Leading and facilitating the Saturday morning speech-language and feeding groups for the youngest GiGi’s participants has been a journey of skill building and connection. Participants and their families join the group sessions to learn and practice specific language building strategies through guided play activities. Each week a different language building skill is focused on through theme-based play activities.
Throughout the session, participants rotate through different centers around the room. At these centers, caregivers play with their child while implementing the specific language building skill. During these activities, I can provide direct, individualized attention by modeling and coaching techniques for caregivers. Wonderful volunteers engage with the families by reinforcing techniques and keeping centers sanitized.
Recently, the week’s topic was “Turn taking and social language skills”. Participants practiced the phrase “my turn” during different play activities. A parent approached me the week after that session, excited to tell me her 5-year-old daughter was now using that phrase appropriately at home and at school. Her mother was so pleased to see how that phrase was empowering her daughter and improving her friendships at school.
The end of our session is time reserved for reflection on how the language techniques worked and what challenges caregivers had implementing them. In addition, caregivers are encouraged to share something positive or challenging that happened over the past week. Or to share a new park, event, or therapy tip they learned that has been beneficial. It is often during these last 10 minutes of the session when the magic of GiGi’s really happens. Recently a mom commented she was worried and concerned about her son starting preschool. The other caregivers in the group were able to provide her with reassurance, information, and resources. I see my role during the reflection/sharing portion of the session is one of providing comfort and security to enable connection.
The feeding group follows a different format but with the same end goal of caregiver connection. During feeding sessions, I provide education and resources on the stages and developmental skills of learning to eat and drink independently (a different theme is discussed each session). Often children will have a snack and a drink while the caregivers are listening and learning. We will frequently pause during our discussions so I can demonstrate different feeding techniques with a child. Caregivers are also encouraged to share their experiences and to provide their mealtime tips. The sessions always end with caregivers collaborating and connecting with each other.
It is a pleasure and an honor to work with the children and families at GiGi’s. I hope the programs I facilitate empower caregivers with knowledge, confidence, and enable connections because connections are what we all need most of all.
Anne Adams, M.Ed., CCC-SLP