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:

Could It Be Apraxia?

The first thing any modern parent does when concerned about his or her child’s communication development is get on the internet. Of course. You can’t call a speech therapist in the middle of the night but Google is always on call. Good idea? Maybe. But usually not. One of the challenges with childhood speech and language disorders is that they tend to have rather broad names such as “receptive and expressive language disorder” or “articulation disorder” and it can be hard to find very specific information.  Unless you land on one (or both) of the A’s: Autism or Apraxia.  If you find yourself on the subject of either Apraxia or Autism, you will find tons and tons of information in the form of parenting forums, red flags websites, personal stories, and a few very good, reliable sites. It’s easy to remember those names and even easier to decide that your child probably has it.  Nearly all of the parents I meet who bring in their late-talking toddlers ask me about apraxia. Could it be apraxia? How do you know if it is? How do you know if it isn’t? are all common, and understandable questions. With a big-A name, Apraxia can sound incredibly scary to parents. Fortunately, we have a lot of great knowledge and tools to help children with childhood apraxia of speech become great communicators with clear speech.

Apraxia is a complex disorder which is equally complicated to explain. Rather than re-invent the wheel here, I am going to direct you to one of my favorite blogs, Mommy Speech Therapy, where speech-language pathologist April Vogt, has clearly and eloquently explained childhood apraxia of speech in her post What is Apraxia?

These are some of the early signs that a child could have apraxia (from ASHA.org):

  • Does not coo or babble as an infant
  • First words are late, and they may be missing sounds
  • Only a few different consonant and vowel sounds
  • Problems combining sounds; may show long pauses between sounds
  • Simplifies words by replacing difficult sounds with easier ones or by deleting difficult sounds (although all children do this, the child with apraxia of speech does so more often)
  • May have problems eating
Older children may:
  • Make inconsistent sound errors that are not the result of immaturity
  • Understand language much better than he or she can talk
  • Have difficulty imitating speech, but imitated speech is more clear than spontaneous speech
  • Appear to be groping when attempting to produce sounds or to coordinate the lips, tongue, and jaw for purposeful movement
  • Have more difficulty saying longer words or phrases clearly than shorter ones
  • Appear to have more difficulty when he or she is anxious
  • Be hard to understand, especially for an unfamiliar listener
  • Sound choppy, monotonous, or stresses the wrong syllable or word