Faster than the Drive-Thru: 10-Minute Dinner Idea

Yes, I know this is a speech therapy blog.

Yes, I know this is not a food blog.

But I consider this to be a life blog. A blog that bridges the gap between the speech therapist’s office and the home.

And that home requires dinner.


So today I have an easy non-recipe (because that’s how simple it is!) that will have dinner on the table in 10 minutes start to finish.

I can’t even get to Chik-Fil-A and back in 10 minutes.

For these Margherita Pizzas, you’ll need:

  • french bread, sliced
  • pizza sauce (canned, homemade, doesn’t matter)- I used an 8oz can of tomato sauce with italian seasonings added
  • mozzarella cheese
  • fresh slices of tomato
  • fresh basil (but really dried basil or even italian seasonings will work)
  • parmesan cheese and olive oil
  1. Turn your oven to the high broiler setting.
  2. Place your french bread on a greased baking sheet and drizzle olive oil on the bread.
  3. Put sauce and cheese on the french bread.
  4. Broil for 2 minutes.
  5. Once removed from the oven, place your fresh tomatoes and basil (or other herbs) on the pizza.
  6. Broil once more for 2-3 minutes until the tomato skin starts to look Trgrilled.
  7. Remove from oven and sprinkle parmesan cheese and pepper to taste.

That’s it, guys. There’s nothing else to do but plate and serve. Maybe make a green salad to go with it (and by “make” I mean shake some out of a bag and put dressing on it).

So the next time you’re in a pinch, don’t run through the drive-thru! Trust me, this is even faster and you get a totally homemade dinner!

What are your go-to fast dinner ideas?

Teaching Special Needs Children (When You’re Not a Teacher)

Teaching Special Needs Part One

The national average incidence of autism is 1 in 68.

One in 691 babies born in the USA has Down Syndrome.

Now, I could just keep rattling off statistics, but here’s my point: whether it is babysitting, a church calling, or extended family members, chances are you will come into contact with a child with special needs.

In my life, I have seen several instances where an adult has the opportunity to interact with and teach a child, but they feel overwhelmed or don’t know how to effectively teach a child with special needs.

Because of this, I was inspired to write this series on teaching and working with special needs children when you are not trained to be a teacher.

I want this to be helpful to as many people as possible, so I am trying to offer basic principles that can be adapted for any age group or any needs that a child may have. If you have specific questions, please email me!

Set Clear, Simple Expectations

If it’s one thing I’ve learned as a speech therapist (and, let’s face it, more so as a mom) it is that I use too many words. I’ll completely botch a golden teaching moment by trying to explain it as an adult, rather than trying to explain it on a child’s level.

The best thing you can possibly do is set clear, simple expectations.

Notice I didn’t say rules. 

Rules sound so restrictive. Even though kids need (and secretly crave) rules, I think setting expectations puts it in a more positive light. As in this is what I expect and know you can do, versus you can’t do this or this or this.

Here are some examples:

Hands to self.

Raise your hand to speak. 

Eyes on teacher.  

Obviously, these are for little ones- probably ages 3-5.

You can adapt them as necessary.

Use Visuals

Pictures are great.

Pictures help enormously.

Pictures are even more helpful when your expectations are simple and direct.

It really is as easy as printing pictures off of the internet and gluing them onto construction paper.

Maybe cardstock if you wanna get fancy.

Children respond to visual input WAY better than auditory input. This is especially true for children with special needs. Pictures are tangible, and there’s no chance of the meaning getting lost in translation.

Use the Same Phrase

Children with special needs have brains that are wired differently. It’s not bad or wrong, it’s just different.

Whereas other children may have several synapses that can make connections, children with special needs tend to have “tunnel vision” when it comes to language comprehension and following directions.

What are you talking about woman?!

Basically, if you try to say the same thing fifty different ways in an attempt to help them understand, it will most likely not be beneficial because the child cannot comprehend what you are asking of them.

Buuuuuuuuutttt…….. if you have the same simple phrase that has meaning to a child, you are far more likely to get the response you want.

Can you tell what the word of the day is?

Remove the Unknown

Children with special needs often thrive on routine and “the known.” Some children have anxiety and/or will act out when they don’t know how long something is going to take, what is going to happen next, where mom/dad is, etc.

Luckily, you as the teacher can remove the unknown.

Depending on the anxieties of your child, you could use:

  1. a timer (for how long each task will take)
  2. a visual schedule or routine (ha! you’re in luck- I just did a post on this!)
  3. a whiteboard with the number of tasks (check them off as completed)
  4. a countdown timer with how many minutes are left in class (you could keep it on your phone so it’s not a distraction for other students).

I hope that this post has offered you some helpful ideas for working with students with special needs.

Stay tuned for my next post in this series- how to promote engagement with special needs children!


Why Visual Routines Work

visual routines header

So I know this post is a bit ironic, seeing as how I have definitely gotten out of the routine of blogging. My last post was over a month ago!

Y’all, blogging is hard. Starting a blog is even harder when you feel like a teeny-tiny guppy in a huge ocean of blogs.

Those of you who have left comments, liked my Facebook page, and shared with your friends, thank you.

It motivates me to keep going.

So to kick-off my re-emergence into blogging, I want to talk about visual routines; what they are, why they are awesome, and different ways to implement them in your daily life.

Visual routines are just that: you put what/how you want your child to do something in picture form.

Like this:


visual routines

Aren’t these beautiful? They just make my speech-therapist/momma heart sing. These are from a company called Easy Daysies. I found these ones in the clearance bins at Barnes and Noble, but it appears you can order them on Amazon. There also several different options, such as getting dressed, doing chores, etc.

They are so awesome, not because my little one needs help remembering the steps, but it encourages her to do it quickly. Mommy is not amused when a simple potty break takes 15 minutes and a miracle to finish.

But that is a tangent for another post.

As my example shows, visual routines can serve several purposes. They can introduce a new routine, they can help set expectations and maintain routines, and they can improve the frequency/speed of the routine.


Because most children are visual learners, at least in the early stages of life. Visual instructions are tangible, and the child can mimic them until they reach the rote memory, or muscle memory stage.

This is especially important for children who may be delayed in their development. They often need additional support to complete multi-step tasks; they may also struggle with cognitive processing- in this case, the ability to hear directions, process them internally, and then act on the directions.

Have I sold you on putting some visual routines into your child’s life?

Why, yes, Miss Haley, but you haven’t told me how to make them tailored to my child and my life. Also, I don’t have a laminator. 

Okay here are my thoughts for implementing visual routines at home:

  1. Think about the times of day that are the hardest for your child. Is it getting ready for the day, going to the bathroom, cleaning up, or getting ready for bed?

Not that I’ve ever experienced any difficulty in getting my children to cooperate during these parts of the day.

Start there.

2. The order of the routine has to be non-negotiable. If you have a particularly stubborn child (once again, no experience with that), you might want to involve him/her in deciding the order of things. Within reason, of course.

3. The pictures you use need to be simple and direct. No distracting details here.

When I made visual routines for the special needs preschoolers I worked with, I simply cut one long strip of construction paper and then printed the pictures out and stuck them on the construction paper.

If you doubt your creative abilities, I found some awesome FREE printables at Tools to Grow OT (and yes, sometimes occupational and speech therapy overlap. It’s just how we do.)

You could also use a product like the Easy Daysies I mentioned earlier.

Or, if you have a child that loves technology, there’s the Visual Routine app. It is 3.99, but it looks to be a great app to manage routines!

I hope I have inspired you to try some visual routines in your child’s life! They are so simple, but can make a BIG impact on your child’s ability to follow directions ( which is a nice way of saying KEEPING YOUR MOM SANITY!!)

Please give them a try and let me know how it goes!


How to Ask Questions to Get Answers

wh question series final

When I worked in the special needs preschool, I would say about 60-75% of my caseload had an answering wh-questions goal. I also added a wh-questions goal to lower-functioning students as soon as I thought it fell into their zone of proximal development (re: the fancy term for what they can do with assistance).

So why is answering wh-questions so important? I could rant about how the school system is flawed and only wants kids to able to answer standardized questions, but that’s simply not true. Everyone needs to be able to ask AND answer wh-questions in order to gain and process information in both academic and social settings.

So now to the inspiration for the above image. Have you ever felt like you go around and around with your child trying to get answers to basic questions? You ask “What did you do today at school?” and you get the dreaded “Uuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhh……,” or even better, you get one-word answers like “fine” or “okay” or “I don’t know” to any inquiry about their day.

It’s enough to drive any parent crazy!

Well today I want to explain the question hierarchy and ways to phrase your questions to get real answers and spark conversation with a child of any age or ability.

The question hierarchy has to do with the level of processing required for different types of questions. Trust me, it’s not as daunting as it sounds.

  • “What” questions are typically the easiest to process. They usually deal with the here and now, like “What are you doing?” (note: exasperated mom voice optional).
  • “Who” and ” Where” questions come next, only because they require the knowledge of what “who” and “where” means. Since they don’t have any tangible meaning, this has to be taught.
  • “When” questions are the next level up, since time is an abstract concept to many children. (If you’ve ever tried to get a child to school or church on time, you know what I mean!)
  • “Why” and “How” questions are the most difficult to process. “Why” questions usually require more of a thought process, and probably empathy or theory of mind to some degree. “How” questions typically require sequencing of steps.

Consider this hierarchy when asking your child questions. It may be that asking them “Why did you do that?” is too difficult, but they could answer “What were you trying to do?”

Next, two rules for getting answers!

One: Make your questions tangible.

Children do much better answering questions about the here and now. They also do better with visual cues. This makes reading a great opportunity for getting great answers. One of my personal favorites is the “No David!” series by David Shannon. Each page only has a few scolding words, but the pictures are vivid and obvious. It’s so easy to read the actual words and then follow-up with a question like, “What did David do?” Your child can look at the pictures for clues, rather than trying to solely rely on auditory recall.

Two: Make your questions specific.

Questions like, “What did you do today?” are just too broad. Most kids know you expect an answer, but they don’t know what answer you are looking for. Does Mom want to hear about lunch? or that new kid? or my art project? or the homework that was due today?

So take the guesswork out of the question. Rephrase it so they know exactly what you want to hear. ” Who did you play with today?” is much more specific and triggers better recall. It also creates a metaphorical springboard for a conversation. “Oh you played with Kate? She sits next to you for reading time, doesn’t she? What story did you guys read today?”

I also have a few side notes for conversations. First off, once you ask a question, wait for the answer! Go HERE to read a whole post on this. Second, sometimes not asking a question gets you a better response than asking incessant questions. In the above example, you could also say, “Oh you played with Kate? She seems like a good friend.” Then, pause and let your child tell you why Kate is so great (or not). I plan to have a post about this, but I think it’s worth mentioning here as well.

So there you go! Remember the question hierarchy, as well as making your questions tangible and specific! All my posts this week will have insight and activities for teaching your child to answer various wh-questions, so stay tuned!

The 5-Second Rule

5 second rule final

So originally I was going to have a cute picture of food on the floor and make a clever remark about the “5-second rule.” Buuuuuuut, it turns out it’s really hard to get a “cute” picture of food on the floor. Who knew?!

Today’s post is a simple reminder to have patience with your child. We are so used to having adult conversations where the communication is quick and our minds are able to process what someone is saying and respond in a matter of milliseconds. For children of all abilities, but especially for those with language and/or social impairment, information is processed much slower.

So while it may seem that they are ignoring you, or they don’t understand, it may be, in fact, that they require longer processing times.

When you are giving your child directions, or asking questions, count in your head and give them 5 seconds to respond before repeating or rephrasing. Of course, this can be adjusted as necessary, possible even up to 10-20 seconds. By that time your request was either processed and ignored, they didn’t understand, or didn’t hear you.

I know what you’re thinking- this is too easy! But actively monitoring your own wait time makes you realize how quickly you expect your child to respond. It also helps you to slow down and simplify your communication, which also benefits children.

So give it a try! In honor of Finding Dory coming out soon, I’ll end with “just keep counting, just keep counting…what do we do we COUNT!”

Candyland: The Wonderful Game of Turn-Taking

candyland header final

So today I want to share why I love Candyland, and why it is so awesome in it’s simplicity!

It’s no secret that Candyland is easy. You just pick a card, and do what it says. There’s not even words, just pictures! Then, it’s the other person’s turn. And around and around and around.

This turn-taking game is the perfect way to introduce the concept of taking turns to very young children. Most children struggle with taking turns and/or sharing, but especially those with autism, ADHD, or other social difficulties may need additional help in this area. Games like Candyland with fast overturn (meaning the child does not have to wait long for his/her turn to come again) and simple, visual directions lay the foundation for moving into conversational turn-taking. It teaches the “why” of turn-taking without having to be explicit.

Other games that are helpful in teaching turn-taking are Go Fish and Pop Up Pirate.

So I found this particular game board at my local Deseret Industries (a thrift store operated by my church), and at first I was just excited to find it for $1.50! But when I opened it, I may have squealed a bit.

candyland try this one

This board game definitely belonged to a speech therapist or an early childhood teacher. They put all those letters on each color! Bless their hearts.

This is an easy way to sneak in some pre-reading skills to Candyland. I have Chicka Chicka tell me the letter, and then make the sound. Score!

So dig into the depths of your game shelf/closet, and dust off Candyland- it might just make for an awesome fun and educational afternoon!

Water Table Wednesday!

Sensory water table. spigot

We are on Day 3 of Sensory Week! Whoo-hoo!

So today I am taking advantage of alliteration and calling today Water Table Wednesday!

I have had a water table for a few years, and honestly, I’ve struggled to know what to do with it. I see beautiful, elaborate “mini-worlds” and “sensory bins” made with them on Pinterest and I just know that’s not going to happen. Half the toys will end up in the mud or sandbox, and anything that should not be eaten will most definitely be eaten (water beads, I’m looking at you!)

So today, I want to give you some of the more realistic yet engaging water table activities I’ve found on the internet. A Water Table Wednesday Round-Up, if you will.

Obviously the main reason your child will want to play with a water table is water. But Allison of Learn Play Imagine makes a very good point: some children do not like being forced to be put into (more than likely) cold hose water. Now, I suppose you could bust out lukewarm Evian, but I think we all agree that setting it up and letting your child “discover” the water is a much better option. Plus, an activity that a child chooses is automatically more engaging than an activity they are forced to do. Consider it a perk.

Now, before the internet etiquette police chew me out for not linking to Allison’s website, here is the link. Her opinion on letting a child discover a water activity is embedded in her awesome post about Ice Cube Play! Simply put food coloring and water into ice cube trays, then fill up your water table (or bin, or bucket, etc.) with water. Let your child drop the ice cubes into the water and watch them melt and color the water! If you have older children, you could do this as a race to see who’s ice cube melts the fastest. You could also use Kool-aid mix for the coloring if you are wary of traditional food coloring.

My next one is from No Time for Flash Cards, and it involves bubbles. The link is HERE, but basically you add food coloring to bubbles and whisk them together. How fun, right!! And just in case you aren’t aware, the bubbles will eventually turn murky brown as your child furiously whisks every single color you have in your pantry. If your child may not be able to handle that, I would suggest separate bins for each color mixing.

My next one is from, and all you need for this one is those squeezy condiment bottles. I am 93.6% sure I have seen these at the dollar store, so no excuses people! This is a similar concept to the bubble-whisk activity, but you put colored water in the condiment bottles and squeeze. I love this one because there is a muscle-strengthening component of squeezing the bottles, which can be a great way to improve coordination and finger strength (think pre-writing skills!)

My next one comes all the way from the land of koala bears and insects that are just too big, courtesy of This one uses metal bowls, pots/pans, and lids to generate music! Simply add water to the metal bowls to change the pitch, then hit them with a rock or spoon or something! I love this because it teaches cause and effect: when you put more or less water in the bowl, it makes a different sound. You could also talk with an older child about pitch and vibration and such (follow this up with the Magic School Bus episode and voila! a great afternoon).

My final link comes from Where Imagination Grows, and it is the suggestion that I have used with my own children with great success. Set your water table up with soap and wash stuff. This particular link washes animals, but you can also do plastic dolls (and their clothes!), duplos, rocks, basically anything washable! This is so perfect because it is totally child-directed play. Let them guide the play, make choices, and maybe even sneak in a few “problems” that your child can solve!

So here’s to Water Table Wednesday! Don’t feel overwhelmed and inadequate by what you see on Pinterest. Just get outside and let the play happen!

My Inspiration for Speak Up Little Buttercup

Hello and welcome! This is my foray into the official blogging world. I’ve tried to do little family blogs in the past, but I never stuck with them because life, as it always does, gets crazy and then it gets crazier.

I was inspired to start this blog because I am currently a stay-at-home mom to my two children, Chicka Chicka, who is 4, and Boom Boom, who is 18 months old. I am also a licensed speech therapist, and I worked with the special needs preschool and kindergarten population while I worked. I loved my job (well, maybe not all the paperwork), and I learned so much working with that demographic. I know being a stay-at-home mom is where I need to be right now, but I also feel a pull to stay connected to the speech therapy community.

So, I want to combine my two worlds. While working, I saw a great need for speech therapy techniques and principles that parents could use at home. Easy, simple, and integrated into their day. Working with very small children, I saw several parents who just honestly had no idea how to connect and teach their children. It wasn’t their fault in any way- so many of them were blindsided by an autism diagnosis or, even more difficult, no answers at all.

My goal with Speak Up Buttercup is to provide real-life strategies and techniques that parents can adapt to use through the good, the bad, and the ugly of parenting children of any and all abilities. I also want to share what is going on in my life at home with my children, and ways that I incorporate language development into our everyday life. I am not perfect, by any means, nor do I intend to portray myself as such.

So whether you are concerned about your toddler, or you are looking for solutions and support for dealing with your preschooler, come and join me in this crazy roller coaster of raising children!