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9 Open ended questions to ask kids

Open ended questions 

"I dunno"



Open ended questions encourage your child to think about their answer and develop their language skills.  They open the door to a world of answers that aren't just one-word answers like the dreaded "I dunno", "fine" or "nothing".  It's so easy and natural to ask "How was your day?" but with questions like this it is as easy for your child to simply say "good, fine" or "alright".  Often "open ended questions" are not technically questions, but might be statements which prompt responses from your child.

To help encourage your child to think about their answer and engage in a conversation that helps develop their language skills try using open ended questions. These questions are also more likely to give you some insight into their day!  You can start by trying these 9 open ended questions after school.

9 Open ended questions to ask kids

  1. 1
    Tell me about something that was funny  & made you laugh today?
  2. 2
    Re-tell a story about the BEST part of your day.
  3. 3
    Tell me about something that made you sad or annoyed today.  
  4. 4
    What subject did you love doing today and why? 
  5. 5
    What do you think might happen tomorrow?
  6. 6
    If you could do anything and I mean ANYTHING at lunch time tomorrow what would you do?
  7. 7
    What would be THE BEST LUNCH you could have at school?
  8. 8
    I wonder if your teacher had a good day today? What makes you think that?
  9. 9
     Tell me about the thing that was the hardest today.

Let's all work together! If you have an open ended question that get's your child talking about their day share it in the comments section!

Just how important is Expressive Language to school success? Read more here! or click on the below picture

vocabulary, language, expressive language

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Introducing Food to Baby Solid Food

Introducing Food to Baby: Solid Food and Beyond!

Great Baby Feeding Equipment is Vital when Introducing Food to Baby: Particularly Purees & Solid Food

As a Speech Pathologist with a particular focus on babies, infants and children that have feeding difficulties when foods are introduced to them, I am aware that good "feeding equipment" can go a long way to making introducing solids SO much easier in the long run. Our Infant and Child Feeding Clinic supports babies and children with all kinds of feeding difficulties from problems with breast and/or bottle feeding, to difficulties when children are transiting to the introduction of solids; through to fussy eating older children.  Feeding skills grow as children grow and they typically hit different feeding milestones as they get older. The chairs, bowls, cups, spoons & utensils and types of food all change as the baby's needs change as you introduce different food to them. 

The following are some Feeding Equipment that I have found useful for different children - from typically developing children through to those with notable feeding difficulties. It is always advisable to talk to your Medical Practitioner and a Speech Pathologist with experience in feeding development if you are concerned about your child's nutrition, growth or feeding skills.  One recommendation of feeding equipment does not fit all. The following discusses some equipment in order to highlight the factors you may need to considered when deciding on the feeding equipment you will provide to your child.

Of course the best "equipment" a baby can have when you are introducing food are their HANDS!​

It is important, particularly when you are first introducing solid food, to let the baby "experience" the food BEFORE you it goes in their mouths. This includes putting a blob of puree, yogurt or baby porridge onto their high chair table top for them to touch.

Messy play is a must 🙂

Encourage them to put their fingers in the solid food. See if they bring their fingers/hands to their mouths to get a taste of the food. If you playfully touch some of the food to their outer lips, do they smile, lip smack, lick it or wipe off with the back of their hands. All of this is experiencing food. They get a feel of it's texture and can can smell the foods! Take you time when introducing foods. Babies and children often have to "experience foods" many times (15-20) before it becomes familiar to them. Of course some babies will LOVE food and scoop it by the hand fulls or happily open their mouths wide to any food offered. Remember learning to eat is a skill and all babies will be different in their approach and oral skills.  Again, if you have concerns please seek help or ask questions early. When introducing food to a child negative patterns or rejection can set in very quickly. GO slow when introducing food and give them time to build up a love for the food.

Equipment is key for setting up good feeding routines and this may include: High chairs, children table & chairs, spoons & other utensilts, bottles & teats, sensory toys.​

Feeding Environment when Introducing Food to babies and Children

The feeding environment is SO important. Infants and babies thrive on routines. Setting up excellent feeding routines, particularly when introducing baby to foods that are solid foods (puree, spoon foods, thicker drinks), is key for learning new oral and eating skills. While we need to look out for hunger signs in the infants, ultimately adults are the ones that decided WHAT, WHERE and WHEN babies and children eat. The where is key when you are first establishing solid food eating routines.

Children ideal should be in a stable upright sitting position when solid food is introduced to the baby. This is why choosing a highchair right for your baby is important. If a infant or child has to do lots of work to stay sitting upright, are slipping out of the chair or falling to one side, while you are offering new foods, the likelihood of success mealtimes are reduced.  The big body and head muscles need to be secure so that the little mouth and tongue movements can work well. Supported seating positions also allows the child to more easily use their arms and pincer grips to pick up food & bring it to their mouths.

High chairs should ideally have tall backs that provided head support. High chairs that only come up half way to their back is not going to give as good a feeding positions as is ideal. ​Ideally the feed are supported and not swinging madly. I will often place towel rolls or cushions down the sides between the infant and the chair if I feel they need more stability when they are sitting up. Make going in the high chair fun! This might mean play and talking time in the high chairs when food is not even offered,

solid food

High Back High Chairs are key!

Feeding Chairs should have High Backs and supportive sides. Make feeding comfortable and fun. Hard low back chairs can make eating more difficult.

introducing food

Adjustable feet position can be important

High chairs that have feet rest & side adjustments can add postural stability for children with eating concerns.

introducing food to baby portable chair

Portable Chair: on dining chairs.

Not as ideal as a highback chair. However also having a portable chair means you can take your feeding routines where every you go.

Eating Environments for Older Children:

As babies and toddlers get too big or are ready to be out of a high chair it is important to transition them to new feeding environments to re-establish routines. Many families find this hard, as children now can exert their independence by getting down from their chairs and leaving the table. Having boundaries and expectations from the beginning is important to establish successful mealtime routines. Children eating as they walk around is not the best way to establish good food exploration and mealtime effectiveness.​  

Some of the high chairs and booster high chairs can adapt to work with dining tables. Alternatively you can obtain stable booster cushions that can be used with any dining room chairs. I strongly recommend that the children furniture is characterised by chairs with backs and that are stable (i.e, stools & benches can make it hard for the child to sit comfortable and may result in them wanting to leave the table interrupting meal times).

solid food on booster cushion

Booster Cushions for Dining Chairs

Added high offered by the cushion means toddlers & young children can join you at the table.

introducing solid foods at kids tables

Kids Tables and Chairs

Multi purpose kids size tables and chairs. Use for meals and encouraging table top games. Small feet on the ground is key.

introducing food outdoors

Add an outdoor eating environment too.

Keep the eating routines the same if your indoor or outdoor! 

Spoons & Utensils when Introducing Baby to Food

As a Speech Pathologist that works A LOT with babies and children that find the introduction of solid foods challenging, I am often asked what spoons I would recommend. While I have my "go to" spoons and utensils I think the features of the spoon is more important. When introducing solids it is important not to just "shove" the spoon into a baby's face and expect them to eat. It is important to let them look and hold the spoons, so have a few spoons so that if the baby reaches for the spoon wanting to hold it, you can use another one. It is expected that the baby will be interested in spoon.  

Spoons when first introducing solids to a baby should have a very shallow bowl. This makes it easier for the baby to take the food off the spoon with their lips. As they mature you can increase the size and how the deep the bowl of the spoon gets. There are so many different spoons out on the market. At times I may recommend particular features of spoons depending on the baby's oral & physical skills and their sensory reaction to goods. I particularly like the baby "dip feeding spoons" that do not look like spoons at all. These can be good if children are developing an aversion to the spoon. The "stick" like spoon is easily coated with food, but the baby is less likely to feel overwhelmed by the food as small amounts enter their mouths at time.  Plastic spoon and plastic coated spoons feel less cold and gentler on their mouths than metal spoons. Spoons such as the Maroon spoons are strong and can be good for children with bite reflexes. Young babies and those that find bringing the spoon to their mouths may benefit with the bendable spoons. You can bend the spoon to an angle that assists the child.  Spoons with wide handles or looped handles can also make it easier for the young child to grasp the spoons.

introducing solids to baby with dipper spoon

Dipper Spoon

A great first "spoon" to encourage tastes! No up or down for food loss!

introducing food to baby with bendable

Bendable Spoons

Help babies get the food to their mouths!

Introducing foods when child has bite reflex

Maroon Spoons

This are firm plastic spoons that can be good for children with bite reflexes. They come in small and large size spoons.

squirt spoon for solid foods

Squirt Spoon

Feeding babies from the commercial tubes is not great for early development of their mouth and tongue  muscles. This can be an alternative.

introducing hot food to baby

Is the food too hot?

Soft tip shallow bowl spoons with the added bonus that the spoon tip turns white when baby's food is too hot. 

Introducing food easy grip spoon

Larger handle = Easy Grip

Large handles and tilted spoon presentation assists self feeding.

introducing solid food to older children

Novel Utensils can inspire reluctant eaters.

As children get older novel utensil sets can be fun!

character sets for baby food

Character Sets make eating fun.

Spoons and utensils with know characters can link fun with meal times -> meal times need to be fun for fussy eaters

Bowls  for Introducing Solid food to Baby 

There are SO many bowls for babies when introducing solid foods to babies and children. From the practical to the too cute to be true.  Again, it is more about matching the features of the bowls to the needs of the individual child - their physical capabilities (e.g., easy scoop bowls), sensory preferences (e.g., needing to keep foods separate from each other) or simply linking a high interest to meal-times. Novel plates that match a child's high interest, whether's that is dinosaurs, super heroes or princesses, can keep them engaged while consuming enough food for their nutritional needs.    Of course we should also consider mum when deciding on plates and bowls: are they microwaveable, dishwasher safe, can the stick to the table top so they don't go flying? 

Feeding toddler best bowls

Stay PUT bowls

Bowls that stay put with suctions provides stability for children learning to self feed - AND reduces the mess from tipping bowls

Fussy eater divided bowl

Fussy Eaters often don't like foods mixing or even touching!

These suction plates allows foods to be separated for convenience & for building sensory acceptance of foods.

best baby plates

Bowls that don't Break make meal-times relaxing

Unbreakable & Stackable! So versatile & they come in a container to take anywhere! 

best baby dinner plate set

Non-slip+divided options

A lovely versatile set with non-slip+ bowls and divided plate +  soft coated spoons!

Novel Plates add to the fun!

Bring them to the table with a Brmmm, Brmmm!

Kids plate game fussy eater

Games to introduce new foods - Spinner Plate!

Can help children try new foods when mixed with favourites and New foods - or just add some fun to Afternoon tea!

Picky Eater plates

Dinner Winner Plates

A visual prompt to show there is a start and an end to the tastings/meal. Can be good for Picky Eaters. Put easy foods at the start and end and trickier ones in the middle!

best bowl scooper hand control

Scooper Bowls - help your toddler to scoop food onto their spoon.

"Gives an edge" for baby eating solids ie., they can learn to scoop food themselves as the curved side helps food load onto the spoon.

Transitioning from Breast/ Bottle  to Straw & Cup Drinking.

Whether you are breast or bottle feeding, offering babies from 6-7 months of age sips of water from your open cup is a great way to being the transition from bottle to cup drinking. While there is no age limit for breast feeding, it is often a good idea to transition bottle feeding to cup options at about 12 months of age. Breast fed children should also be offered a range of cup options.

Why is it important to move to cup drinking?

Children use different tongue, lip and sucking motions when breast/ bottle drinking to cup and straw use. Sucking needs to transition to controlled drinking skills. Transitioning from bottle to cup (for all liquids other than directly from the breast) will allow your baby to exercise face muscles (lips and jaw), tongue, and soft palate, all of which are connected to speech and feeding. Oral skills built during cup drinking are important for effective chewing and for speech production. 

You will notice I will not put in examples of spout cups. Why? Spout cups encourages the tongue to move forward into the mouth and sit on or near the spout; in a similar position as to sucking or suckling on a breast or bottle. The ongoing forward tongue position is thought to encourage tongue thrust and even possibly "lisping" (eg The /s/ sound is said with the tongue coming between the teeth).   

Going from bottle to straw drinking can be a good option.  Children often can instinctively use a straw from 12 months, while other may need a lot of "practise" mastering it more at the 18 months age. Children with some oro-motor difficulties may need some assistance with straw drinking options with valves the hold the liquid up so that they do not have to suck the liquid up as much. Below I have put in links to some of example of these. These can be great for children struggling to breast or bottle feed. They can be used for all types of liquids from expressed milk to formulas. Remember you need to expose a child to these new drinking techniques before they can master them. SO offering just 10-20 mls then finishing with their "old" way (bottle/breast) can help them transition without the stress of worrying if the are "getting enough"

Using both straw and open cups at similar times is OK for a lot of babies from 6-7 months. Some children will show early preferences, while others will take whatever is offered. There are a number of cups shown below that can assist children to successfully learn to drink from cups (easy to hold, cut away cups, large handled cups, stable cups).  If spillage is a real issue, the 360 cups are good non-spill options without the spout. They may be more likely to encourage the tongue to say in the back of the mouth for drinking as you want to see with on open cup.

Open cup drinking is messy at first! 

When you first offer cups to young babies or those with oral motor difficulties, expect a mess. At first they try to suck at it like a breast or bottle. The tongue may dart into the cup, they might try to bite down on the edge to stabilise their jaws. Continue to offer, tilting the cup to encourage good drinking oral postures.

baby cup 360 cup

360 Cup

NO SPOUT spill proof cup for baby! Teach better tongue positioning from the start!

baby cups cut away cup

Cut Away Translucent Cups

Great early cup! No need to tilt head back as cut away allows you to tilt to the drink touches their lips. Translucent so you can see the fluid for safety!

baby cup honey bear straw cup

Honey Bear Straw Cup

Great early straw cup that allows control of fluid amount. Straws encourage a back positioned tongue -> thought to reduce speech and oral issues.

baby straw cup weighted

Weighted Straw Cup

Easy holding handles. Weighted straw allows toddler to hold the cup at any angle. Flip-tip lid is great for when you are on the go!

Oral Sensory Issues and introducing solids to Baby

Even new borns will often suck on their fingers. Babies typically are born with a suck reflex. They need this reflex to to feed from day one. Babies  however do not only suck to fill their tummies. Babies also do what is called “non-nutritive” sucking; this kind that rhythmic suck acts to soothe them. This is why many young babies will suck on their fingers or a dummy! If you introduce a dummy it is important to considered the type of dummy and deciding on a dummy that suits your baby - size, shape, length of teat so not to trigger gags if you have an oral sensitive child. If a child is tube fed, a dummy or mouthing toys may be recommended as they receive a feed. This can allow the child to make a connection between oral feelings and the sensation of their tummies being filled. All children with tube feeding should be linked to a feeding clinic or health professional team for a Tube Feeding plan in order to reduce tube feeding dependency issues.

As Babies get more hand control they begin putting things in their mouths, otherwise known as mouthing. This is typical behavour and signals a growing interest in the world around them. In fact if a baby between 6 & 9 month that is NOT mouthing things may need to be monitored. It can be a red flag to take a closer look at their development! 

In the first year, children explore their surroundings through their senses -- seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, and tasting. The more they explore, the more they learn how things can vary - soft vs hard? Yummy vs yukky? Food or not food? What shape is it? What  texture is it? Can I eat it? Does it make a sound or does it light up?. To get all of this information a baby is going to want to put the object /food in their mouth. Mouthing helps babies learn all about different shapes and textures. Their lips and tongues are the most sensitive parts of their bodies! It is a key way children learn about the if a baby is not mouthing or is not allowed to mouth things, learning can be impacted upon.  Children with physical difficulties that reduce their ability to get their hands or objects to their mouths, often are placed on an oral sensory programmes.

Mouthing is also important for introducing baby to solid foods. Mouthing toys and objects with different shapes and textures encourages children to move their lips round the shapes and their tongues move and prod the shapes and textures. This oral "exercising" gets baby ready for when foods are introduced. Early solid foods introduced to children will have varying flavours, smooth textures, grainy textures, lumps of various firmness and shapes. Mouthing before and during the introduction of solid foods helps the child to cope with the bombardment of sensations that occurs when new foods are offered. Some "fussy eaters" find the sensations of foods overwhelming and need support at feeding and /or developmental clinics to help them process sensory inputs.

​Allowing and encouraging oral mouthing of safe toys is vital to reduce this risk. 

​Oral Sensory Exploration - Safety is KEY

Infants may typically continue to mouth things even up to 2 years of age. The mouthing phase will vary for different children. It can be a dangerous phase! If something is in reach of your baby or toddler it is likely to go their mouths! We must be on constant watch about what is in our children's reach to keep them safe. It is natural for them to put ANYTHING in their mouths. Offering a range of mouthing and teething toys can help children to engage in oral exploration safely. These oral sensory toys have all different shapes and have lots of different textures for little tongues and lips to explore (bumps, ridges, raised circles). For older children that continue to show oral sensory seeking behaviours, there are options like chewy tubes and chew necklaces. 

Orthodontic dummy tube feeding

Dummy ->

Match Child's oral and sensory needs

Orthodontic dummies vary in size and teat shape - they can provided good oral positioning. 

dummy for teething

A Teething Dummy!

For front molars & the textured surfaces can massage sore gums. Water filled chambers can be cooled in the fridge.

teething mitten baby teething

Sensory Teething Mitten.

the variation of shapes & ridges allows their tongue & lips to explore new sensations. Strap means baby can't drop the teething toy.

Teething toys sore gums

Make teething toys varied for new shapes & texture exploration.

Mouthing toys of all shapes & sizes.

Other Potentially Useful Food & Sensory Items to help the introduction of solids to baby easier
Food pacifier to introduce solids to baby

Add fruit, ice chips, & more to the pacifier teat section

Good for encouraging mouthing, can help soothe sore gums & can help introduce tastes for children that find lumps in their mouths difficult.

Fresh food feeder introducing solids no choke

Fresh Food Feeders

The fresh food feeders can also act as a teething ring. Won't matter which end goes in their mouths - new sensations ++

baby first toothbrush sensory tool

A First Toothbrush can help with sensory acceptance.

Fun toothbrush that is great to encourage new sensations with the baby's mouth + introduce tooth brushing early!

chewy tube sensory seeking

Chewy Tube Oral Motor Stix - Chocolate Flavour!

Good for older children - oral sensations but without the food - good for fussy and fearful eaters.

while Items shown have affiliate links the main purpose is to demonstrated examples discussed.

Spelling list helper

ARRGHHH!! Weekly Spelling Lists -

A Blog series on how to HELP with Spelling and NOT just memorising skills

Let's Talk 

Spelling Lists 

Speech TherapistDr Sandra McMahon PhD

​“It’s only week 3!  How are we going to cope with these weekly spelling lists and tests ALL term!” a mum of a Grade 2 child, with the dreaded spelling list in hand, cried as she entered my clinic this week.

Many parents (and young students) feel overwhelmed with having to learn a list of seemingly unrelated words EVERY week!

Are you looking for a better way to REALLY help your child learn spelling. Something better than having the children memorize words for a Friday Spelling test only for them to forget them next week. They can write them in the list but can't seem to spell  the very same words in a sentence! 

This blog series “Coping with the Weekly Spelling Lists”

will provide you with useful steps to build routines

that will make managing spelling lists easier for all involved!

Step 1: Check your child actually 

a) Can read the words

b) Can say the words correctly, and

c) Know the meaning of the words

can they read the words?

It is no surprise that there are some links between reading skills and spelling skills.

Reading and spelling do actually use different but related mental processes (decoding vs encoding). This is why some children might be great readers but may not be great at spelling? 

Ask the child to read the words.

Spelling is likely to be more difficult if they cannot read the words.

Observe which words they read easily and which ones they had to “sound out”, try a couple of times to get it right or asked for help with.

Ask your child to look closely at the letters and the sounds they make for all the “hard to read” words.  Begin spelling the words they can read easily while you consolidate their reading of the “harder” words.

can they say the words?

Sometimes children may say words back to themselves incorrectly.

They may mix the letters up or leave out parts of the words (e.g., they may say “hopital” for “hospital”; “dok” for “dog”).

They are likely to make the same mistakes in spelling as in saying the words (e.g., spelling it by leaving out the sounds or mixing up the letters).

Ask the child to rehearse saying the word helping them to emphasis the correct order of the sounds or making sure all the syllables are said clearly.

Clapping out longer words to make sure all the syllables are included can help (e.g., re– mem – ber)

This is particularly relevant if the child has had speech delays in the past or currently have speech difficulties (e.g., dyspraxia). 

It is important to check to see if the child has residual speech errors.

Common errors such as saying the “th” sound as a “f” sound often comes out in a child’s spelling (e.g., saying or spelling “think” as “fink”).

Another common residual error is saying a “w” for “r” (e.g., “red” is said as “wed”). Even an untreated lisp (an incorrect production of the “s” sound) can impact on spelling.

If your child is over 5-6 years of age, then all speech sounds should have matured. Contact us at SpeechNet Speech Pathology if you feel a speech screen is required to “fix” up these last speech sound errors before they appear in the child's spelling.

do they know the meaning of all the words?

Check they know the meaning of all the words. Ask them “what is a ______” or “Tell me what ________ means”. Even if you think they know the meaning of the word, check! 

You could be surprised what words they don’t “really” know the meaning of. Sometimes they may have an idea but it may not be spot on. Even grammar or site words carry meaning e.g., “she” refers to a girl/ lady/ female

The research has shown that there is a strong link between literacy skills and vocabulary skills. Children with a history of delayed language that “catch-up” in the pre-school years, sometimes find language difficulties “re-emerge” in the school years.

This is because each year of school requires higher and higher level language skills – more vocabulary, more abstract vocabulary and  higher expectations to learning things faster.

This can then involve having to read and spell more complex words!  A lot of people that see children having problems with spelling do not think about how “language” skills could be dragging the spelling backwards.

Speech Pathologists can do vocabulary tests and language tests to eliminate these factors as affecting literacy and /or can provide therapy sessions to bolster language skills.
















Research has shown that the early years at school are extremely important. Children quickly get a mind set of whether school is hard or fun. Early intervention is key to keep the love of learning that will be important for all their schooling. 

SpeechNet therapists are experienced in working with this age group in relation to; 

Speech and language difficulties, 

Phonological awareness, 

Early reading and spelling development, 

Auditory processing and 

Memory skills -all the necessary components for successful and fun academic achievement. 

We can help with development of these skills and assist in the liaison with your child’s school to ensure optimum support for your child.

As we have dedicated speech pathologist that work in schools, we have experience in educational settings. 

Learning support and teaching staff are invited to call us to ask questions or enquire how we can provide support in your schools

Top Toys for Christmas – 18 days to go

Let's Talk 

​Phlat Balls

Focus: Phlat ball  

Speech Therapist      Dr Sandra McMahon PhD
Phlat balls are flat discs that pop up into a ball shape. They are made of soft plastic and the “pop” time is random which adds to the fun of the game. Can be used as a Frisbee with a twist or just a fun ball. I like to place light soft toys or picture/ letter/ sight word cards on top so that the toy flies into the air when the toy pops – it encourage fun anticipation waiting for it to pop! If you put a couple of toys or cards on you can see who can catch one and they can tell you what the toy/letter/word is that they caught. If a child hasn’t seen one before you may need to demonstrate the toy as they often want to grab disc while it is flat and do not realise it will pop up.Main themes – waiting, changing shapes, motor skills (catching & throwing action words)


Observe what they do with the toy when first given to them and before you start to play. It may not be obvious how “to play with them” at first. Do they notice they attach? Do they look at why it attached? 

What do they spontaneously “say” when they play with the toy? Do they have a “word” or way of describing how the ball changes (a surprised face, a wow, ooooh, look!, pop, ball now, flat now.

Do they think it’s funny or a bit scary when it pops?

Do they inspect it to try to see how it works?

Do they try different things with it? (sit on it, roll it like a wheel, try to bounce it, throw it up or forward)Can they push it hard enough to work or do they look puzzled if they don’t push it hard enough and it stays as a ball?

communicating with others

Communication: how the themes/ ideas of the toy encourages or give opportunities to practise social interactions

*Do they want you to look at the ball changing?

*Do they ask questions about how it works or ask for help? (hand it to you to make it pop again or uses words to ask for help)

*Do they communicate the emotions the ball evokes? (surprise, scare, delighted, excited)

*Can they wait patiently for the ball to pop or do they want to grab at it? This is a great game to encourage attention, waiting and turn taking skills. These are all skills we need to use when having a “conversation” with someone.

understanding of lanuage comes before talking

Understanding skills – words, sentences, ideas/themes/concepts, reading/literacy skills

Action words – suggest different things they can do with the ball and see if they change their actions accordingly eg push, roll, throw, kick, make it a wheel, waiting, tossing, releasing, changing

Similarities and differences of the ball as it changes (Does it change shape or colour?), it’s like a ball vs like a wheel

Gestures – do they show anticipation gestures – looking intently, jiggling or jumping as it gets more likely to pop, surprise gestures, pointing gestures to show they noticed the change or where it changed (eg pointing in the air)

Concepts: shapes flat vs round; time concepts: now, soon, later, nearly

Cognition: Count how long it takes to pop. Remember that number and see if the next one takes a longer or shorter time to pop.

Problem solving - Enocourages an understanding of “cause and effect” – if you push it goes flat, if you wait it pops; Can roll the ball easily because it is round but not so easy when it is flat.

Numbers: Time concepts and counting as wait for the ball to pop. See how many steps or how far it can roll before it pops.

spoken speech & language

Speech: saying sounds, exclamations, words, sentences, stories. Making gestures & facial expressions.

saying sounds

Pop, boom, wee, (as the Phlat ball pops up)

speech clarity

/p/ is an early developing sound and so words like “pop” are great first words to encourage. Encourage them to look at how your lips are squeezed together as you are “busting” to say “pop” as you are waiting for the ball to pop. /p/ is said with a build of air pressure behind the lips and so “holding” it back before popping out the /p/ sound encourages this sound pressure. Simliarly you can use a phrase “pop up” to encourage more /p/ sounds. Also early words like “go” are great as lots of children under three will say a /d/ for a /g/ sound – “go” -> “do”… You can model or practise the /g/ sound by repeating the/g/ sound as you are anticipating the ball to pop: “g,g,g,g,g,g,…GO”;

Saying words

Names of the things: ball, Frisbee, button

Names of action words: see above (rolling, tossing, flicking, exploding, changing, waiting)

Describing words: hard, flat, not bouncy, round, colours,

Other words: now, soon, going to, nearly, yet

Saying Sentences: Encourage them to repeat sentences at a length that matches their ability after you say it – after a few times of reading the book can they say the words and sentences by themselves?

By choosing words with different endings will help build spoken grammatical words eg popping, flatter, edges (word endings –ing, -er, plural ‘s’). These can then be put into sentences: rolling the ball (action word + a thing)The ball IS flat, The ball IS NOT popping (important little words – “is; pronouns – “he”)The ball popped in the air. The ball IS taking a long time. (encouraging longer sentences by adding a thing or a place)Sentences like "If I push it hard, it will take a long time", "It won’t roll because it is flat" helps develop the use of joining words ( e.g, “and”, “because”, “so”, If)

Saying more:Explain why they think it stays flat. Explain why it takes sometimes a long time and sometimes a short time to pop. Predict what might happen if we put something on top of the flat ball. What might happen if we put our fingers in the spaces when it is flat? What things are round and what things are flat.

Toy Teaching & Talking Tips Downloads 

Sandra McMahon Speech Patholgoist

About the author

Dr Sandra McMahon, Speech Pathologist, PhD is clinical and research paediatric speech pathologist that has worked as the Director of Speech Pathology at a major metropolitan Children’s Hospital, lectured at University in the area of early child communication and literacy development & disorders; and a consultant to Kindergartens and Child Care Centres. Dr McMahon is currently the Founder, Director and Senior Speech Pathologist of the multi-disciplinary SpeechNet Speech Pathology & Learning Centre. Dr McMahon is frequently invited to present to parent groups, educational facilities, Speech Pathology Clinical Development events & conferences. She is certified practising member of the Australian Speech Pathology Association.



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Top Toys For Christmas 19 sleeps to go

Let's Talk 

​Wind-Up Toys

Focus: Wind up toys 

Speech Therapist      Dr Sandra McMahon PhD

Now if you are looking for a major toy or stocking fillers – windup toys are great. They can be really cheap and grabbing a few different ones lead to hours of fun. They range from jumping or flipping soft toys to small plastic robots with sound effects too! Button push toys are great as children can push a button and toy will do something. Wind-up toys however provide a whole new level of learning! The key thing about wind-up toys is that toddlers often can’t wind them up by themselves! They have to communicate to make them work! This makes them a Top Toddler Talking Toy! They are so much fun they can be great for children as young as 11months all the way through to Prep!


With wind-up toys I usually wind them up once and let it go before handing it to the child to see what they do with it. Do they quickly get that it needs to be wound up again? Do they walk away because it has stopped moving and so deem it not interesting any more? Do they try to get it going themselves by shaking it, pushing it along to see if it will go again or do they “ask” you to do it in someway (e.g., hand it to you, point to the winder, use words to ask).

communicating with others

Children and adults alike make requests all day everyday. Can you pass me the salt, Email me that document by 12 O’clock! Toddlers need to be shown and supported to learn how to make requests (without the insistent whinging and/ or tantrums). We request from children from as early as 5 or 6 months of age.  We put our open hand out and say “Ta” when we want children to pass you the half eaten biscuit rather than have them throw it off the table top! This is showing them how to respond to requests and then make requests. 

Wind-up toys can really help you look at how your child asks for help in a  natural play setting. At first the requests might be made without words. They can use eye gaze to tell you what they want e.g., the child looks at you as if they are asking you for help. You can encourage that by looking with exaggerated expression between the toy when it stops and the child making a “OH NO” face. 

Stop yourself from just winding it up and making it go again just so you can see that delighted laugh again. Wait and see if your child gives you the toy before you offer to wind it up again. Parents are so good at guessing what their children want – but if you can encourage them to point (e.g, to the winder, use a word or ask in someway before you meet their need you will be encouraging them to make requests. At least getting them to look at you before you wind it up is a kind of request this will build early requesting skills.  

Even whining is communicating, particularly when your child is directing the whinge at you! If they are showing non-verbal requests, then encourage some vocalisations or words to “change that whinge” to words.

understanding of lanuage comes before talking

Wind-up toys are fantastic for joint attention skills and following commands. As the action of the toy is short-lived you can repeat and repeat the play and word routines to build talking skills. 

following commands & auditory attention

Before you wind-up the toy you can give commands for them to follow. These can be a simple command like “Give it to me” to more complex instruction such as “Get the robot and puppy and put them at the edge of the table for a race”.  Understanding simple requests such as “Give it me” or “Come here” or “Sit down” begin to emerge around 12 months of age.  If a child older than 18 months are not or can’t follow these kinds of directions, we know there are potentially delays with receptive language or their ability to attend to spoken language. It can look like “behaviour” or they are just not interested when young children ignore commands. However, it could also mean that pre-speech skills such as attending or recognising a request as a request are not optimised. 

thinking skills 

Cognitive Skills refers to how a child thinks and learns. Wind-up toys are actually building early thinking skills of cause & effect and simple problem solving. You may be surprised that these skills actually emerge at around the age of 12 months. Some late talkers “over use” these skills and work out ways to get what they want without having to talk! (e.g., pushing a stool near a cupboard so they can climb onto to reach the toy on the shelf!). However some late talkers do not readily see the connections between actions and consequences. Cause & effect means that the child understands that one action leads to an outcome. With the windup toy, you see how quickly your toddler understands that the toy must be wound up before it moves. 

Simple problem solving refers to how a child uses first one option and then another to accomplish his needs or goals. If your toddler doesn’t have the strength or fine motor skills to wind up the toy, they might try a few different actions first to get the toy moving (shake it, prod it, throw it!). Remember many parents assume that a child who doesn’t play with toys doesn’t like the toys. It is quite possible however that the toddler may need support to boost cognitive skills to build meaningful relationships between toys and the play routines. 

VocabularyThis can be so broad and varied depending on the actual windup toys – you can have whole zoos of wind up animals or whole car parks of wind-up vehicles. The actions they make (march, crawl, swim, clap) to their rates of movement (fast or slow moving toys) can all build vocabulary. See the Spoken Speech section below for more ideas!

spoken speech & language

If your toddler is not really using any words we often suggest trying for exclamations first! Windup toys can be great for these “Uh oh” or “Wow”? 

You can also have some target words in mind to encourage when playing with wind-up toys. As noted above because you can get lots of repetition it gives you lots of times you can say the word. You want them to say the target word so by repeating it they hear the model over and over. This can encourage spoken imitation which is where new words can grow from.   Early requesting words such as “more” or “please” are great social words to start with wind-up toys. Try not to get in the stand-off situation though (i.e., I’m not winding it up if you don’t say "Ta"). This just can lead to frustration. You are better off “teaching and not testing”. This means you say what you want them to say “Ta!/ Please” as they give it to you over and over. Then once you have modelled it over and over, pause and wait for them to say “Ta/ please”. Really wait for a good slow count of three in your head while looking at them expectantly -like you are waiting for them to say something. If they don’t say it say it for them and try again next time.

Action words are abundant with wind-up toys  and only limited by the number and type of wind-up toys you have. Pick one or two each time if your child isn’t saying many words. Repetition of one or two action words is better than many words in the same play time.  

A really great first word with wind-up toys is “go.” You can use anticipation of the toy starting by using the good old  “Ready, Set, Go!” phrase! Remember you need to get you child to attend to what your saying first to have any hope that they will copy or say the target words. Hold the wind-up near your eyes with a big smile & say with emphasis "Do you want it to GO, make it GO?”. Then you can deliberately slowly wind it up saying “Ready, Set … “ with each wind. Then you can say a big loud “GO!” as you put the toy down for it to start.  If you do this routine enough often the children will jump in with the “GO” to get you to start the toy!

For children using some words, you can encourage early sentences or a range of new action words. E.g. “GO car”, “bound kangaroo”, “flap birdie”. You can ask what the toy is doing when it is going to try to get early grammatical words like ‘IS” “what IS the bird doing” – “The bird IS flapping!” If you say “is” louder and with emphasis the children will often copy that new part of the sentence too.  

Having races with different wind-up toys can be great fun. This lends to vocabulary such as fast, slow, faster, fastest, first, last. If the toy is robust you can get them to fall off the edge of a table or book ledge! This can bring the delight to a new height as well as a whole new range of vocabulary – falling vs fell; stopping BEFORE or AFTER it fell, crashing/ surviving!



* Our Online eProgram FOCUS on Toddler Talk!

​* Brisbane Individual & Group Therapy at Speechnet

​* Skype / Facetime     Speech Therapy

​* Home / School / Childcare / Educational Centre Visits 



Sandra McMahon Speech Patholgoist

About the author

Dr Sandra McMahon, Speech Pathologist, PhD is clinical and research paediatric speech pathologists that has worked as the Director of Speech Pathology at a major metropolitan Children’s Hospital, lectured at University in the area of early child communication and literacy development & disorders and a consultant to Kindergartens and Child Care Centres. Dr McMahon is currently the Founder, Director and Senior Speech Pathologist of the multi-disciplinary SpeechNet Speech Pathology & Learning Centre. Dr McMahon is frequently invited to present to parent groups, educational facilities, Speech Pathology Clinical Development events & conferences. She is a certified practising member of the Australian Speech Pathology Association.



toddler Talk








* Our Online eProgram FOCUS on Toddler Talk!

​* Brisbane Individual & Group Therapy at Speechnet

​* Skype / Facetime                   Speech Therapy

​* Home / School / Childcare / Educational Centre Visits 




toddler Talk


Teaching & Talking

Tips Downloads

The Phlat Ball is a fun toy that is great to boost speech, language & learning


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