I could talk about routines all day long. They are the glue that holds our lives together.
They are perfect for language learning because they are predictable and repetitive. They help your child organize what happens in his life. Since routines take place the same way most days they are great for teaching new things. Previously, I talked about a bath time routine (here), which is one of my favorites. But, at this time of year, I focus on the before school and afterschool routines to make sure our lives run smoothly. This has been especially important this year, as two of my kids have started at new schools (kindergarten and sixth grade). For my sixth-grader, this has meant more independence and refining organizational skills. For my kindergartner, this meant a full day of school, riding the bus, and being ready for a lot more transitions.
So, how did we get ready for these big changes? Here are a few of the things we did (some we continue to do) to help establish new routines.
- Take Pictures: The first thing we did to get my kindergartner ready for his new school was to plan a few visits. Over the summer, we visited the school’s playground to become more familiar with the school. We took pictures and made a little album to talk about where he’d be going to school in the fall. When we had a chance to meet the teacher and bus driver we added pictures so he could be as familiar with what would happen at school as possible. Not only is this a great way to start introducing a new routine, but it also helped us practice language skills. Pictures of events from your child’s life are great ways to help talk about past and future events. They help to increase vocabulary, increase sentence length, and help build narratives.
- Make a schedule: The second thing we did was to make a schedule for our morning routine. After a summer of leisurely wake-ups, it’s hard to transition into a more structured, time-pressured morning. For my older kids, this just meant a quick verbal review of what was expected in the morning. For some older kids a list works so they don’t need to hear mom/dad nagging them all morning. For my youngest, I made a picture schedule. This way I could introduce it before the first day of school. Also, pictures are a great way to reinforce language (for both expressing and comprehending). For this, I used picture icons, but a hand drawn schedule also works. Some kids like to cross off the steps they’ve accomplished (you can laminate your schedule and use a dry-erase marker). Another option is to Velcro pictures to your schedule and remove them once you’ve finished.
3. Repeat: This may sound obvious but repeating the routine in the exact same way helps reinforce what you’re doing and will eventually make your mornings run much smoother. Also, repeating the same phrases and directions for your child at the beginning of routine helps young kids and kids with language delays process the language and directions. This is especially helpful during transitions (i.e. going from eating to brushing teeth).
- Include songs: Songs help reinforce language and build language skills. Plus songs can help add fun to what may otherwise be a dreaded task. For example, you can sing “If your happy and you know it let’s get dressed”
- If you’re happy and you know it put on your shirt (x2). If you’re happy and you know it and your face will surely show it, if you’re happy and know it put on your shirt.” (Repeat until your child’s dressed).
- Another song we sing is “This is the way we brush our teeth”. You can change the words to almost any nursery rhyme to make your special songs.
4. Make small changes: Once you’ve established your routine and your mornings are running smoothly, you can make small changes to help challenge your child and increase language skills. For example, you might playfully forget to go eat breakfast and tell your child to skip to the next step in his routine. Let your child point out your mistake and tell you how to fix it. Or, you might take out a new pair of pajamas instead of clothes for the day. Again, try to let your child catch your “mistake”. If your child doesn’t catch it right away you can always give a little prompt (“uh oh, your putting on pajamas. Is it time to go to sleep?”). This helps increase language skills, as well as promoting problem solving. Also, you and your child might have a good laugh together.