SALISBURY — Last week, young campers at Interactive Health Therapies took an imaginary journey to the beach.
They created foam flower leis to wear, decorated bottles filled sand and seashells, made seahorses out of colored paper and listened to the sound of the ocean with a conch shell.
These activities aren’t just for fun — they’re conversation starters. The summer day camp is meant to improve communication for children with speech and language disorders.
Geraldine Maldonado, lead speech therapist, pointed to something one girl was holding last week and asked, “What’s that?”
“A rock,” replied Willa Myers, a rising third-grader at North Rowan Elementary School.
The word sounded a little like “wok.”
“Rrrock,” Maldonado said, drawing out the “r” sound and pointing to her mouth. “Try again, and get that tongue up high.”
On her next try, Willa formed the sound correctly.
“Good job,” Maldonado said.
She praised Willa, who is shy and quiet, for speaking up and answering questions.
“When I first started with her, she couldn’t make eye contact,” Maldonado said. “These kids have grown a lot.”
Maldonado and Kathy Gowan, speech pathologist, keep asking questions as the children work and play.
One day last week, they asked what kinds of things live in the ocean and what those creatures are like. They also prompted the children to describe the things they do at the beach, like building sandcastles using buckets and shovels.
The Interactive Health Therapies camp is held from June 17 through July 27 this year for children ages 3-8. This is the camp’s second year.
Each week has a different theme, and children can join the camp for one week or several. They attend on either Tuesday and Thursday or Monday and Wednesday, at different times of day based on age group.
Margaret Pashoian, marketing coordinator for the speech therapy center, said the day camp continues the progress that many of the students have made at school.
“The kids have a great time, and it supports their speech therapy over the summer,” Pashoian said.
Children are referred to Interactive Health Therapies by schools, pediatricians, dentists, parents and others.
Maldonado said the instructors use each child’s language goals to tailor the program to his or her individual needs.
“Language goals go beyond speech and articulation, where you make your sounds properly,” she said. “It’s socialization skills, sequencing, following directions and memory.”
The camp serves a variety of children, including those who have autism or whose first language is not English.
Together with the therapists, they participate in crafts, games and other activities, learning how to work with each other.
In small groups, children with speaking difficulties can become more confident and comfortable talking to others. Those who have trouble waiting their turn are encouraged to listen and be patient.
The campers are also given private therapy sessions to focus more on their individual goals.
“A lot of the older kids have language goals like answering ‘wh’ questions,” Maldonado said. “Some of their goals are using five-word utterances or more, so we’re trying to get them to produce longer sentences.”
The younger children might play games designed to exercise the mouth muscles, like trying to touch their nose with their tongue or blowing through harmonicas.
“If they can’t put their tongue in the right place, they can’t make the proper sounds,” Maldonado said.
Ixchel Hernandez, a rising second-grader at Knollwood Elementary, said she likes making crafts at the camp.
She said she really enjoyed the recent pirate week, when she learned how to say, “Shiver me timbers!”
Caleb Stewart Coleman, a rising third-grader at North Rowan Elementary School, said he attends the camp on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
He said he has learned that a whale is an orca, and an orca is a sea creature.
“I like the toys and art supplies and snacks and food, and the games as well,” Caleb said. “I have an awesome time.”
For more information about the Interactive Health Therapies speech and language camp, call 704-762-9282.