When we arrived back from childcare expo last weekend, the kids were quite pleased to see us but we quickly got side-lined when they were helping us to unload the car and came across my newly acquired bag of u-nu construction kit. For the next couple of hours, my newly floored lounge was hidden by a pile of wooden parts of various shapes and colours and the four of us (mum, dad and two teenagers!) lay on the floor and played. It was funny to see my kids' personalities come out in their constructions - very ordered and symmetrical! They also worked well as a team - which I put down to dragging them round the world on a sailing boat for 3 years when they sometimes only had each other for company! Eventually, my daughter yelled "OMG, we've made the pushmi-pullyu from Dr Doolittle!" I'm ashamed to admit, Dr Doolittle had bypassed me as it was a book they had read on their own! But I think you'll agree, there is a resemblance!
I was so excited to take my new toy to my work last week that I spent all afternoon creating simple structures that my language disordered kids could make following instructions. I do have a tendency to geek out on things like this sometimes! Of course "the best laid plans" and all that jazz, however, I'm going to share 7 ways I used u-nu in therapy this week and how you can too!
1) For really simple turn-taking skills.
The ability to take turns is an important pre-requisite of language development. It was so so interesting seeing how different groups of four children interacted when given a set to play with. One group (two sets of twins) played beautifully in collaboration to make one joint construction. One of them held it up as the construction got taller and taller. The other group spent so much time grabbing and hording the pieces that nothing much got built!
Although I'm all for child-led learning (how many times do I say that in each blog?!) a little adult intervention in this case helped us create some collaboration and the kids gradually learned that they would all get pieces with the "Milly's turn, George's turn, Hilda's turn, Jim's turn" use of simple repetitive language. To avoid using real children's names, I'm going to start using my grandparents' names - and now I can't get the image out of my head of my grandma scrabbling over u-nu pieces!
2)To develop listening skills
Again, this is a really simple activity that helps to encourage another pre-requisite for language development - the ability to listen. The kids love any type of listening game, especially if Imake it clear that I'm going to catch them out and there is no way they will be able to listen well enough for me not to catch them out. They love proving me wrong. So this could be listening for their name before they could take a piece out of the bag, or waiting for "go" before they could put a piece on the contruction. The kids love my "ready steady...apple pie" attempts to catch them out, so they really are having to wait for the word go (I know, I'm flippin' hilarious!) Then they get a turn at being leader and saying "ready steady go" so the children learn to listen to each other, not just the adult.
3)To encourage eye contact
This would be an adult-led activity where the kids can only take a piece if I wink at them. Or, to make it harder, look at them and then look at the piece they have to take.
4)To encourage speech sound development
Ok, not specifically using the u-nu pieces for phonics (though I'm sure you could be imaginative and stick jolly phonics pictures on the pieces and connect them together to make words.) No, I'm not organised enough for that malarky. I'm of the old-school lazy "say your sound and win a piece. The child basically chooses how long they want to keep saying sounds for - the more pieces they win, the cooler the construction they can make! Yes, aka good old-fashioned bribery.
5)To develop shape and colour vocabulary
If you've read any of my blogs you know I am not a fan of boring testing questions "what's that, Hilda?" "what shape is this, George?" But the kids very quickly started to use the shape vocabulary themselves when I demontrated the kind of language I was after. "I'm going to use a rectangle now." "I like using the circles the best." Suddenly, the kids started chipping in with the right vocabulary "this circle keeps falling off" and "can you pass me the square?" All because they'd heard me using that language.
Now this can be as simple or as complicated as you like. I'll give you some examples of the types of instructions I gave this week (and again to be clear, this is because I am focusing on children's ability to understand spoken language, not because I'm a bossy dictator....but don't speak to my husband or kids.....)
"Can you pass this piece to George?"
Target: understanding peers' names
"Where's the grey rectangle?"
Target: checking their concepts of colours and shapes at a 2 word level
"Put the circle between the two squares"
Target: understanding more complex abstract concepts
7)Developing imaginative Language
A couple of shapes aren't your common or garden (where does that phrase originate from? Oh sorry - distracted!) 2-D curricular shapes. Which means that each group picked their own name. For example for this piece I said "I'm not too sure what to call this one" I loved the imagination of the kids who came up with "snowflake" "tree" and "that's in my name that is." (Y)
Although it might seem that I prefer structured adult-led activities, it goes without saying that just chucking a bag on the floor and letting the kids get on with it is a great way of encouraging language development. Imaginative language comes not only from naming the shapes, but also the construction designs. "What's this stuff called?!.......I'm going to call it an unu-saurus!"
I actually properly love working with early years kids!
And I'll get pocket money towards retiring in Tahiti.