Language Play: Learning Isn’t Accomplished in a Straight Ascending Line

Carry Over Time

So it is finally spring in western Massachusetts. And for kids in school this is a time of field trips, assemblies, and visits to the next grade. The pleasures and fears of the future intensify during this time. Then school is over and they are free to enjoy a break, sleep in, and be outside in the sunshine.

This building of intense feelings may affect our children. It often makes it harder to reach them! The best thing we can do to ease the change is to keep things calm and light and help our children stay in the moment. When people are emotional, they can’t think or access their knowledge. I have often told my high schoolers that the best thing they can do before a test is to relax so their brains will work better. This is true because our emotions can block access to our memories. For younger children, it is up to us to control things since they haven’t yet developed the inner control to do this for themselves.

As a speech language therapist, change also happens in my therapy now. The focus of therapy shifts in this window of time. Just like teachers who try to bring learning to a deeper level with a hands-on activity or a field trip, as a speech language therapist, I try to focus on “carry over,” supporting the use of learned language skills into the many settings beyond the therapy room. It is a time to work towards putting their knowledge to use. I find that during this period I’m consulting more with teachers and parents, explaining what the child’s able to do in therapy, and asking them to use the same vocabulary to gently coax knowledge into function. This may mean prompting them to speak rather than point, looking clueless so they fix an articulation error (“yaw tawn” for “your turn”) or a grammar error (“eated” for “ate”) to understand them better, or reminding them that blurting out during group meetings doesn’t help the group. As always, the prompting should slowly fade and be replaced with compliments (“Oh, I really understood you when you said those “r” sounds!”) I give a lot of compliments to make them aware of what they are doing right. As always, prompting should be undertaken only when the therapist is seeing consistency in therapy and then suggests the way to ensure that the child feels successful.

I always try to remember when asking a student to use their knowledge, that knowing you did something incorrectly doesn’t mean you automatically know how to fix it. I have one student that will say, “oh, oops!” and then continue the behavior. He thinks what he said is the fix. Often children need explicit instruction for what to do or say to fix it. So we need to model and explain what will fix it, whenever we’re trying to promote carry over. Of course, there are some kids who just naturally self-monitor their output in new settings, but I think that is unusual. For most of us, learning a new habit or behavior, takes a lot of self talk and practice before it becomes automatic. So this stage requires patience! It is easy to be discouraged if your child is inconsistent. Don’t panic if they are doing well, then slide back. That’s pretty much what you can expect! We don’t learn in a straight ascending line.

So, take advantage of this time before summer to scaffold your children’s speech and language (including discussions about events featured on Hilltown Families). But be sure to get support from the professionals who have the same goal: to encourage functional effective communication in our children.


Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at


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