Preschool Language Programs Benefit Community

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July 18, 2023 | Downers Grove, IL

Student clinicians Amy Wasowicz, Minoo Yar, Skylar Price work with children in the Shining Stars group.

As part of its service to the community, Midwestern University’s Speech-Language Institute offers biweekly programs for children experiencing issues with developmental language, such as delays with speech and articulation. The Little Sprouts program is offered to children between the ages of two and three, and the Shining Stars program is offered to children between the ages of three and five.  Six Midwestern University students in the Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) Program are involved in the programs. Each student is assigned two children to target specific speech and language goals, and the students are supervised by Cindy Krizizke, M.S., CCC-SLP, Clinical Assistant Professor, Speech-Language Pathology.

Speech-Language Pathology student Amy Wasowicz (SLP ’24) said, “I am currently part of the Shining Stars group but have had the opportunity to participate in a Little Sprouts program as well. Both programs are fun, high-energy, fast-paced sessions that simulate a preschool classroom, and we work on multiple areas of speech/language in each session. Each clinician takes 10-15 minutes for ‘talking time’ with two children, which gives us a chance to work on the clients’ unique needs in a structured way. Since we each supervise two children, it is a chance for them to interact and work together with their peers. However, most of the session consists of the three clinicians interacting and stimulating language with all six children.”

Speech-Language Pathology student Sarah Mueller (SLP ’24) said, “I work with the Little Sprouts. We introduce them to themes they will see in the real world and expand their play skills. We pretend we’re at the grocery store. They practice buying food and giving money to the cashier.” Sarah added they also teach the children receptive language, sounds and modeling letters and pronunciation, and following directions. “The group of language learners are all different. We create activities that are age appropriate and help them reach the appropriate milestones. This experience gives me the confidence of how to model language for children that have differences. You have to adjust your demeanor in a way where you’re reaching the child.” Sarah added, “It’s fun to let your own walls down and meet kids at their level.”

Student clinicians Katie Mazziotti, Sarah Mueller, and Shehzeen Rehman work with children in the Little Sprouts group.

This is the first year these programs have been in place, Ms. Krizizke said. The days begin with circle time, where the group sings and uses movement. Other activities include vocabulary lessons during story time, arts and crafts, a kitchen area, a dress-up area, a books area, and other games. “We provide speech and language services during play. Students are learning a lot of language strategies and approaches to help them expand their clients’ expressive language. Every center gives the child the opportunity to use their language during play and work on their fine motor skills. Every week there are new themes, and the children learn vocabulary according to the theme, such as community helpers, transportation, and ice cream. The children in the programs are already showing improvements, Ms. Krizizke said. “They know the routine. They are more comfortable knowing where everything is in the room, and they have more interaction with the other children. They play with each other, they take turns.”

The programs also supplement the educational experience of the SLP students. “Some of our students want to work in a school setting. This is a great opportunity. Students collaborate with each other. They make activities interactive for young children. They manage their time within the group as speech pathologists and prioritize how to work on objectives in a play-based fashion. Adding art and dressing up teaches the students that language can happen when you’re doing all kinds of activities. Students learn what they can do to support children during those times. They use a lot of visuals for vocabulary,” Ms. Krizizke said.

Ms. Krizizke added that the students also suggest activities for the parents to continue the lessons with their children at home, and this experience also gives students an opportunity to practice communicating with parents and become comfortable discussing the strategies they use in the group with the children with families. “The parents watch in our viewing room. They see all of the sessions, and after the sessions the students talk to the families,” she said. Students also learn from each other, collaborate, and share ideas. “They learn strategies and approaches in the classroom on the academic side. Now they’re able to practice those in a natural setting, apply their classroom learning to groups, and learn how to modify and adapt as necessary.”

In addition, the programs offer a valuable community service. Speech-Language Pathology student Minoo Yar (SLP ’24) said, “I think it is important to continue to offer programs like these. There’s a growing demand for services like these that aim to help children with speech and language difficulties. When you’re in the perspective of the child, it can be difficult to express emotions, create certain sounds, or experience difficulties to be understood. This service that we’re doing helps kids to find their voice.” Amy said, “These programs offer flexibility and accommodations to families who may be struggling to find speech services elsewhere. It is so special that we get to touch the lives of our clients and their families.”

Amy added, “I feel like we are being prepared very well to work in all areas of Speech-Language Pathology, and the work with clients of all populations and abilities prepares us for our own clients, colleague’s clients, and even people we may meet in our everyday lives.” Sarah added, “I think Midwestern University has done a great job of including all of our lesson planning to be evidence-based. It is purposely structured based on the milieu teaching practice, supporting their natural environment to do natural behavior, not forced.”

Future careers for SLP students include work in educational settings, rehabilitation centers, hospitals, or clinic settings.  The SLP Program is available in Downers Grove and Glendale. The Speech Language Institute hopes to continue the Little Sprouts and the Shining Stars programs in the fall.