Developing speech and language through routines

While all children develop language at different rates, parents can help stimulate their child’s language long before they even speak their first words. Social routines can be used to target language development in children of all ages.

Daily routines including bath time, dressing, reading books, and singing songs provide opportunities to build upon a child’s language skills. These repetitive routines provide children a structured way to develop language skills within their natural environment.

Below are a few examples of how to target language skills through routine activities.

Singing songs

Hand motions can be incorporated with many children’s songs such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Wheels on the Bus.” While singing these songs with your child, pair the hand motions with the words. Pause throughout the song and allow your child the opportunity to fill in the missing word or complete the gesture. When singing “Old McDonald,” try slowing down the words “E-I-E-I-O” and see if your child can imitate you. Or try singing “E-I-E-I” and pause to allow your child to fill in “O.”

Getting dressed

Dressing your child provides opportunities to work on a variety of new vocabulary words, including clothing items and body parts, as well as teaching concepts such as “on/off.” While getting your child dressed, describe what you are doing using simple language and short phrases such as “pajamas off” or “shirt on.” Use the opportunity to talk about where each clothing item goes, for example “Hat goes on our head.” Try pausing to see if your child can complete the statement, “Shoes go on our_____.”

Reading books

Reading with your child allows endless opportunities for language stimulation. While reading together, it is important to read the words, but it is equally important to look at and talk about the illustrations. Label objects in pictures or talk about what the characters are doing (e.g., “boy eating apple”). Books with repetitive story lines such as “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” are a great way to target early language development. When reading these types of books, pause to allow your child to fill in the missing word. For example, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you__________?” “I see a yellow duck looking at _____.” Books can also be used to target “wh” questions with older children (e.g., “What are they doing?” “Where is the boy?” “Who is swimming?”).

Delayed responses

During play routines such as racing cars or playing with dolls, use familiar phrases with delayed, emphasized responses such as “Ready. Set. GO!” or “I love……YOU.” After practicing these phrases, pause and allow your child to finish the phrase.

Routine “sabotage”

Throwing off a familiar routine can also be beneficial in promoting language. What would happen if you gave your child an empty cup or placed a favorite bath toy out of reach? These forms of “routine sabotage” allow your child opportunities to correct you or ask for assistance. Encourage your child to use their words to tell you what’s wrong. During snack time, try giving your child only one piece of snack and wait for them to point or request “more” on their own. Screw the lid on a container extra tight before giving it to your child and wait for them to request assistance.

If you have concerns about your child’s language development, discuss them with your pediatrician or contact a speech-language pathologist.

– Candice Smale, M.A. CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health

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