Routines are great because they are predictable and repetitive. They offer your child away to anticipate what happens regularly in his life. Sometimes we may not think of what we are doing as a routine (i.e. getting up in the morning, getting dressed, mealtime), just as things we have to do to survive the day. These patterns help our kids recognize rhythm and help them to increase understanding of the world around them. When we take time to slow down some of our routines, they are a great way to help young children and children with some delays learn more language skills.
Bath time is one of my favorite routines to add language learning. Most kids enjoy bath time (my youngest did go through a period where he hated baths, but a solid routine and trying different toys/activities helped us work through it). Also, when you’ve been stuck inside due to the cold weather or rainy spring days it’s a nice activity to break up your day. A good routine has a solid start and ending point. Using the same language each time helps your child to recognize the routine and get ready. At bath time, you could simply announce “it’s time to take a bath” or sing a song to transition to the bath: “now it’s time to take a bath, take a bath, take a bath, now it’s time to take a bath my fair baby (or insert your child’s name)”—sung to the tune of “London Bridge is Falling Down”. Once you’ve established the beginning, you can have your child work with you to get ready for the bath using short simple phrases to narrate what you are doing as you go.
There are so many things to learn at bath time, but one of the first is recognizing/identifying body parts and labeling body parts. You can make this part of your routine as you wash your child. Start by simply labeling what you are washing. You can use simple phrases or sing a song (i.e. “now it’s time to wash your arm, wash your arm, wash your arm). Or, you can tell your child I need to wash your foot—show me your foot. As your child starts to master identifying body parts, you can leave the body part out of the phrase or song and let them fill in the label (i.e. as you wash your child’s hair you could sing “now it’s time to wash your _____ [pause and let your child fill-in “hair”]). Make a game of it by giving your child his own washcloth and take turns washing. You could give your child a choice of which body part to wash next: Do you want to wash your leg or tummy? With a lot of repetition and play your child will learn all their body parts and become an active helper at bath time.
I also love bath time toys and water play. I try to pick one to two toys per bath, so we don’t get overwhelmed. Here are a few of the toys I love to add to the bath:
· Stacking Cups that Drain: Fill them up and dump them out. Watch the water drain from the holes. Vocabulary to focus on – water, fill-up, empty, pour, more, again. While watching the water drain from the holes at the bottom of the cup, sing a rain nursery rhyme like “Rain Rain Go Away”, once your child is very familiar with the song pause and let her fill in the words.
Remember the rule of plus one/two: for every word your child says you repeat the phrase adding one-two words to help build language skills. If your child is pre-verbal, look for gestures, sounds, or facial expressions and help give meaning by modeling a one/two-word phrase (i.e. “pour” or “pour water”).
Lastly, I love bath time for singing finger songs (i.e. itsy bitsy spider) and playing social games like peek-a-boo. I find that children who have difficulty attending to others in a large space can often learn to focus on these quiet tasks in the bathtub. The child may be calmer in the water or they may simply have fewer things fighting for their attention. I often end bath time with a song. You can encourage your child to imitate your gestures. The song also helps signify the end of our bath time routine. Remember at the end of your routine have a clear ending this can be as simple as saying “all done” or “finished” and/or signing these words. Once your child is familiar with the routine they will be able to learn to participate more independently. As always, have fun with your child because when they are playing and having fun with you they are learning.
Randi is wife and mother to three kids aged 12, 10 and 4. She was born and raised in West Bloomfield where she is currently a stay-at-home mom to provide language rich activities for her youngest, who has Autism. Prior to making the switch to full time mommy, Randi was a pediatric speech pathologist for the past 15 years.