By Meghan Walsh – Speech Pathologist, Nurture Family Health Centre
Routines are a fantastic way to encourage your toddler’s language development. Almost everything we do throughout a typical day involves a routine in some way or another – getting dressed, going in the car, buying a bottle of milk, playing peek-a-boo, reading your favourite book, these little rituals all have a repeatable sequence of events – a beginning, a middle and an end. This predictability and repetition make routines a very easy way to boost your little one’s exposure to vocabulary, basic concepts (in/on/under/next to) following directions, describing and doing words, and of course functional words!
Toddlers need to hear and understand what a word means, many times before they will attempt to imitate it from you, and the fact that we put on our shoes, several times a week, is a great opportunity to target some key words.
Try to keep your language simple but grammatically correct (eg. “Mummy will do it,” rather than “Mummy do it.”) Remember that modelling is your child’s first exposure to language and how they will continue to learn! Pick functional words that you would like to use repetitively throughout your little routine. For putting on shoes, some great words to focus on would be: one, two, shoe, foot/feet, on/off, pretty, push, up. “Let’s put on your shoes. One foot on….push! Two feet on…push! One, two shoes on. Ready….UP! You’ve got your shoes on - hooray!” Make it a personal challenge to see how many times you can repeat the key words. It may feel a little strange, but remember your child is learning through modelling and repetition. Just remember to choose words that they’ve got a chance of pronouncing – perhaps ornithorhynchus is not a great choice to start with. A variety of word types is also important – try to avoid simply labelling everything (shoe/foot) and slip in some action (push/up) and describing words (pretty) plus a basic concept or two (1/2/on).
The predictability of routines allows you to create some opportunities for your toddler to communicate because they know what is supposed to happen next. You can pretend to play dumb and forget what to do…”I forgot where this shoe goes! On your……” This is a great chance for your toddler who has already run this routine multiple times before, to pipe in with “foot!” Creating a lead in and then waiting expectantly lets them know it’s their turn. You could even cue the word by pointing or mouthing the first sound. Don’t be afraid to wait even though it feels like a lifetime. Your little one has a lot to process and sometimes they just don’t bother talking because they know you’ll do if for them. The more engaging and entertaining you are, the more intrigued they will be. Another fun thing to try is some task sabotage. “Time to put your shoe on your….EAR! No…umm….HAND!” This typically will be received with great hilarity and hopefully they will really enjoy correcting you with “foot!”
Creating choices during routines is also a great way to get your toddler to verbalise. “Do you want shoes on or shoes off?” “Should we put shoes on our head or on our foot?” If you’re happy to offer choices, also be happy to live with the consequences of their choice even, for a little while. Offering a forced choice between two options is also a great way of letting your toddler feel like they have more control whilst you give them boundaries.
By engaging in playful talk during routines, you can have beautiful moments of social connection that will help your child learn more real life, functional communication than they ever could from naming flash cards or watching educational videos. Children learn to talk by being a part of real human interactions, so why not have a little fun and education while you’re completing your daily rituals.