Whitney Smith, SLP
As I write this, many of you are experiencing extremely cold weather courtesy of the Polar Vortex. While we’re definitely not seeing temperatures in the negatives as some of you are, things are pretty chilly here in South GA!
Many of my students in the South have never experienced snow (at least snow that sticks), so I always look forward to our Winter-themed therapy activities each year. We always designate two weeks to learn about the Arctic and Antarctic and the animals that live in both Polar Regions of the world.
One of my favorite books to teach this time of year is Pierre the Penguin by Jean Marzollo. It’s a fantastic non-fiction children’s book about an African penguin named Pierre. He lives with 19 other African penguins in the California Academy of Sciences museum. Pierre loses his feathers and is too cold to swim. The aquatic biologist that cares for the penguins sets out to find a way for Pierre to get warm again. It is an amazing story about problem solving, kindness, perseverance, dedication, creativity, and love. And spoiler alert: It has a really happy ending!
In addition to reading the book, the California Academy of Sciences museum has a live penguin camera in their penguin exhibit! You can pull it up in your classroom and watch the penguins eat, waddle, dive, and swim in the water!
While reading this book, we take time to learn about the 17 different species of penguins. Pierre is an African penguin. Unlike many other types of penguins, African penguins don’t like ice. They live in the warm waters along the coast of Africa. I also make sure that the students understand that penguins don’t live near polar bears! Contrary to many beliefs, penguins don’t live in the Arctic at all! Quite a few species of penguins live in Antarctica though!
In addition to Pierre the Penguin, we read other factual books about penguins too. We compare and contrast the different species of penguins, learn new vocabulary, and learn about the penguin life cycle. We answer comprehension questions, sequence the events of the story, and with my older students, we talk about the author’s purpose in writing the different books.
I love using books in speech therapy. While I’m working on all of my students’ goals, I’m promoting literacy and a love for reading at the same time. From comprehension, to sequencing, vocabulary to story retell, social skills, fluency, articulation, etc., I can target just about any goal on my caseload using just one book! I have two book companions I made for Pierre the Penguin that help me target these goals. One companion is mostly in color, with a few black and white pages for worksheets or take-home practice. The second companion is completely No Prep, and includes all new activities that allow you to simply print and go! You can find both in my store on Teachers Pay Teachers.
We also make a penguin craft, which is a great opportunity to practice following directions for some of my younger students and writing for some of the older students. The craft is by Jenn Alcorn at Crazy Speech World, and is available in her store on Teachers Pay Teachers.
And of course, what’s a good therapy theme without games for reinforcement?!?! I like incorporating new games when they fit appropriately with a theme. They keep the students engaged and excited about learning throughout the therapy session. The blow up penguin bowling set came from the Target Dollar Spot, as did the Penguin ball popper; however, you can purchase similar ones on Amazon.
Thin Ice is a new favorite of ours this year. I love this game because each turn is easy and quick, which allows for lots and lots of trials each therapy session! It’s perfect for articulation practice (say a sound/word/sentence, take a turn)!
In case you don’t already own this amazing book, you can purchase it from Amazon, most book stores, or check it out from the library!
There are so many options for incorporating activities into a penguin theme in addition to these. You could make fake snow, use cotton balls in a small plastic tub and add animals for an easy sensory bin, incorporate technology by watching short clips of real penguins on Youtube, bring in real ice to describe how it looks, smells, feels, and tastes, and so much more! Have you ever used a penguin theme in therapy? I’d love to hear what you do with your students!