Tiny Talkers wrap up 15th year

Published 4:52 am Thursday, August 10, 2006

By By JOHN EBY / Dowagiac Daily News
"Tiny Talkers" is a limiting name for a 15-year-old summer speech and language program students stay with long enough to grow socially as well as taller. Some have been in it for three years.
Wrapping up its 15th four-week session at Justus Gage Elementary School this week, one of the leaders of a floor exercise involving James Tovey is his big sister, Briana, who "graduated" last summer.
The Sister Lakes children's grandmother, Rose Tovey, swears by Tiny Talkers and the patient caring of its staff, particularly teachers Sue Balazer and Heather Nash.
Each summer program is built around a theme, such as the circus or camping. This year it's "Fiesta," with plastic cactus, sombreros and a table laden with refreshments such as salsa and black chips that look like a bowl of bat wings.
"We try to target with everything we do 20 to 30 vocabulary words that we're all going to practice," Balazer explained during Wednesday morning's break between rehearsal and a presentation for parents.
"We have a classroom fine motor center, and a speech therapy center, which is myself, and a movement center," she said. "All of the groups use the same vocabulary," such as "tortilla. I was looking for the beginning sounds of those words."
During the four weeks, the program runs Monday through Thursday, 9 to 11:40 a.m. The 20 children range in age from 3 1/2 to 7. Those younger than school age have been referred by a speech therapist.
"We do sometimes get kids in the program from Edwardsburg or Cass, but most of them are Dowagiac kids," Balazer said. "Either we maintain speech and language skills or we improve them. That's our goal. Once they can make those beginning sounds, the challenge is to have them put them in words. The little show demonstrates to parents what we've been working on. By having to put on a performance further helps the child want to say the sounds correctly. That social skill is the driving force behind improvement."
"We took two field trips, too" in Dowagiac, Nash said. One to Taco Bell to sample Mexican cuisine. They also visited Miss Kathy's School of Dance to learn a Mexican dance.