Integrating Thematic-Fantasy Play and Phonological Awareness Activities in a Speech-Language Preschool Environment

Article excerpt

This report describes the experimental integration of two selected intervention strategies for children with speech articulation/phonological disorders in a preschool setting: 1) thematic-fantasy play (TFP) and 2) phonological awareness instruction. The treatment philosophy is based upon tenets of phonological development and the anticipated positive effects of play training on learning. Intervention was performed over a ten-week period in a self-contained phonology preschool group of four, four-year-old children. Effects of combining thematic-fantasy play and activities targeting discrimination and production of rhyming words were examined. Findings suggested positive gains in phonological awareness across the group. Potential benefit for generalization of metaphonological skills to other contexts was also pointed out.

The University of South Florida Communication Disorders Center (USF-CDC) has established ongoing speech-language intervention programs for children with delays in communication skills development. At our Center, clients are served in small, self-contained preschool environments which provide treatment to groups of four-to-eight children simultaneously. In order to address individual client needs, children are typically grouped with others who have similar intervention goals. This study focuses on a group of children in a phonology group that specifically targets speech production and phonological awareness.

Recent research has suggested that critical levels of phonological awareness can be improved through skilled instruction (Chard & Dickson, 1999). These findings have significant clinical implications for children with phonological disorders given the relationship between expressive phonology/ speech articulation and phonological awareness. Moreover, decreased phonological processing abilities at the preschool level have been found to hinder early reading development for both children with and without communication disorders (Fletcher et al., 1994). Therefore, basic instruction in phonological awareness, such as rhyming activities, with preschool children has been indicated. It has been suggested that the use of highly engaging, developmentally appropriate activities for teaching early phonological awareness facilitates subsequent acquisition of reading skills (Smith, Simmons, & Kameenui, 1998).

However, many so-called "highly engaging" activities currently employed with young children involve highly structured practice using direct word repetition, colored word cards, and pictures (Chard & Dickson, 1999). Such practices fall short of developmentally appropriate and increase the risk of numerous pitfalls for learners including decreased attention, fatigue, frustration, and lack of generalization to other contexts. One aim of the present study was to introduce more developmentally appropriate procedures for teaching phonological awareness to children under the age of five. It is also clearly in the interest of language and literacy development to provide preschool children with dramatic play experiences that draw from familiar thematic contexts (Ferguson, 1999). To be sure, the advantages of having children actively involved in expressive role-play should be self-evident in comparison to structured drill and practice. However, it was outside the scope of this experiment to compare instructional methods using a sample group and a control group. As a pilot project, the following procedures were applied using an experimental group of children who had previously shown little or no progress with rhyme discrimination and rhyme production skills even after eight weeks of traditional therapy.

Methods

Four, four-year-old male subjects with phonological disorders received experimental intervention integrating thematic-fantasy play (TFP) and phonological awareness instruction in a speech-language preschool environment. Five graduate clinicians in speech-language pathology alternated the responsibility of leading group activities with the children. …