Building Language Through Daily Routines

Routine activities provide a wonderful backdrop for helping your child build his or her language skills.  Routines are just that, routine, meaning they have a sense of order and predictability, and they occur on a regular basis.  Repetition and multiple exposures lend to faster and more meaningful learning.

Routine 1: Laundry

Laundry, what a drag right?! Laundry never ends and there will always (always!) be a load to wash or a basket full of clothes to fold. Why not include your child to make the chore more fun for you and educational for her?

Laundry day is a great time to practice:

  • Sorting – sort by colors/whites, sort by category – separate pants, shirts, socks, etc.
  • Possessives - have your child tell you whether something is mommy’s or daddy’s
  • Basic Concepts - clean/dirty, wet/dry, hot/cold, empty/full, big/little, wrinkled/smooth

Routine 2: Getting Dressed

What better time to practice new skills than during something your child does every day? In my house, getting dressed is a long, drawn out process in which my almost-three-year-old daughter deliberates, coordinates, and changes her mind about her outfits multiple times. On any given day a minimum of two different pants, skirts, shirts, sweatshirts, socks and shoes get strewn about her room as she decides between the pink stripes or the purple dots, the tutu or the princess dress, the panda shirt or the mouse one. If your life is anything like mine, you will have infinite opportunities to build your child’s vocabulary during dressing.

Here is a list of my favorite getting-dressed words and concepts:

Stripes, dots, colors, animals, hearts, stars, bows, zipper, snap, button, tie, buckle, strap, sleeve, hood, long/short, shoes/boots/flip-flops/slippers, hat, sunglasses, scarf, mittens, jacket, raincoat, rain boots, socks, pants, shirts, skirts, dresses, sweaters, sweatshirts.

Routine 3: Setting the Table

Setting the table is a great time of day to help your child build his vocabulary and follow directions. Table setting time provides a great opportunity to learn categories such as “silverware” and “dishes” and to learn the names of all the items in each category.  It is also a natural opportunity to practice following different types of directions:

One-step directions: get the plate, give me the bowl, find your fork

Two-step directions: get the plate and put it on the table, get the bowl and give it to me, find your fork and bring it here

Prepositional directions: put the plate on the table, put the napkin next to the plate, put the fork on the napkin

Directions with attributes: get the blue cup, get a little spoon and a big spoon, put the white plate at daddy’s spot and the pink plate at your spot

These directions are naturally reinforcing because daddy won’t likely want the pink plate and your child will find it silly if her napkin is in her bowl or her fork is under her plate.

The Magic of Learning Language

With my daughter’s third birthday right around the corner, I can’t help but look back on how she has grown and matured in her three busy years of life.  I can remember back to the first coos and goos, her first word – “cat”, her first word combinations at just 14 months of age (proud speech therapist mommy moment!) and now at almost three, learning to use language to negotiate, flirt, demand, command, play, sing, joke, and make amends. She touches my heart with her daily apologies – “Mommy I sorry I hit you brush my teeth” – and makes me laugh out loud when she prompts me to apologize to her for (accidentally) bonking her head with a ball when she missed my throw.  I am amazed as I watch her take risks with language, make funny mistakes, try again, and blossom into a funny, sweet, sassy, kind, thoughtful, loving, and talkative little girl.  When she was young, I vowed to be a mom, not a speech therapist, to her, so that I could watch her language unfold, and experience firsthand the magic of learning language.

And magical it has been. Not always perfect, but that is the beauty of it. It is a process of listening, experimentation and refinement that their developing brains are “wired” to do. Patricia Kuhl,of the Institute for Brain and Learning Sciences at the University of Washington, studies early brain development and language acquisition. She explains the ”Linguistic Genius of Babies” in an inspiring TED Talk: