Friday, June 5, 2009

Picture Cards, Make Your Own

Language development... we’re all working toward it everyday with our children. We talk to them, sing to them, read to them, sign to them... But we know that reciprocation, our children being able to verbalize to us, comes later than their ability to understand language. So in the meantime we are teaching them other methods of communicating with us, using sign language and picture cards.

There are some good picture card resources out there. For free on the web, you can download and print cards from the See and Learn Language and Reading program. I like these cards because they use children with Down syndrome as models, the images are very realistic, and access to the cards is free. However, you still have printing costs, laminating costs, and the colors on the cards blend together too much, which I think might make object differentiation hard.

You could also purchase premade packs of First Word card sets. There are several packages to choose from, the colors are good but the sets are pricey and not all of the pictures in each set will be useful with every baby. Do I really care if my baby learns what a car key is?

To get the perfect set of picture cards for your baby, you have to make your own. It is easy to do and you will end up with a set of cards that is realistic, durable (chew-proof!), and specific to your baby’s world. When you make your own cards using your baby’s spoon, bottle, books, family members, etc., your baby can immediately recognize the object. Using cards from other sources means your baby has to be able to generalize that the picture of a cup is a representation of his cup. When your baby sees a picture of himself reading one of his books, it makes more sense than seeing a picture of just a random book cover.

All you need to get started is a camera, prints, and self-sealing lamination pouches.

Step 1. Take pictures of the objects your baby uses... his spoon and bowl, his bottle with milk in it, his cup, him reading his favorite book, you, his siblings, happy faces, sad faces, the family pet, toys, his crib... You can look at premade card sets to get ideas or jot down notes as you go through a couple days with your baby.

Step 2. Crop and print the pictures so that the object is the main thing in each picture.

Step 3. Laminate the pictures back to back so that each card has a front and back picture. Do not put pictures that could be offered as choices in the same pouch. You want your baby to be able to see both choices at the same time so that he can point to the card that has the object he wants.

Step 4. Show your baby the appropriate card prior to doing whatever is on the card. Before you know it, your baby will realize that the card represents the upcoming action or activity. Long before he can say he prefers an apple to a banana, he can choose the picture of an apple at snack time.

You can also use the cards when you are reading to help your child with generalization. When you get to a picture of a ball in the story, show your baby the picture of his ball. It is important that you also say and sign the word when you use pictures. Picture cards are a resource for enhancing language development and facilitating communication, not a total replacement for signing/speaking.

Your Turn
What picture cards are you using with you baby? Let me know and I will add a link here to your post about it.

Lori: Special Connection Homeschool: Introducing Reading with Sight Words
Perplexing Situation: Friday Organization


  1. Picture cards are a great idea! We did not have as many home made ones though. I do agree though, that seeing pictures familiar to their own world is the best way to go about it!

    When we used picture cards I was also sure to have the printed word under each card. As my daughter learned what the picture was, she also learned the actual word for it which enhanced her ability to read and even her speech as she got older. Her ability to read early sight words was the number one greatest thing we did to enhance her speech, I can't say that enough!

    I recently blogged about some of the early reading activities we did. Some of those ideas came from the book Teaching Reading to Children With Down Syndrome. It also has pages full of cards you can copy and use to do this same sort of thing. But again, this idea of taking pictures of your child and making your own is the best way to do it!

  2. Lori, you just gave me a thought... why not print off a word label and add it to the picture prior to laminating it! I am going to try that to encourage site word recognition. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  3. I have an album of photos I took of Matthew's toys, shoes, favorite food, etc. I'm on the hunt for a good laminating machine. Got any recommendations? I also have a planned post about reading/ sight reading and find the book Teaching Reading to Children with Down Syndrome very very helpful. As far as adding words to the photos, another mom who has an 11 year old with DS suggested to have the word separate from the photo. If the photo and the word are on the same page, the child tends to look at the photo and not the word.

  4. This is a great post. John Michael's (18 months old) special ed teacher suggested making a spiral bound book of photos, words and signs all connected to familiar people and objects he uses and sees every day. Similar to the word/picture cards, but with the signs attached as well.

  5. I'm completely useless with laminating (can never get the bubbles out!) so I use card protectors that they sell for baseball or postcard collectors. Plus I can change the pictures if she's not using that particular picture anymore.

    Picture cards are Kayla's primary means of communication (she in nonverbal and doesn't sign). We have the pictures on the fridge of her snacks, drinks and other items and the takes the picture off, seeks us out, and hands us the photo.

  6. Nice tutorial! I remember being overwhelmed when advised to make a visual schedule and other visuals for my son when he was diagnosed with autism, and this is exactly what I needed.

    Thanks again for sharing your post on the developmental journal with 5 Minutes for Special Needs. :)

  7. Why not implement both ideas? Put the word on the picture and laminate it to have both on one page. But also have another set of pictures with no words and a set words with no pictures to play a matching game with to help them learn the connection? It's the best of both worlds!

  8. Instead of laminating (as I don't have one), I bought a small photo album and inserted my pictures into that.

    I also made labels with my label maker and the computer and just taped the labels on.

    Here's a great link for sight words and premade flashcards for the sight words. They are based on Dolch's 220 most common words.

  9. I advise all moms with yound babies with DS to BUY A LAMINATING MACHINE. It is well worth it in the long run. You will use it for (examples):
    1.picture cards of HIS stuff (as noted above) for speech work
    2. picture cards to allow choices (BTW, allowing a child to make choices is one of the first steps in abuse prevention)
    3.organizers (pics on one page what I need to taske for a bath/ to the beach/ what I need to do before going to bed/ steps in making sandwhich/ etc
    4 Reading word cards
    5. Reading games (like placecards with family names for the yable, etc.)
    6. BOOKS that target YOUR child (about things that happen in HIS life)
    7 behavior books (made specifically to target problems you are having.) (But use a stick man- not the child's name, but someone imaginary... so you can say "See, you wouldn't do like "Tom", you're too smart...."

    For further examples, see my article at:

    (Hopefully some day soon will publish a piece on social stories.)

  10. The See and Learn pre-made kits are now available from DownsEd USA online, and the prices are quite reasonable (~40 for the first kit). You'll want to laminate them, though (I agree, buy a laminator!). In those kits, the sight words are on the back and the photo is on the front. They encourage you to "play" by facing the photo down, and letting your child turn it over so they'll both see the sight word then the associated picture.


Please share your experience and opinions, or ask a question. I won't even mind if you correct me on something.

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