"I've been working with children over the past years and have found a lot of kids aren't talked to," said Lancaster of Sikeston. "They sit in front of TV or a video game or are sent outside to play, and a lot of parents don't take time to talk with their kids."
So the 34-year-old mother of five -- she has 9-, 7- and 3-year-old daughters and 7-month-old twin sons -- created a board game designed to develop conversation skills for people of virtually all ages.
"If they're (children) not used to adult conversation, they may give you a one-
word answer or an answer not related to what you asked them," said Lancaster, who currently works at Richland schools in Essex.
The board game called ConverStation, which Lancaster originally created and used with some of her students, hit the market in June. Since then it's nabbed a 2005 Preferred Choice Award from Creative Child Magazine as a Toy of the Year Finalist. The game includes 240 question cards divided into four question categories: "Wh- Questions"; "If I..."; "Tell about..."; and "How do you...."
The four-question types cover a multitude of topics -- anywhere from holidays to personal experiences to how someone feels about a certain situation, Lancaster said.
"As you land on a certain colored square (on the board), you choose a card of that color, and the cards are divided into the four categories," Lancaster said. Players move around the board answering the main questions and follow-up questions.
"The whole point of the game is getting the people you're playing with to have a conversation with you," Lancaster said.
Game cards are split into three levels of players: kids, adults and both. "You do have adults who have had brain injuries due to car accidents or illnesses or older adults who have had strokes and are relearning their skills," Lancaster said.
All of the text (in the game) is Lancaster's, and she came up with the game's name. It was also her idea to create a "train track" around the board, which also features a collage of people in the shape of a train in the center of the board.
"I wanted to use real pictures versus cartoon-like pictures so it would appeal to not only children and families, but maybe people who've had a stroke and learning how to could talk again," Lancaster said.
A companion workbook, ConverStation Graphic Expression Activity Workbook, can be purchased and used separately from the board game. The purpose of the workbook is for a person to learn when and how to express themselves in writing versus conversation.
And the game is not just for speech-language pathologists to use. Educators and families who want to learn how to talk to their kids can also benefit from the game, Lancaster said.
"This game, hopefully, will help families learn how to converse with each other," Lancaster said. "It's a pretty basic concept, lost in this day and age, people don't know how to talk to each other.
Lancaster admitted she was rejected by eight different publishing companies until a representative from Say It Right called her at home with interest in her game concept.
Say It Right, a small press educational publisher based in Tybee Island, Ga., publishes and distributes materials related to speech-language pathology, English as a second language and special education.
Juggling her family, work and writing is very difficult, Lancaster said. At one point Lancaster said she was so overwhelmed with meeting the deadline, she found herself e-mailing her publisher saying she doesn't have time. After reassurance from her publisher, Lancaster kept going, she said.
"It took a lot of late nights, and I took my laptop on vacation. Whenever everybody was napping, and my husband was home, I'd steal an hour to sit down and write," Lancaster said, adding the entire process from start to finish took two years.
Lancaster is now working on other projects in the same category of materials, she said. Next month she is scheduled to speak at a conventions in her field at the University of Memphis in Memphis, Tenn., and at Tan-Tar-A Resort in Osage Beach in March.
"I can't begin to express how proud I am of my wife," Jay Lancaster said. "She really is an amazing woman and incredibly creative. With our three daughters and infant twin sons, I really don't understand how she is able or even interested in her writing, but she is very determined to have a creative outlet."
Living in a house full of seven people, there's really not much time to stop and wonder if there's enough time to get everything done.
"Our motto is just get up every day and don't think about it," Lancaster said. "Just get up and do it."
For more information about ConverStation, visit www.sayitright.org.