I recently experienced the delight of sitting across a table at Crema Bakery from speech-language pathologist and founder of Tandem Speech Therapy, Emily Cohen, to learn more about her book Playing With Purpose. I got a copy in my own hands and I’m thrilled to pass this resource on to you! Emily and I sat with cold drinks in hands on this balmy day while I got to know her and her new book.
What was your journey like to get to where you’re at now- writing and publishing Playing With Purpose?
I was a special education teacher right out of undergraduate school. I’m from Michigan and I taught in the public schools for three years and was looking to specialize more and have more one on one contact interaction with kids and their parents, which you don’t always get a lot of in the public schools. Being a public school teacher is incredibly challenging. Mad props to the teachers reading this! In my first job out of graduate school, I worked at an outpatient hospital-based program and all of the therapists there had training from a place called the Hanen Center, based out of Toronto Canada. They are some of the top people in our field that research early childhood language acquisition and the impact that caregivers play on a child’s language development, and the particular impact for children who have language challenges. They developed a whole set of programs that train us as Speech Language Pathologists to then support parents better.
I eventually moved to Austin and I’ve been in Austin for ten years. That training started me down the path of really focusing additional energy on supporting parents of the children that I’m working with. It was just kind of a snowball effect to how I went from blogging to now having a book, which was a year and a half in the making. But it started as a small project that just grew and grew and grew. Once you’ve written enough blog entries you’re like, “Wait I have a book!” and Playing With Purpose was born!
Yeah I’m so glad! At what age would you recommend parents seek outside help if they think their child might have a speech delay?
Your pediatrician is a good person to be checking in with. Most pediatricians are checking with you like a twelve-month visit, an eighteen-month visit and two years later and well-child visits. I think if you feel like your child doesn’t really have any true words at 18 months that’s a good time for you to consult with somebody.
True words- as in they can’t pronounce them yet or that they’re not communicating in a way that you can understand?
Not really either. So for really little kids we count a word as sort of any consistent sound combination they mean to refer to a specific thing. So early on we don’t expect kids who are young to be able to produce all the sounds we can say, but if your child has developed some set of combination they’re always like calling the dog and looking at it and pointing to it and you know, they’re talking to the dog.
What is your favorite toy to use in therapy and why?
So my all-time favorite toy is Mr. Potato Head. He’s good for kids ages two and up. I love that family of toys because you can do so many different things with them. You can help kids learn about body parts or identify body parts. You can work on early sound combinations that can be easy for kids to say. It’s good for kids at all different ages so as these kids get older they can grow with the toy and the toy can do other things; you can do pretend play, practice following directions, and all kinds of activities.
I love Mr. Potato Head too. The family of Potato Heads were some of our favorite toys for sure- for a very, very long time. I also noticed in Playing With Purpose that you actually recommended having fewer toys accessible at a time. Why is that?
When we reduce the stimulus on kids we can keep them engaged to keep their attention for longer and it helps to promote them having a longer attention span. Another thing about that is, from a more practical standpoint, it makes teaching your kids other life skills easier, like cleaning up after themselves- if there’s only a few toys out there, that’s more manageable for you and if everything has a place, like for Mr. Potato Head, it’s a box or a bin or whatever you like, it keeps all of that more manageable too.
That’s really interesting because often we assume if we have many toys they won’t get bored but in reality they’re over-stimulated.
You actually will see kids who have lots of things to choose from bounce around much more frequently. So if there’s only a few choices they’re probably going to sit longer and play with one thing.
That’s very insightful and counter cultural thinking. Is Playing With Purpose a book that’s intended for specialists and therapists? Or parents?
It is definitely written for parents, caregivers and non-professionals. So I think it’s a great book for educators and child care providers, parents, grandparents, whomever. I know a lot of the people who have bought the book who are speech therapists but they’re buying it because they want to be able to share it with the parents that they work with. I really made a huge effort to not write it very technically at all. The second to the last two chapters of the book that really have the specific tips that go through the different toys or the different activities, that is written very reader-friendly.
I love it! So how can parents use your book?
I describe it reading like a cook book. You can definitely pick up the book and read it cover to cover and you’ll have tons of information. I think that the earlier chapters lend more to that than the later sections of the book. But the Table of Contents is super navigational, so you could say, “Okay, I’m wondering if what my child is doing at two years old is where they should be?”, and you can find that information. If you’re getting ready to go to the pool with your child and you’re like, “Oh I wonder what we can do differently today?”, you can go to the chapter that’s all about playing with water. So each section is one or two pages. If you have just ten minutes or five minutes, then you can still pick up some information.
So tell me, why is play such an important component of speech language therapy or development?
Play is the primary way kids learn. So it’s really a big part of any kind of therapy discipline you might encounter for kids at a young age. Part of the reason that I use play in therapy with kids is because that’s what they’re going to be doing the rest of the time when I’m not there. So one of the really important things about the work that I do is making it accessible and sustainable. So I when I go into a home, and I’m working with a child and their parent, I want to show the parents the things that they can be doing when I’m not there. So I want to take the things that they’re already doing and adjust that to support them a little bit.
Essentially you’re coaching them on how they can play with purpose with their kids. Thank you! For so many of of this isn’t something that comes naturally. I’m so thankful for your book!
What are your favorite things to do in Austin?
I love Town Lake. We live in walking distance to that, and I love food, so Austin is a great place for me. My favorite restaurant right now is Loro partly because we can walk to it in about 5 minutes. It’s very kid-friendly with tons of outdoor space. It’s really casual, but has amazing food.
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