D id you know that your child’s best learning happens through their everyday routines, experiences, and conversations? In fact, researchers found that the amount of language children hear in the first three years of their life plays an important role in their future learning abilities. The power of simply talking with your child can make all the difference.
Families that have children in child care often ask me how they can create opportunities for developing their child’s communication skills when they aren’t with their child all day. I share that their daily routines provide ample opportunities to enhance their child’s communication skills, as well as provide meaningful interactions with their child.
The key to any routine is to conduct the activity the same way each time and to use the same words at each step to help the child become familiar with the routine. How does your child know it’s bedtime? Do you have a specific routine? Do you use specific words? When you follow the same routine every night, does your child begin to anticipate what will happen next? Children enjoy structure and routines allow them to make sense of the world around them.
Here are three very simple everyday routines that all parents can do with their child to encourage language development. I especially find riding in the car an excellent opportunity to speak with my own child. Given the traffic in most large cities, it gives you an extended amount of time to be creative and have fun.
In the Car:
- Infants: Talk about your actions as you put the baby in the car such as where you are going or what you will do when you arrive. Talk about what the baby sees or hears around them. Be sure to imitate any sounds or words your baby makes because they are “talking” to you.
- Toddlers: Name and describe objects and people you see while driving. Ask your toddler to point to objects you name. Have your child guess or make animal sounds with you. Sing nursery songs and have them fill in the last word. Make up your own silly songs about their day or yours. Talk about actions that the child sees on your drive.
- Preschoolers: Ask all types of questions (who, what, where, why) about what the child sees. Talk about your child’s day at school; ask them about their favorite times that day. Play rhyming games, opposite games (up/down, in/out), use descriptive words about the vehicles or the environment around you.
- Infants / Toddlers: Name different body parts or ask your child to point to them. You can teach animal sounds, such as “the cow says (pause) mooo,” “the cat says (pause) meow,” or environmental sounds such as “the car goes (pause) vroom vroom,” or “the train goes (pause) choo choo.” You can sing a nursery song such as Twinkle, Twinkle until your child can fill in a sound or a word. Remember to stick with one activity for a period of time in order to make it predictable. I usually recommend that one parent sing songs while the other parent does the animal sounds.
- Infants: Talk about what you are doing and explain the steps to bathing such as “next I’ll wash your hands.” Label your baby’s body parts as you wash them. Talk about the water, the temperature and concepts “wet” and “dry.” Your baby is always listening and learning.
- Toddlers: Play with bath toys, asking your child to “give” items. Place items “under” the water, “on” the ledge, and “in” a bucket (to clean up). Use descriptive words whenever you can. Talk about the order of things, “First, I will wash your hair,” and “Then we will rinse it.”
- Preschoolers: Talk about their day in using first, next, last. Ask questions not in their immediate environment. Make up stories about the bath toys. Sing songs with the bath toys. Ask them to tell you about their day and encourage conversation through open-ended questions.
Maybe your work hours don’t allow you to participate in these activities with your child. Don’t despair; there are other times to practice language with your child. Bedtime, meal time, grocery shopping, and even getting dressed in the morning are all great opportunities. You can be creative and any family routine can be a language rich experience.
MaryFrances Gonzalez is a pediatric speech language pathologist and founder of TeachSpeech LLC. Her practice specializes in the youngest population, one to six years, and she also is passionate about empowering parents in language development and kindergarten readiness. She strives to turn the ordinary talker into an extraordinary talker. Check out her TeachSpeechTherapy facebook page for tips or activities on language & learning.