Using Experience Books to Build Language Skills in Speech Therapy
Children develop an understanding of their world through interactive, language-rich experiences. They also learn language through these everyday routines and events. As speech-language pathologists, we know that this is no different for children with language disorders.
Since real-life experiences are fleeting, parents, teachers, and therapists can use pictures to capture those moments and provide follow-up language modeling and instruction about them. Experience books build a bridge between memories and current time, and help a child develop language surrounding those actual events.
What are experience books?
Experience books provide details (using pictures, text, or other artifacts) about real events in a child's life so that they can be recounted at a later time. In speech therapy, these personalized books are great tools to facilitate language with clients, students, and their families about relevant topics.
It's very important to understand that no occurrence is too small or insignificant to be documented in a child's experience book. As long as it is actually meaningful to the child because they experienced it, it's great to include.
Experience books can be about a single event or routine, such as a birthday party or bike ride. They can also be more ongoing and cover several topics across months or a year, with one or more pages per experience.
Why are experience books useful in speech therapy?
Experience books help SLPs and other interventionists individualize therapy for each student or client. They incorporate what's important to the child and the family– their culture, traditions, and routines– into therapy. Experience books are also great tools to make therapy more functional for the child since they're centered around their real-life happenings.
Additionally, personalized books facilitate carryover of goals to other environments. Repetition of language and vocabulary that they experienced helps reinforce what was learned during the actual situation. Experience books also naturally foster communication between the child's family and the professionals they are working with.
How do you make an experience book?
Experience books can be handmade from a variety of simple materials, and there is no right or wrong way to do it! All you need is a way to combine pictures and short descriptions. You could use a blank notebook, a binder with several sheets of paper, or a store-bought photo album with fillable plastic sleeves.
Parents or a child (or teacher or therapist) can draw pictures on the pages using markers or crayons. However, real photographs tend to be more engaging and can be inexpensively printed at home or a place like Walgreens. Stickers or other artifacts (such as tickets) can also adhere to the pages.
It's beneficial (for the whole team) to write important, relevant vocabulary words or short notes about the experience on each page as well. This is especially helpful when the book will be used at school or in therapy where the teacher or therapist was not present for the experience.
For many of us, passing an experience book from place to place might be a logistical barrier. Finding the time to prep a book could also be a challenge. In this technology age, taking photos of events is generally not the issue (most parents have a million photos of their kids and recent events on their phone)– it's printing them.
In these situations, a digital experience book could be a great way to facilitate collaboration between several people, including parents, other family members, teachers, and therapists. Photos can be added right from any digital device and are accessible to all parties at all times.
As you might guess, a digital experience book (in a platform such as Google Slides) is a great option for on-the-go families and professionals, since you don't have to worry about sharing a book back and forth. Parents can add photos right from their phones... which is where their photos are mostly stored anyway!
And let's not forget teletherapy! A digital experience book is perfect to display in virtual therapy sessions. It's a great activity to use for the first 5-10 minutes of a session.
What goals can you target with an experience book?
There are many ways to incorporate speech therapy goals into an experience book. The sky is really the limit, but here are a few ideas.
Narrative Language Development
The ability to tell stories is a powerful skill that allows us to connect with others. It also lays the foundation for reading and writing stories in school. Experience books give children the opportunity to identify important elements of their personal stories, including the setting, the people involved, and the events that occurred.
Experience books help children learn the vocabulary associated with real things, places, and people in their lives, which is the most meaningful way to grow language. It reinforces the words and concepts that they were previously exposed to by giving them additional opportunities to hear and/or use those words.
Understanding sequences of events
Experience books help parents and professionals model sequencing. They also allow the child to practice telling the events of a story in a logical manner, especially when the pictures and pages are in a time-sequential order.
Similarly, experience books provide natural opportunities to work on foundational pre- and early literacy skills including enjoyment of books, book orientation, awareness of print, and cause and effect.
Retelling about real past events is a perfect way to model and practice past tense verbs, pronouns, and other language structures.
Obviously, experience books facilitate tons of language about past events. The communication about the book's pages builds a child's ability to interact with others, ask and answer questions, and take conversational turns.
Physical or digital experience books are a versatile tool that SLPs can use to target nearly any language goal with children of any age. Once the book is created and a system is in place for its use, this ongoing activity serves so many valuable purposes for speech therapy and parent involvement.