Repetition helps children learn language. In fact, did you know that the average child needs 12-15 exposures before learning a new word, and that children with the learning differences need between 40-100 exposures before learning and remembering a new word?
Everyday routines create the perfect opportunity to expose your child to a variety of vocabulary words and language concepts. A routine itself is built on the foundation of predictability; in that you complete the task the same way every time. For example, think of something as simple of hand washing. Your hand washing routine probably looks something like this every time you wash your hands:
Step 1: Turn on water.
Step 2: Wet hands.
Step 3: Get soap.
Step 4: Rub hands.
Step 5: Rinse hands.
Step 6: Get towel.
Step 7: Dry hands.
Step 8: Turn off water.
Because of the predictability, children quickly learn the steps and the language that is paired with each step. A routine provides the opportunity for the child to hear, see and do the same things repeatedly. The Hanen Center has a nice article on how to make the most of your daily routines, and you can read it here.
Routines are good for teaching language, because:
By saying the same words or phrases each time you perform an action, you can build and reinforce your child’s understanding of them.
Using everyday routines, you can help your child learn specific words and phrases without needing any special toys or materials.
The best learning opportunities are the ones that are the most interactive and the most fun, so get creative with your routines.
Having a bath or getting dressed are activities that you already do with your child everyday so there is no additional “practice” task that you must add to your already long “to do list”.
Helps your child to generalize their skills quickly since they are practicing them in the context of where they need to use them.
Use these or other daily routines to help your child learn language:
Going on a Walk
Whatever routine you choose, the key is to start by commenting using the same language. Once your child becomes familiar with the routine and the language that you embed into it, you can start to expand by adding new words and ideas.
Here are some ideas of what you can target in each of these routines:
Meals provide a great opportunity to model the names of favorite foods, as well as to target action words such as “more”, “eat”, “bite”, “chew”, or “open”. Descriptions such as “big”, “little”, “hard” and “soft” are also great targets. You can also describe how things looks, taste or smell or quantity, such as how many berries are on their plate, or how many bites they have left. The opportunities for modeling language is truly endless when it comes to mealtime.
Most children love bath time, so it can be a fun routine to target many words. You can offer your child choices of the toys that they can bring into the tub, and for older kids you can strategically play with foam letters or numbers while you stick them to the wall next to the tub. Additionally, you can talk about “on”, “off”, “hot” and “cold” as you fill the tub with water. You can also model words such as “wet” and “dry” when tying them off, as well as target body parts as you wash your little one.
In addition to targeting the labels of items used in the routine, such as sink, cup, toothbrush, toothpaste, mirror, etc. there are a lot of fun action words that you can embed into your tooth brushing routine. For example, you can model “turn on” when you turn on the water, and “turn off” when you turn off the water. You can target “open” and “squeeze” as you put the toothpaste on the toothpaste. Other action words that you can target include, “brush”, “rinse”, “spit”. And don’t forget description words such as “dirty” and “clean”!
Getting dressed in the morning lends itself to offer your child choices of clothing items to wear. You can use descriptive words such as the color of the item, as well as talk about size such as “long” or “short”. For children that are learning to identify items, you can place clothing items out and ask them to get their shirt for example. Since children may need help with getting dressed, it can be the perfect time to practice having them ask for “help”.
Laundry can prove to be a great opportunity to target matching or the idea of same and different when folding socks. You can also target possessives by modeling “whose” clothing item it is (e.g., “Mommy’s socks, Daddy’s shirt, “Billy’s pants”, etc.).
Not only is coking a fun task, but it is also the perfect time to teach your child how to sequence steps within a routine by teaching concepts such as “first, next, then, last.” You can label the items that you are using to cook, such as “bowl”, “spoon”, “milk”, “cup”, etc. and the actions that you are preforming such as “pour”, “mix”, “cut”, etc. Cooking routines can also be a great time to practice taking turns, especially if there are siblings helping.
The great thing about books is that the repetition is built in. Children are often quick to learn the words used in books. You can help your little use the words from books by pausing and allowing them to fill in the last word in a familiar phrase. For example, when reading a book like Eric Carl’s Brown Bear, you can simply pause after reading “Brown bear, brown bear what do you” and allow your child to fill in the word “see.” Once you child is successful with filling in the last word, you can pause sooner in the book and allow them to fill in the last 2-words for example.
Let’s face it, you change several diapers on a given day so you might as well use that experience as an opportunity to teach your child some words. You can have them practice following directions by having them get the items needed for the diaper change. If they are not quite ready for that, you can hold up a diaper and some wipes and ask your child to show you the diaper. When working on expressive language, you can model words such as “diaper”, “clean”, “dirty”, “stinky”, “on”, “off”, “cold” as well as body parts such as “tummy”, “feet”, and bottom”.
Going on a Walk
Being outdoors provides endless opportunities to talk about things. You can talk about the things that you see, smell, hear, or touch. You can take pictures so that you can later talk about what you did and what you saw. This helps children develop the skills necessary to talk about past events. The picture can also be used to help your child talk to someone else about their experience that perhaps was not there on the walk.
There are endless vocabulary words that you can expose your child to as a grocery store. In addition to modeling the names of the items that you place into the cart; the grocery store can also be a great place to help build your child’s independence. They can have their own cart to fill or can assist you in placing items in the cart. They can assist with unloading the cart and paying for the groceries.
When targeting language, you can go beyond the label of items and talk about what the foods look like such as talking about the color of the items, their shapes as well as the quantity of items (e.g., “4 red apples”). You can label the category of which the item belongs as well, such as labeling the apple as a “fruit” or carrots as “vegetables”. There really are so many different things that you can target when in the grocery store.
Using everyday routines for meaningful and responsive interactions with children, we can ensure that children are engaged in language learning throughout their day (Degotardi, Torr & Nguyen, 2016; Zauche, Thul, Mahoney, & Stapel-Wax, 2016; Zimmerman et al., 2009). Frequent and targeted language experiences have a meaningful impact on a child’s early language development, as well as their educational success (Weisleder & Fernald, 2013; White, Peter, & Redder, 2015; Zauche et al., 2016).
So have fun and remember that every minute counts in developing language skills in your children! Let me know which everyday routines you enjoy doing with your little one, by commenting below: