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Routines and Language Learning Opportunites

Never underestimate the power of routines for supporting language development. When I work with children I like to establish routines that are consistent, predictable, relevant, functional and filled with language learning opportunities. This is important for all the children I see, but in particular early language learners and late talkers. Every minute of my client’s session is valuable time to be modeling language and building their vocabulary. When I arrive at a client’s home I do a combination of the following routines to settle in: greet the child and their family, take off my shoes and coat, wash my hands, take off my mask and replace it with a clear mask and open my bag to retrieve toys and materials. The end of my session is similar, with slight variations to the routines. These are routines, but they are also valuable opportunities to build language. Rather than rush through each or exclude the child from participating, I see these as opportunities to build in new vocabulary. Initially, I will provide the language and gesture for the routine, then over time the child begins adding the familiar language and gestures on their own. I will then take this opportunity to build upon their language, adding more descriptive words and increasing the complexity of their utterances. An initial routine for hand washing might sound like this (child’s name is fictional): Hi Jamie! First, wash (gesture washing hands). In kitchen or in bathroom? (pointing, requesting child to point I go (pointing to myself) Water on, push soap, rub, dry, all done (gesturing for each of these steps) Jamie go? (pointing to child) Okay, up! (putting hands out to pick up) Wash hands, water on, push soap, rub, dry, all done (adding language as child does each step) As I mentioned, over time this routine will evolve and the child will start to provide the language to guide the interaction. Here’s how the routine might evolve over time: Hi Jamie! (gesture to wash hands). Jamie shares: “Wash hands” Clinician asks: in bathroom or in kitchen? Jamie shares: “kitchen” Clinician asks: Who goes? Jamie shares: “I go” etc… The structure of the routine is consistent, but the language has developed and become more child led, rather than adult led. The adult is still an important part of this routine though, as more language should be added to increase the complexity of the utterances and build upon the interaction. Routines happen all day long! You too can incorporate language learning opportunities into your daily routines. Consider these times of day and how you can turn them from being chores to rush through, to being valuable routines to involve your child in:

  • Washing dishes/ loading the dishwasher

  • Doing laundry

  • Making the bed

  • Cooking meals

  • Eating meals

  • Taking the dog for a walk

  • Putting on shoes and winter clothing

  • Getting into the stroller

  • Bath time

  • Watering plants

  • Cleaning up toys


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