Cause and effect music apps for speech and language therapists working in PMLD settings

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A recent enforced upgrade to ios12 found me discovering mid-session that some of my favourite apps are no longer viable. I’ve accepted that some of my old favourites such as Color band and BalloonMaker are not (currently) working. It was time, however, to do an audit of what there is out there, especially for children with PMLD and multi sensory impairments in the school where I currently work.  

In this post I’ll focus on the music based apps with visual feedback which I use most often. There are plenty of other cause and effect apps which can be discussed in a later post.

Musical Hands. (£0.99) Why didn’t I discover this app until recently? Working in a PMLD setting, I need to find apps for children whose hand movements are not accurate and ideally are not going to land on in-app purchases too regularly. Each square is a different colour and note or beat and there are strong visual contrasts on the screen.

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Musical Hands screen – each square plays a different note

Sago mini music box. (£3.99) What I like about this app is that a learner can tap repeatedly on the screen but hear a different note each time they tap in the same place. This is fantastic for learners with severely restricted motor movements.

sago mini

A typical scene – each tap gives a different image as well as a different note.

Bebot – Robot Synth. (£1.99) A fantastic app – set it to different sounds and make short taps or swoop up and down a scale with a slight hand movement.

bebot

The robot bends up and down as the notes change.

Paint sparkles draw. (Free) One of my old favourites for painting and musical sounds at the same time. It’s a free app though, so there’s potential for learners accidentally activating ads at the bottom of the screen…

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Bloomtunes. (£1.99) A visually pleasing musical app with either spinning flowers or painting as you activate the screen.

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Magic zither. (Free) I’ve been enjoying this one recently because of the pleasing burst of colour and sound you get when you touch your hands on the screen. A good app when wanting to introduce novel sounds.

Other free musical apps include Music Sparkles, Drum Kit and Musical Instruments Free, all of which I use fairly regularly.

So how do I actually use these apps in sessions?

  • As motivators to encourage the learner to indicate wanting more or to choose an activity (sometimes using pictures of the apps to encourage eye pointing or reaching for a choice).
  • Working on joint attention skills e.g. showing awareness of another person’s turn.
  • Intensive interaction for learners who are limited in their ability to vocalise or access many other conventional toys. This resource by Barbara Miles outlines lots of ways in which we can support learners with multi sensory impairment to use their hands to communicate and many of the points are salient when using an iPad e.g. using hand-under-hand or finger-alongside-finger rather than hand-over-hand.
  • Enabling learners to join in interactive musical sessions, especially where a number of conventional instruments are harder to access.

I’ve focussed on the music apps I use which have good visual feedback included but this is not always necessary. There are several other music apps recommended by this resource for using music with PMLD students made by a collaboration of Bedfordshire schools. 

Despite many developers not managing to keep their apps updated this long, there are always plenty of motivating cause and effect apps to use with learners. Please do share any other favourite music apps you have used!

 

 

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Interactive Speech Therapy sessions to work on sentence building

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Developing the use of language needs to be motivating and meaningful. In recent years it has been very popular to work on language development within school and therapy settings using symbol prompts, often with a Colourful Semantics (developed by Alison Bryan) theme such as in the picture below.

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Using symbols has lots of potential for helping reinforce many actions and sentence structures but it’s easy to get stuck for ways to practise using them.

Here are some apps I’ve used successfully to liven up a group or 1:1 session while using symbols (e.g. as above) as a visual support. All of them can be used in a functional and interactive small group session by giving each other instructions or describing what someone else has done.

 

Finger paint with sounds (free).  One of the many free painting apps which can be used to tell each what to draw or paint e.g. Clare paint a yellow house. This one has sounds as you draw.

 

Pepi Bath (free). A fun free app with some drag and drop actions such as Wash Hands, Brush Teeth, Pour Washing powder, Hang Jumper.

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My PlayHome Lite (free version great and full version for £3.99).  Has a range of animated activities that you can action by dragging objects and people around different rooms. A wealth of Subject Verb Object actions to use expressively such as the Girl is Eating an Apple and the Mummy is Pouring Water.

 

Toca Kitchen Monsters (free). Two different monsters and several different foods and ways of cooking e.g. Monster is Frying a Tomato, Green Monster is cutting broccoli.

 

Discover Musical Instruments Free Admittedly some more specific vocabulary (bagpipes, drum, guitar) needed here but this is a lovely free app and telling each other which instrument to play can be a fun group activity. If you’ve got more than one iPad you could effectively set up a small orchestra.

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Toca Tea party (£2.99).  In the absence of actual party food, pretend or real, this is a great app for a virtual tea party with either toys or people. Tell each other what you want them to do e.g. Teddy drink juice, Peter pour tea, Katy give a plate to me.

 

Build a Train Lite (free). 

Potential for using some very simples phrases such as Beep Horn, Ring Bell, Stop, Go.

 

Puppet Pals (there is a lite version but directors pass £3.99 is worth it) I’m honestly not sponsored by this app but it really is so versatile. I’ve set it up with pictures of symbols and you can then set up little moving scenes of pretty much any action you want. I usually create the symbol on symbol software on my office PC, take a photo using the iPad and insert it into the app – only takes a few minutes before a session.

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Other apps worth mentioning…

 

First Phrases HD (lite version £0.99) A well designed app which allows you to select a SVO sentence and then produces a animated video to illustrate it at the end. One of the best ways I’ve found to use this is to click through the vocabulary choice bits and just show the video and ask a child to describe it. But that’s fairly fiddly. It’s not ideal for an interactive session.

 

Photo dice (free).  An app which can be used in practically any therapy session but worth mentioning here if you want to provide some unpredictability of actions or objects e.g. what is Dennis going to wear? The hat/gloves/scarf/glasses etc. Or what is Aisha going to do to the box? Stand/Sit/Jump/Throw etc?

 

Apps to inspire group storytelling activities in the classroom

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I’ve written blogs in the past focussing on different storytelling apps which allow you to create a story from scratch using your own pictures and words. But how about when children have difficulty coming up with ideas themselves or have difficulty retrieving the right words to use?

There are many apps that can be used to motivate children with their narrative skills through characters, pictures or sounds. When stories are developed in groups, children can motivate each other and focus on listening as well as expressive skills.

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All the apps below are free unless otherwise stated. If using as a whole class activity, don’t forget to use a programme such as AirServer (see previous blog) so that the whole class can see the screen.

 

Story sound effects

storytimesoundsThere are lots of ways of using sound effects to inspire group narratives:

  • Start the story by agreeing on some characters and a scene (draw these out if possible!) Then play sounds one at a time and ask children to name them and volunteer ideas about what is happening in the story.
  • Take turns to say a sentence about the story based on the sound you have just heard and then choose a sound for the next person to describe.

Story time sounds is a great app with clear categories e.g. pirates or monsters, each with colourful pictures to choose from.
Movie Sound Effects has words instead of pictures and contain many sound effects in SciFi/Action/Comedy/Cartoon categories.

See previous blog for ideas of random sound effects to incorporate into stories.


Setting the scene

Some apps let you choose the scene and characters and allow you to move them around to create mini movies. The three shown below also have inbuilt recording facilities.

Puppet Pals (free lite version or £3.99 Directors Pass allowing you to add your own photos). I’ve done a previous blog on using this in class group activities so won’t add more here except to say it’s one of my favourite apps for stimulating expressive language and the combination of photos and fantasy characters can be a great source of inspiration for a wide range of ages!

Superhero HD Comic Book Maker and Princess Fairy Tale Maker by Duck Duck Moose have a large range of backdrops and characters to include in stories. Pick your scene, choose your characters and record the story as you move them around.


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Using story frameworks

Some apps are set up precisely for the purpose of group story telling. Easy to adapt for a classroom activity.

Story Wheel Lite has different themes e.g. Knights and Princesses/Space etc. It is set up for more than one player – each takes turns to spin the wheel and record a few words or phrases about the picture they are allocated. At the end all scenes can be merged.

Story Dice (£1.99) allows you to roll as many dice as you choose, each with drawings on from which you can obtain prompts to include in a story. More abstract pictures, might work well for older children.

img_1248Tell a tale provides the first line of the story, three random pictures and then the final line. Definitely one for older/secondary children.

Ten speech therapy activities which can be enhanced with an iPad

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  1. Warm up games. Try Air Hockey (free). No pressure to talk, easy to play, requires someone else to play with you and surprisingly addictive.

air hockey 

 

 

 

  1. Visual Timetables. My favourite is First Then Visual Schedule HD (£7.99), which allows you to insert google images very easily. Makes a change from printing and laminating.

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  1. Informal assessment. Use a range of apps to stimulate informal talking and receptive language. Favourite apps to stimulate expressive language are Imagistory (free) or creating a spontaneous story using Puppet Pals and photos of the child. My favourite receptive assessments involve Keyword Understanding (£6.99 or free lite version) and Toca Kitchen Monsters (free).

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  1. Setting expectations of a session. Use Sand Timer (Free) or ASD tools timer (£1.49) to show how long an activity is going to last. Also use goal setting apps such as Simple Goals (free) for older children to record what they are working towards.

 

  1. Trialling AAC. Easy to take photos and give choices on the spot rather than having to ask about favourite items, take photos then go away and laminate… Use ChoiceBoard Creator (free) or TalkBoard (free) for basic grids to practice with.

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  1. Oro-motor assessments. Dress up an oro-motor assessment as a motivating activity using Bla Bla Bla (free) and Speak Up Too (free) for visual feedback.

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  1. Parent Child Interaction. Not sure how we ever managed video PCI without iPads – video it, play it back to the parent and if necessary, reassure them that you are deleting it in front of them. Also use for informal, spontaneous feedback e.g. during a swallow assessment.

 

  1. Talking about what has just happened. An immediate record of the session you’re in. Talk about doing something, do it and talk about what you did with visual prompts. Saves you going away to print photos.

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  1. Taking photos of plans, sessions, child’s work. An easy way of referring back to previous sessions – whether paintings that were made or stories which were created. If the app doesn’t store creations, take a screenshot by holding down the home button and then pressing the on/off button. The image will appear in Photos.

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  1. Inspiring parents to carry on activity at home. A lot of parents are worried that they don’t know what apps to download for their children and are keen for ideas. If they can see their child engaged with an activity with you, they’re more likely to try it at home.

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Speech and language group activities using art and craft iPad apps

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Following on from my blog on using cooking apps, here’s some ideas for using art based apps to stimulate functional language and talking with small groups of children – ideal for school based language groups.

 

Describing what someone else has done

doodlecastDoodlecast (£2.29) is a motivating app for annotating pictures which records a video of the drawing process. Take a photo of each other or something in the room or use one of the inbuilt templates. Ask the first child to draw a picture. As you replay the video of this, take turns to describe what that person did e.g. “then she drew some flowers next to the tree” “then she drew some glasses on my face.”

 

Planning and team work 

Faces iMake (£2.29). A great team work task for primary age – ask children to make quirky faces with a range of basic and more complex vocabulary from lollipops and bananas to violins or chess pieces. Lots of opportunities for different levels of language from frequently used to less common words. Also opportunities for practising categorisation. Set the children a task such as “make a face from yellow and green fruit” or “make a face from toys”. There’s also a surprisingly catchy theme tune which you find yourself humming after a while…

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Listening to others

Colouring in apps work well when supporting children to listen to instructions from others.

Splash of Colour (£0.79) has lots of colouring in templates included and for younger children Peppa’s Paintbox (free) has a theme or background pictures to insert. There is lots of scope for giving simple instructions that your child needs to listen to and follow e.g. “colour the box blue” or “put some flowers next to Peppa.”

It is possible to do these activities with children who are not very familiar with colour words by asking them to colour in particular parts of a picture but not specifying a colour.

Don’t forget to take turns giving each other instructions so your child gets practice in directing as well as listening!

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Using sensory apps as PECs motivators

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photo-7When I first got an iPad, the apps with easy touch-activated sounds and visual effects (examples below) were the first ones I downloaded. They are fantastic as basic cause and effect activities and are highly motivating for children of a range of ages and abilities.

It took me a while to think of a way to use them for language based activities with children at a higher level. Then it struck me that if you think of the iPad and its sensory apps as a motivating toy in the same way as SLTs think of ‘bubbles’, it makes it much easier to fit into language activities.

photo-8I work in a school with a large number of children with ASD, where iPads are an obvious motivator for communication. The sensory apps work well when encouraging use of PECs across the day and in different situations.

How to use in class:pecs1

  • I started by using sensory apps in a communication group with two or three students who were using PECs to communicate.
  • Each student was given a selection of symbols in their PECs book for familiar apps so they could initiate requests for what they wanted.
  • When a student initiated a request for an app, I set up a timer (see previous blog) for 15-20 seconds before handing the iPad over. This gave a clear auditory signal at the end of their turn on the iPad itself.photo-6
  • I then waited for another student to initiate another request.

You could make this into a small group turn taking activity by connecting the ipad to the whiteboard (see blog on airserver for how to do this) so that the other students could watch the apps on the whiteboard as they waited for their turn.

Some of my (and my students’) favourite (and mostly free) sensory apps:

  • Pocket pond
  • Fireworks Arcade
  • Fluidity HD
  • Cause and Effect Sensory Light Box (£1.49)
  • Falling Stars
  • Romantics
  • Reactickles Magicphoto-5
  • Paint Sparkle
  • iZen
  • Bubbles (£0.69)
  • Music Sparkles