Administering Tests to Toddlers
“Are you kidding?” I chuckled to myself at the thought of the title of this blog entry.
In grad school, I actually thought that you evaluated a toddler's speech and language skills by breaking out a standardized testing tool and you administered the test and that was that. Well, that sounds fabulous, but let me tell you all of the things that can go wrong when you use that approach on its own.
For starters, the toddler may be shy. Shyness will keep any child from showing you what they can or cannot do. They will cling to their parent, they may cry, or they may be so weary of you they may keep their little eyeballs on you like you could turn into a monster at any moment.
Or, the little toddler you are "testing" can be as active as the Tazmanian Devil. There is no sitting down for this child. They are moving, climbing furniture, and quite frankly they do not care what you are saying to them; they have better things to do than to sit down with you while you try to score your test.
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The toddler you are assessing may be practicing what they do best, i.e., living up to the “terrible twos.” They may hit, scratch and protest because they feel like it, or just downright refuse to cooperate. It is the job of a two-year-old to practice and exercise their ability to refuse for the heck of it. Oh, and don't forget the toddlers who bite. That is extra fun. Try to put a picture book in front of a biter when they are not feeling it.
And, don’t forget the mouthing todds. These are the toddlers you attempt to evaluate that put absolutely everything in their mouth or at least drool on it. This makes offering a picture book or other manipulative, well, just a bit more challenging.
So what to do? Well one idea is to do what toddlers do best, and that is "test" through play. Bubbles, trains, balls and wind-up toys are my go-to toys of choice. I start with an ice breaker as soon as possible so my evaluation doesn't take five hours while I wait for the shy toddler to come around. I get straight to playing and having fun. Pretty soon, the toddler forgets I am a stranger and maybe, just maybe, I am worthy of a second glance.
While I play I ask the parents questions about what their toddler can do. Can they say words on their own? Can they imitate gestures, sounds or words? Do they know and respond to their name consistently? Do they understand simple directions like “time to eat” or “no/stop?” While I interview the parent I continue to play with the toddler. We look at their favorite books. We might stack a few blocks. All the while, I watch their eye gaze, their joint attention and their ability to play back and forth with me.
You see, play can reveal a ton of information that sometimes a standardized tool cannot catch. These test although a great framework and necessary if you need a percentile or age level will give you just that—a number. And that number can be slightly difficult to obtain if you rely on administering a test to a toddler, just because the fact is toddlers tend to do better when tasks are not paper and pen, when they are not ‘circle the correct answer,’ and they are not ‘fill in the blank.’ They tend to do better when they can show you what they do best and what they do best is PLAY!