If you're not a "Pinterest perfect" parent, this post is for you. It would be great to have hours to devote to crafting and creating elaborate sensory bins, science experiments, and interactive games. Not trying to knock Pinterest here-it's great, but I'm going to get real.
Let's face it: life happens. As the mother of a busy 2-year-old with one on the way, I get it. Sometimes the goal of the day is simply to survive and that's OK! You don't need fancy toys, art supplies, or a laminator to help your child.
Learning your toddler has an expressive language delay can feel daunting and you may be wondering, How can I help my child at home?
First, I will assume that you have read the recent articles published about the importance of limiting screen time. Face-to-face interactions, through play, are far more valuable than any educational app, show, or computer game- no matter how well it is marketed. Again, I am a mother and a realist, so I understand that there may be instances in which Super Why or Paw Patrol saves your day, but try to keep it to a minimum.
Shew! Enough of beating the proverbial dead horse. Let's talk about what you should and CAN do to help your child!
It's easy to feel like you aren't doing enough if you aren't entertaining your child 24/7, but today's post is all about how to facilitate expressive language skills within your daily routines!
That's right- there are many opportunities to help your child throughout the seemingly mundane tasks of daily living.
1. Invite your child to join you in the kitchen. This can be as simple as making a quick trail mix snack with Cheerios, chocolate chips, raisins etc. While you are engaging in this activity, put some necessary items out of reach (e.g. if you know your child likes to stir things, put the spoon in their sight but just beyond their reach). This will encourage them to gesture, point, or verbally request for the item or for "help".
If your child doesn't like to be involved in the kitchen, that's OK! Chances are they have a preferred snack or drink. At snack time, offer choices: Do you want apples or grapes? Making choices is a crucial component of language development, as a child learns the power behind communication. My words have meaning and I can get something from communicating!
At mealtimes, turn off all distractions and talk to your child about the food. Are the carrots soft or crunchy? Talk about your food's shape, size, and color. Serve a small portion of something you know they like to encourage them to ask for "more".
2. Laundry is never ending. Why not make it a game? Play a routine game like peek-a-boo with a sheet. Say "peek-a-..." and pause, waiting for your little one to fill in the last word. Have fun with the laundry basket. Don't be afraid to act silly! You can pull your little one around in the laundry basket while saying "Ready, set...", waiting for them to say "go". Talk about where you are putting the clothes. "Let's put the clothes "in" the basket. Ask questions with choices, "Should I put the clothes in or take them out?".
3. Bath time is a perfect time to incorporate songs! You can sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat, practice blowing bubbles while saying "pop!", or sing Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, while working on understanding and identifying body parts. Talk about the water temperature. Is it hot or cold? Turn the water on for a short amount of time and then turn it off. Should we turn it back on? Whose turn is it to blow bubbles or splash? Model saying "It's my turn!".
4. Take your child with you to collect the mail from the mailbox (even if it is mostly junk or bills- just me?). Again, offer choices. "We need to get the mail! Should we open or close the mail box?" Talk about what you see. Is there a lot of mail today? Nothing? Who will carry the mail inside? You can model pronouns such as "me", "you", or a longer utterance such as "I'll do it" or "I want to carry it".
5. Diaper change time! Assuming your child stays still during diaper changes, you can play "I'm Gonna Get Ya!" and tickle or give raspberries (whichever your child prefers). Changing diapers really seems like a chore, but it's a great opportunity to incorporate language activities because you're face-to-face with your child!
If your child is giggling and having fun, stop and pause. Ask, Do you want more (tickles / raspberries) or should we be all done? Gross motor imitation is an important precursor to verbal imitation. You can ask, "How big are you?" and say "So big!" lifting your arms overhead, encouraging your child to imitate your movement.
Maybe your child doesn't love diaper changes. Don't fret- you can still talk about what you are doing. "We need to change your diaper! Let me get out a wipe. It is wet. Now I'll take a new diaper out! I need to put it on! All done!".
Other helpful tips: If your child gestures or points to an item, don't get discouraged, this is communication! Speaking may still be difficult and you can help by modeling language for them. For example, if they point to grapes when offered a choice between two fruits, respond by saying "Oh, you want the grapes". You can even pause and see if they nod their head, smile, or make any indication that this is correct. Try not to add extra pressure or stress by telling the child "say grapes". In nearly all cases, if a child could say what they want to say, they would.
I've mentioned this in other blog posts, but "playful sabotage" is another useful tool to get kids talking. Don't be afraid to put just one puzzle piece out of reach. Does your child try to communicate with you to gain your attention that there is a piece missing? Maybe your child will ask for your help to find the missing piece. If you know your child doesn't like a certain type of snack, put it in front of them and see if they will communicate refusal by saying "no", shaking their head no, etc to protest.
I hope the key takeaway from this post is that you don't have to do it all to make an impact in your child's life. You can promote speech and language skills by simply talking to your child about whatever it is you are doing throughout your day, offering choices, and pausing to give them a chance to communicate. Describe what you hear, see, smell, taste, or feel. You don't have to make lesson plans for your own home and you certainly don't have to be perfect to help promote expressive language -just be present.
Thank you for reading!