Adventures app, we have been using it with our groups since October. It has been just as successful as using the actual bag, but we don’t have to search around for objects anymore :) And… It is simple enough to keep kids focused on each other, and the fun of guessing, rather than staring at (or constantly touching) the screen. We have also found that it is an excellent tool for addressing a plethora of speech-language goals AND I play it with my own kids whenever we find ourselves waiting (restaurants, doctor’s office), on a long car ride, or needing an impromptu family night activity. Although it is a glorified version of 20 questions, the allure of that beautiful screen is all the “bells and whistles” we need :)

Update: As I was about to post this blog, I got distracted by my email and read the latest blog from Jenna over at Speech Room News. It looks like Jenna and I were both thinking about apps in therapy last night. She wrote a great blog on ways to evaluate apps for use in speech and language groups, and she recommends some awesome apps. Thanks Jenna!

Karen S Head, MS, CCC-SLP 

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