Arrrr Matey…or How I Spent my Summer as a Pirate Princess!

This summer I was working with my adorable, 5 year old twin girl clients on the dreaded “aww pwoblem” (correct articulation of /r/ – the nemesis of many a speech-language pathologist!).  Pulling from my standard cache of strategies, I gave the following cues for correct articulatory placement for /r/.  In kid-speak that is, “bite down on your back teeth, smile and push the tip of your tongue waaaay back!”  I generally follow this with, “and no CHICKEN LIPS!” (Adult translation of chicken lips – lips rounded in a pucker.  Try saying, “no chicken lips with your lips puckered the entire time – it is more fun than you would think and it cracks up the kids every time!).  With these cues on our minds, we set out to practice our /r/ words.  Close….but not there yet!  Too many substitutions of /w/ for /r/ (caused by lip rounding, a.k.a., the troublesome chicken lips!) and substitutions of /l/ for /r/ (this means the tongue tip is behind the front teeth when it needs to be in the middle of the hard palate).  Digging deeper in my bag of tricks, I exclaimed, “Ladies, we need to be PIRATES!  Bite down those back teeth, give me your best pirate sneer and shout ARRRR!”  Eureka!  We had an /r/!  A bit dramatic, but a start nonetheless!  However, pirates are not known for their best behavior and chronic silliness ensued!  Time for some behavior expectations and the birth of the Pirate Princess Girls Club!  (I thought the princess part was a little over the top, but I was quickly out-voted!)

Rules of the Pirate Girls Club

1.  We are lovely young ladies who happen to be pirates!

2.  Our tongues stay in our mouths!  (My girls also had a frontal lisp, so this rule served as a reminder.)

3.  No BOYS!

4.  No sad faces (Much to my delight, the girls came up with this rule on their own!)

Quite pleased, I figured these were excellent rules and certainly rules that I could live with!  We quickly determined the need for Pirate Princess names and became the scurvy band of pirate girls known as Twirly, Curly and Sprinkles (that’s me!).  Having friends and family who indulge my quirks, I promptly informed them of my intentions to be a pirate for the summer.  Luckily, they were all on board and no one was forced to walk the plank! Now we needed pirate activities to practice our good /r/’s.  Being generous pirates, we will share our pirate secrets with you!

Pirate Girl Activities

1.  All pirates need treasure, so make pirate bracelets, stringing beads to spell your fearsome pirate names.  One bead earned for every 5 /r/ words practiced.

2.  Make pirate hats and eye-patches and other pirate-y crafts with materials found at your local craft store.  Be sure to have your pirates earn their “booty” (glittery foam letters to spell their pirate names, stick on jewels, and sparkly skull and crossbones are standard pirate wages for good /r/’s).  (A word to the wise adult pirate….look for crafts that have peel off sticky tape so that you don’t have to bother with glue or worse…hot glue gunning!  Pirate Girl Sprinkles took home an ambitious foam pirate ship that we could not construct during speech and attempted to hot glue it…my fingertips are just beginning to heal!).

3.  Create doubloons (or yellow construction paper cut in circles) with /r/ words written or drawn by your pirates.

4.   Build and decorate a treasure box!  We took a box that formerly held sugar packets, covered it in tissue paper and decorated it with more glittery stick-ons that were of course acquired through /r/ practice.  The treasure box held our stash of doubloons and was used to transport /r/ words home to practice with pirate parents!  (Added bonus – hide the doubloons and have your pirates search for them, saying the word on the doubloon 3 times each upon discovery!).

5.  Create a pirate word list!  Fortunately, pirate words are loaded with /r/’s!  Here are some of our favorites:  “shiver me timbers,”  “me hearties,” “ye scurvy dogs,” jolly roger,” “quit yer caterwaulin” and of course, “ARRRRGH!”

6.  Read pirate books which are loaded with /r/ words!  Curly, Twirly and I recommend the following:

  • Everything I know about Pirates by  Tom Lichtenheld
  • How I Became a Pirate and Pirates Don’t Change Diapers by Melinda Long and David Shannon
  • Pirate Girl by Cornelia Funke
  • Do Pirates Take Baths? by Kathy Tucker
Keep in mind, there is a developmental hierarchy to /r/.
1.  Begin with single words that start with /r/ (the reason /r/ is presented in between backslashes is that it references the SOUND /r/, not the letter r.  Remember, that some words that begin with the sound /r/ are spelled with the letters wr.  That’s ok – the important thing is to have words that represent the sound /r/!)  Practice /r/ in the initial position of single words until your little pirate achieves at least 85% accuracy.
2. After you have achieved 85% accuracy in single words, move onto /r/ in the initial position in carrier phrases.  Carrier phrases are phrases that remain the same (such as “I see a ______,”  “I have a ______,”  “I found a ________”) and only the word you are practicing changes.  Practice to 85% accuracy.
3.  Practice /r/ words in the initial position in sentences to 85% accuracy.
4.  Introduce /r/blends in the initial position in single words.  These are words that start with a consonant plus  /r/.  (e.g.,  bread, fruit, tree, etc.)  Follow the same procedure as listed in 1-3; single words, carrier phrases and sentences all to 85% accuracy.
5.  Finally, the very challenging vocalic /r/.  This is a vowel + /r/ (e.g., car, her, bird, mother).  I won’t lie, these are tough!  The reason is that the for the vowel, the tongue does not have to do much…it basically lays flat in the mouth, while the /r/ requires significant elevation and backward motion.  The key is to focus on the /r/, exaggerate the /r/ and follow the hierarchy of single words, carrier phrases and sentences!  Be patient!
Once your little pirate has mastered /r/ in all positions through the sentence level  facilitate /r/ in conversation by catching your pirate in the act of mispronouncing /r/.   A raised eyebrow and a “what???” is usually all it takes!
I loved my summer as a pirate girl!  Being a pirate is actually quite liberating and fun!  I hope you landlubbers find these suggestions helpful.  I welcome  your comments, suggestions, favorite pirate activities and questions!

10 thoughts on “Arrrr Matey…or How I Spent my Summer as a Pirate Princess!

  1. Wonderful first post, Sprinkles. Your creativity amazes me…and is, I’m sure a tremendous benefit to your clients. You Da Best!

  2. Boy, Elizabeth, you almost make me want to be a girl, too! 😉

    Pet peeve: you wrote that your r’s are enclosed in backslashes, however, “\” is a backslash. You used “/” which are forward slashes (or, simply, “slashes” or, less commonly, “strokes”). Related to these is “|”, “vertical bar”, or “v-bar” for short.

    • Thanks Dan! Boys can certainly be pirates too! I appreciate your comments regarding the “backslash” – I always value semantic advancement! Somehow, “r enclosed in forward slashes” does not roll off the tongue quite so easily – but I will practice so not to suffer any undue tech-y backlash!!!!

  3. LOVE IT! Thanks so much for posting this on Penelope the Purple Pirate’s FB Page! What a fun post and great advice for speech therapist/parents! When I was younger I had to see a speech therapist for about a year working on certain sounds. I have fond memories of the kindness they showed me and LOVED their sticker book I got to choose from =) I can send you Penelope stickers, etc. if you would like!

    Melissa Northway, author of Penelope the Purple Pirate

  4. Pingback: Shiver Me Timbers! It’s Worrrrrdy Wednesday, Me Hearties! | growingkidstherapy

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