School SLPs by the nature of our job often have to be a jack of all trades. One day you may be working with high school fluency students and the next day you may be working with non-verbal three year olds! I have worked with preschool through middle school in my 12 years as a school SLP and I feel like prepping for preschoolers is by far the hardest! In my first year as a school SLP, I was thrown into working with preschool students with severe autism with relatively little experience with kids that young and no materials! It was awful and so stressful for my first few years until I started to figure out what worked through trial and error.
Here are my top 5 tips for surviving your first year as a preschool speech-language pathologist.
- Use What You Have: Don’t feel like you have to run out and buy a million toys. While preschool SLPs do have it tougher in that printing out worksheets often is just not going to cut it with maintaining attention with little guys, that doesn’t mean you need to spend a ton of money. One good option if you have preschool classes on campus is to borrow toys and manipulatives from the classes. Most preschool teachers I have worked with have been incredibly willing to share toys with me once they know I can be trusted to protect and return toys intact. Another great resource is garage sales. I still have and use many of the toys that I first bought on a shoestring budget as a beginning SLP from garage stales. I love big church or neighborhood garage sales to get some great toys and games without having to travel all over town.
- Use Repetition to Your Advantage: One of my biggest mistakes in my first years as a preschool SLP was thinking I should be bringing in new activities each week for my groups. I killed myself trying to figure out new engaging activities each week because I was afraid teachers would think I was lazy bringing in the same things a few weeks in a row. Not only was that a silly thing to worry about but it turns out that preschoolers actually need tons of repetition to really learn and grasp concepts. Sometimes it has taken hearing a song or seeing an activity dozens of dozens of times before some of my little guys suddenly start showing progress and then we celebrate like crazy! Most books I read in my preschool groups I read at least 2 weeks in a row, sometimes 3 or 4! If you run preschool circle time groups, stick to the same routine each week (i.e., opening song, read a book, do an activity related to book, closing song) and just switch up the books or songs you do every few weeks with a seasonal theme or other type of theme. I use a book from my Interactive What Do You See Books Bundle each month so that I don’t have to think at all when it’s a new month, I just grab that month’s theme book and go! This will save you tons of stress and brain power from trying to think of novel activities each week!
- Music, Music, Music: Using music in my preschool groups is truly the savior of my sanity. There is something magical about using music to really grab preschoolers interest and help them learn language concepts. I have a post about the Top 10 Songs for Preschool Speech and Language Development that is a good starting point for songs to use in preschool speech.
- Be Interactive: Forget the worksheeets with the 3 to 5 year old set. Whether I am working with a group of preschoolers with autism and low language skills or a group of preschoolers with articulation days you will never see me without interactive activities. For my preschool articulation groups I don’t do many crafts but we are constantly coloring, dot painting, and glueing artic words to keep their little busy bodies in their seats. Interactive Adapted Books are a staple with my in class groups because they are so engaging and versatile. Even students who are just starting to show emerging communication skills can be engaged with matching pictures when using interactive or adapted books.
- Have Fun: You will make a ton of mistakes your first year as a preschool SLP, it’s inevitable. Preschoolers are unpredictable, have short attention spans, limitless energy, and are still figuring out all about this crazy world. This will likely lead to many speech sessions that leave you feeling like you have no idea what you are doing! But I truly love working with preschoolers because they can show incredible progress and are often so much fun! I feel so lucky to be able to “play” everyday as part of my job. So while some days working with preschoolers may leave you exhausted and frustrated, remember to relax and enjoy your time with the little ones!
If you are looking for some ready to go activities to get a jump on your preschool caseload I have put together what I consider my Preschool SLP Survival Kit. I hope it will help preschool SLPs feel prepared and ready for the fun of preschool speech therapy!