Over the past few weeks, my children have been using Color My Conversation (CMC) by Northern Speech Services (NSS), and today it’s time to bring you our thoughts and experiences in this review. Why did I want to try this product out? Has it worked for us? Let’s find out.
Why was I interested in Color My Conversation?
My children don’t have any special needs or learning difficulties; they can hold a conversation very well with those they know, such as family, friends, and librarians, so why would I be interested in CMC?
My children are introverts like me, particularly my elder son. He recently turned 9, but he gets uptight thinking about saying hello or goodbye to the shop owners when we visit; even though we’ve been going to the same local family-run shops since he was born and he’s familiar the people who work there.
Unfortunately, where we live, it isn’t considered to be a good thing if you aren’t outgoing and voiceterous, and because I’m also introverted, my children don’t always see me having small talk, though I do try for their sake.
My idea was to use CMC as a confidence-builder; to give my children the mental tools and strategies to use before going into a social situation so that they would know what to expect, have ways to answer, and feel more confident speaking in public. I know I benefited from my time with Toastmasters International before I left Canada, and I was hoping that CMC would be like a child-friendly version.
You know that if I just tried to role-play situations myself (as I have done in the past), it’s ‘just Mom’ and isn’t necessarily taken seriously and we all feel silly. But by using CMC, it becomes an actual class, and therefore has more weight behind it.
What was included with this product?
You’ll get most everything you’ll need within the large pizza-sized box. (All you’ll need to provide is a pc to view the discs, a printer, pens, and optional construction paper, string, and beads.)
- Instructional Manual on CD
- Detailed instructions and scenerios
- Reproducible Worksheets & Activities
- Letters to parents
- Song Lyrics
- 12 CMC Songs on CD
- 12 Conversation Path Dry Erase Stepping Stone Floor Graphics
- Classroom Poster
- CMC Ball
- 50 Dry Erasable Wall Display Cards
- 2 Dry Erase Pens
- Game Board with 4 additional activities on the back
- 100 Topic Prompt Picture/Emotion Cards
- 50 Game Tokens in a handy pull-string pouch for convenience
- Cloth Ribbon (approx. 9.5ft)
- There are also online training videos
How CMC works
CMC is aimed at children between the ages of 5 and 12, with some overlap in the Beginner’s Intermediate, and Expert sections. There are elements that can be adapted for children younger and older, and is a great program for children with autism and other learning or developmental concerns.
CMC has the conversation coach (in this case, me), work with my children and help them notice the patterns in everyday conversation. The basic parts of a conversation are colour-coded which helps children remember; there’s even a craft that can be done to help children remember this order while away from the classroom.
In the Beginner’s level children learn that each conversation begins and ends with the yellow bookends of greetings. A short conversation adds in a conversation starter (How are you?) and a conversation stopper (I have to go!). A long conversation brings in other topics to the middle of the conversation, and children build their own library of conversation topics; both those things that they like to talk about, but they also think about what others like to talk about (a conversation isn’t always just about you). Eye contact is also emphasised in this program.
One thing I like about this program is the combination of learning manners that are used; colour-coding for visual learners, movement (tossing a ball) for kinesthetic learners, and speaking for auditory learners. The way this program works reminds me a lot of the system used during my time teaching children English while I was in Japan…and it worked. Both of my children enjoyed the songs and listened to them several times.
The next levels up take things to the table and move away from using the ball, and towards board games and other fun activities that work more on developing the middle of the conversation; thinking about more topics to talk about, how to move from one topic to another smoothly, etc.
If you are teaching this as a class to others, there are even letters to parents included! For a little fun, I did print these off and the kids gave them to Phil when he arrived home after work so he knew what they were doing. When possible, I printed off the letters and homework onto the colour of paper that corresponded with the current learning colour (yellow, green, blue, etc.)
The lessons are flexible; you can do one a week for about 45 minutes, or two a week for about 30 minutes each. There are also some activities and worksheets for children to do between official lessons (home work). For the first two lessons we had one lesson a week, and after that we had two a week. Now that we’ve moved up to the Intermediate level, we’re dividing the lessons up a little further to incorporate the home work into the lesson time.
CMC is set up to last between 14 and 16 weeks, but it can be spread out to work up to about a year. Currently, because of the age of my children, and taking a mid-lesson break, it’s going to be somewhere in the middle for us. I will see how far we go before it becomes too difficult for my children and then stop. We can pick it up again with a refresher and then continue again in a year or two or three when they’re ready to go deeper into the topic.
Did it work for us?
Now for the big question…did CMC work as I had hoped that it would? Did Tristan and Kallista become more confident and talk to the clerks when we were out?
Armed with their library of topics of conversation (which they’re diagramming in the photo above), after completing the final small conversation lesson in the beginner’s section, we found ourselves out in town with a list of places we needed to stop at. I’ve been trying (for years) to have my children greet the clerks upon entering and exiting the shops, but without much luck. Kallista has done it on occasion, but Tristan only at the library where he feels most at home.
Would today be any different? We stopped outside the chemist to see if Tristan was ready. You could see the cogs turning in his mind as he took a deep breath and walked through the sliding door and up to the counter.
He said in a nice clear voice, “Hi, how are you today?” To which the clerk looked completely surprised and delighted! I’d like to pick up a prescription for xyz, please” “Thank you, I’d also like to buy this, today.” And he counted out the cash and paid. On our way out the door, both children said, “Goodbye!”
I was so proud of Tristan using all his courage and sounding just like an adult in his conversation. I know how difficult it was for him.
Next we went to the green grocer’s and he again started a short conversation, asked for some eggs, and paid. Then onto the bakery. He stood at the side of the counter by the walkway so he could see eye-to-eye as the counters are much taller than him. He ordered perfectly, handed over some money, and figured out in his head how much change he would get back, then counted it back to me.
Wow! One morning, three shops, and all perfectly executed! To see the looks of amazement on the faces of the clerks who for years haven’t been able to get him to say hello, and he was starting conversations with them; it was priceless!
Tristan said knowing what to do helped, but he was nervous that they might say something he wasn’t prepared for, but everything went like clockwork.
This is what I’ve been looking forward to for such a long time. And he was so happy to tell Phil when he arrived home from work that day.
Kallista is slightly more outgoing and loves to pay, but doesn’t usually say much at all. The week before, she and I stopped for milk on the way home from Ju-jitsu, and she had a short conversation with the shop employee, too.
I think we’re on our way; the real test will be in the fall after we’ve worked through more lessons and the children can practice longer conversations with the kids at Ju-jitsu, and the book club. Or even at shops they aren’t familiar with, but I know they’ll be able to do it after they add to their topics library and play the games with the conversation topics cards.
Things to keep in mind
Every program is going to have things that work better for some people than others. This program is meant for single learners or for small groups, and I’d say that is just about right. Depending on your child, it may be better to have someone other than an immediate family member do the teaching, but with everything laid out so well, it would be easy to have someone else teach it to your child.
It sounds like you may need a large space to do use CMC, but we have only a very small space (and with current DIY, I moved things out of the way for these photos), but it can absolutely be done. I commandeered a door for the visuals; the poster, the small stepping-stones, the song lyrics, and the conversation topic libraries. This was near our front door so the kids could have a glance over them before they left the house so they could prepare for having a conversation with others.
The teacher’s guide on the CD contains a lot of information, which is in no way bad; if feels even more like you’re getting more value for your money, but it does take some time to read through it all and digest it. If I were teaching this as a regular class to groups of children, it would mean that each time I presented the lesson we would all get more from it. And with all the options available, the classes could be a little different each time it ran, adjusted to the needs and personalities of the class.
One of the songs is sung to different words that what is on the PDF version; my children picked it up the first time and worked with it after, but this may not be so easy for other children. My other musical improvement would be to label the tracks with the titles of the songs so that they are easy to find. The tracks aren’t given song names, and the PDFs don’t mention which track to use. In addition, having the links to the video instructions embedded within the PDFs would be so helpful and a time-saver.It’s just a little thing, but something that could be adjusted in the future. I did like that it’s suggested that for older children, they chant the songs rather than sing them.
Another suggestion for future versions would be to incorporate the beading activity right into the lesson plans. They could be under an ‘optional’ section, but it would be easier to incorporate.
Obviously, these little things aren’t anything major, and they don’t affect the program at all; it just means the teacher has to be a little more organised ahead of time. I only mention these so that you’re aware of them and make the best-use of CMC that you can, because it is great program.
Yes, Color My Conversation has been working very well for us, and my children want to continue to use it. We’ve only just begun the Intermediate Level, which will take more time to work through than the Beginner’s Level, but the kids are looking forward to using the games and seeing how it all comes together. They’ve been looking through the Topic Prompt cards and want to put them into use.
We have some guests arriving soon so we will pause our lessons until their departure, then pick up again and have the majority of the Intermediate Level completed by the time the summer activities start and the kids can feel even more confident about talking to others outside of their personal comfort zone.
As my children grow, their social situations are growing in number, and although they may not always feel confident, they will have the tools to appear confident to others. And for introverts, this of itself is a big step.
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