Verbal routines (also known as social routines) are fun little ways to interact with babies and toddlers without needing any toys or other objects – just you and your child. Verbal routines are super valuable for language development. You probably already use some with your child.
All of us have routines that we follow everyday. We have specific steps we take to do things like brushing our teeth, getting ready for bed, making our coffee. Making coffee is one routine I never skip and the steps are very specific and occur in the same order every time I do it. (place mug on tray, open Keurig, put new K-cup in opening, pull down lever, and push button). The first time I made coffee this way I had to really think through how to do it and it took me longer to do it then than it does now. I am so used to this routine that I could do it in my sleep – oh wait, I do! Verbal routines should feel like this to our children, too. Like they could do them in their sleep because they’ve done them the same way over and over.
What is a Verbal Routine?
We also have daily living routines that we share with our children: diaper changing, bath time, and bed time to name a few. We and our children know just what to expect during these routines. Beyond these daily living routines, we can also use verbal or social routines with our children. In verbal routines we use the same words every time we introduce or join in an activity. For example, one verbal routine that I have always used with my kids is “Ready, Set, Go” when we are at the park using the swings. I pull the swing up towards my face, make eye contact with my daughter, and then in a very exaggerated and anticipatory way say “Ready, Set, Gooooooo!” Verbal routines can be very simple and can even be in the form of little songs we sing.
Why verbal routines are important:
- they create opportunities for your child to really participate in activities with you.
- they provide a natural way to work on receptive language (what the child understands). In the “Ready, Set, Go” routine, “go” is emphasized with an action and the child learns the meaning of the word “go”.
- They Increase the likelihood that she will begin to say the words used in verbal routines when she is ready.
- They create built in predictable opportunities for the child to use the words that they have heard over and over again.
- They Help the child develop an early core of vocabulary by using specific words with higher frequency.
- They create more opportunities for your child to take turns.
- They set the stage for turn-taking in conversations.
- They are bonding. Little games just between you and your child can be very special.
In her excellent resource, Teach Me To Talk – The Therapy Manual, Laura Mize puts it this way, “When you use the same words, toys, and sequence of events during play, a child begins to recognize the routine and respond. Once the routine is familiar, the child begins to participate and then understands the words. Many times the repetitiveness and predictability of your verbal routines will also facilitate early word attempts using a familiar activity.”
Verbal routines that I use every day with my daughter:
- peek-a-boo: each morning when I walk into my daughter’s room, I crack the door open and say “peek-a-boo” and then close it a little and do it again. She expects it and loves it and instantly engages with me. Now when I crack the door open, she is the one that says “peek-a-boo”.
- sing “Pop Goes the Weasel“ – I started singing this at diaper changing time in order to distract my daughter, but it quickly became a fun social routine. She loves the “pop” part of the song and now when I get to that part of the song, I pause and wait expectantly for her to make the “pop” noise, which she excitedly does.
- On the trampoline we play, “run, run, as fast as you can” a game we made up based on the book, The Gingerbread Man. I sit in the middle of the trampoline and my daughter runs around me and I try to tag her while I say the chant. When we started this game months ago, I would say the whole thing, “run, run as fast as you can. You can’t catch me I’m the gingerbread man.” Now when we play, I say the first part and she finishes with, “you can’t catch me I’m the gingerbread man.”
- In the bath tub we always sing “Oh I wish I were a little bar of soap.” I sing the first part and then say “bar of …” and she finishes by shouting “soap.”
- The bedtime verbal routine we do every night is also a song. I hold her like a baby and rock her back and forth and sing my own version on “Rock-a-bye baby.”
Other verbal routines to try with your child:
- If your child likes Elmo then this might be a fun routine to incorporate during bedtime rituals – “brush your teeth” song. The song is very fast-paced, but you can just sing the chorus or favorite lines. The Uh-Uh part of the song is fun.
- Ring around the rosies. Exaggerate “all fall down” at the end. Make that part slow and dramatic.
- This Little Piggy – this is a good one to start when baby is little and baby is on her back and you are sitting directly in front of her. Exaggerate the “wee, wee, wee,” part
- The Clean-up song – sing this every time you and your child put toys away
- say something like, “Time to eat, mmm, mmm mmm” each time you sit your child down for a snack.
- While playing with bubbles, blow the bubbles and then say “bubble, bubble, bubble” as they float and then, “POP!” as you or your child pops the bubble.
- incorporate any of the songs from this fantastic site, Bussongs.com
What verbal routines do you and your child love to use? I would love to know.
Mize, Laura, M.S., CCC-SLP (2011) Teach Me To Talk, The Therapy Manual, Shelbyville, KY: teachmetotalk.com
Pepper, J. and Weitzman, E. (2004) It Takes Two to Talk (4th edition), Toronto, Ontario: The Hanen Centre