Hands-On Experiences for Speech-Language Pathology Students
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Hands-On Experiences for Speech-Language Pathology Students

Since summer 2023, the University’s Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) students have been assisting with an early-childhood class—dubbed Toddler Read and Play Time—at We Rock the Spectrum (WRTS) in Northeast Philadelphia. This is part of an opportunity offered to first-year Master of Science SLP students to apply for off-campus clinical rotation experiences, including involvement with the Speech-Language Institute’s (SLI) specialized support groupsSLPs reading to toddlers

Toddler Time is intended as a way for young children to explore early language skills in a fun and inclusive setting. The group is hosted at Philadelphia's We Rock The Spectrum facility, a kids gym and activity center that aims to create a neurodiverse-inclusive environment for children. Each weekly session is led by three Salus SLP students supervised by assistant professor Kimberly Cafarella, MS, CCC-SLP

“I think focusing on toddlers is a really big advantage. In general there's not a lot of opportunity in the first-year (of the program) to get clinical experience with children that are under three so I think that's the biggest advantage. It's nice to be giving students an opportunity to work with those younger children during their first-year,” said Cafarella. 

While aimed at toddlers, the WRTS group is open to children of all ages and abilities, and incorporates practice with interactive storytimes, table top activities, and musical experiences for young children. This gives SLP students exposure not only to working with younger age groups, but also the ability to coach caregivers on important speech-language strategies. 

“I come from an early intervention background, so I felt like it was important for students to get experience with the caregiver-coaching aspect of it. One of the things that makes this experience different from some of my other more preschool-focused practicums is that there is that focus on caregiver coaching and teaching the students about caregiver strategies and how to coach parents on facilitating language with their child,” commented Cafarella. “I feel like the students are getting a pretty well rounded experience.”

Hear about the WRTS experience from SLP students below:

What was your favorite part of working with WRTS?

Elizabeth Eisele ‘25SLP: My favorite part of working with WRTS was making the sessions interactive and being able to participate with the kids as well as help them during the sessions.

Danyelle Adelman ‘25SLP: My favorite part of working with WRTS was getting to see the ability levels of the different children we worked with and to see their language skills develop over the course of the semester. I also enjoyed getting to talk to the parents of the children and to provide parent coaching because that is not an experience we get in the clinic.

Eliana George ‘25SLP: My favorite part of working with WRTS was having the opportunity to work with my friends to create a fun and language enriching environment for the kids and caregivers that came to our group each week!

What did working with the WRTS program teach you? How did it help prepare you for your future career as a SLP?

Eisele: It taught me how to plan activities that could be flexible to a large age group. The group was aimed towards toddlers, but the preschool group joined us for the sessions as well, so there was a large age range. It will prepare me for my future career as a SLP because I learned how to be flexible in planning the sessions for all ages.

Adelman: Working with the WRTS program taught me to be flexible in my planning for therapy sessions. We initially believed we would be working with toddlers but it ended up being a mix of toddlers and preschoolers. The ability levels of the different ages made planning a little more difficult because we had to adapt to the various levels of the children. It helped me learn how to modify an activity like a craft for children who are at different stages in their development. I also learned how to adapt an activity during a session, which is a skill that I felt I improved on as the semester progressed.

George: Through working with WRTS, I learned how to adapt activities to different developmental ages and how to foster some early language skills. It gave me some great exposure to learning about this age group of children of around zero to four-years old.

What impact do you think the program has on the local community?

Eisele: I think this program has a large impact on the local community. It encourages speech and language among young children. Aside from increasing language, this program serves as a great means of socialization for children who have not yet entered school. It also is very nice for the parents because after they are done with the Read and Play, they can use the gym with their children. The parents were very nice and seemed very appreciative of our program.

Adelman: I think the WRTS program has a great impact on the local community. We were able to provide speech and language services to the children in the community and we were able to answer parent/family member questions related to speech and language. Exposing children to speech and language at an early age is important for speech and language development so it was great that we were able to provide that to the children who came as well as teaching families strategies to use at home with their children.

George: I think that the program impacted the community by creating a space for caregivers to come and learn some strategies to encourage language learning for their children and to ask any questions that they have.

Is there anything else about the program that we should highlight?

Eisele: I think you should include how this program has a large focus on helping parents and caregivers increase speech and language in their children. The students who run the program are happy to share any tips and tricks that we have learned throughout our time as SLP grad students. It was also very beneficial to talk to and connect with the parents and learn more about their children. We also really liked the teacher of the preschool group that they run at WRTS, and think she was awesome!

Adelman: I think the WRTS program is a great way to introduce speech and language activities to young children and their families. Not only were we providing children with 45 minutes of fun activities related to books, crafts and music, we were also providing education to parents and caregivers about ways to create a language-rich environment for their children. I also think it was a great way to introduce us as future SLPs to the world of early intervention because it is such an important part of the field that is not typically seen in the SLI.

George: I thought this program was such a fun experience that taught me a lot about working on early language skills not only through carrying out activities with the children but also by incorporating parent coaching at the same time!

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