Happy Super Bowl Sunday!
Last week was another wild week in the Walsh household! We grabbed lunch with a friend and her baby in Statesville, had Van’s 15 month check-up, had company with us for a couple of days, my 30th birthday was Thursday, had music class, and we got Van’s first hair cut! The week left very little time for blogging, but here I am, finally able to write up a post!
While some of our routines were a bit off, we have some routines that we simply can’t skip! Van’s absolute favorite is feeding Maxx!
I know, what does feeding the dog have to do with speech therapy??? Well the best thing about working in early intervention (aka with children ages birth to 3) is that we can target emerging speech and language throughout our daily routines. In fact, our children will actually learn better if we do this! As anyone who follows this blog is familiar with, infants and toddlers learn best through routines and repetition. So a daily routine is the perfect setting for speech and language building!
So back to feeding pets…how can we use this to encourage our child’s early language development?
Here’s where it gets a little tricky. Every baby is different and every pet is different. So I’m going to give some suggestions and outline what works for OUR FAMILY. Please use common sense here though- animals are animals and we always want to consider our children’s safety when determining approaches for teaching. You may have to do things differently and that’s okay! As long as you’re communicating throughout the routine and encouraging your little one to communicate!
Van is 15 months and a great walker. Maxx (our dog) is sweet and not food-motivated at all. We tend to put 2 scoops of food in his bowl and leave it their all day until he eats it. I usually don’t even notice he’s eaten it until he whines at some point in the day to let us know he wants more food. That whining cues the start of our routine. Feeding the dog at a specific time is absolutely fine too, and won’t really change anything!
So here’s our routine:
1. Maxx whines then lays down outside our office where we keep his food and water bowls.
2. I tell Van “hmm Maxx might be hungry. Let’s check Maxx’s food” (or something along those lines). The important thing here is saying SOMETHING to let your child know it’s time to feed your pet.
3. Van usually takes off in his clumsy fast toddler-walk towards our office where we keep Maxx’s bowls. If he doesn’t I cue him by saying “Let’s go to the office. Maxx is hungry” while patting his back or holding his hand to get him started.
4. I beat him to the food and water bowls. I pick up each and hand him the empty food bowl, saying “let’s get Maxx’s food” and if he doesn’t immediately take off in his fast-walk, “let’s go to the garage”.
5. Van fast-walks to the garage, carrying the empty food bowl, while I refill Maxx’s water and return it to the office. Then I meet Van back at the door to the garage. Maxx follows me.
6. I open the door to the garage, tell Van “Stay there. Mommy’ getting Maxx’s food” then go to the big container where we keep it. Van watches at the top of the steps (it’s only a couple of steps and the food is right at the bottom).
7. I scoop out Maxx’s food saying, “one scoop. Two scoops” or something along those lines and quickly walk back up to Van.
8. I tell him “alright let’s go” or something like that, and he takes off back toward the office. Usually by now he’s doing his toddler run/walk while hitting his leg and yelling “Maaaaaaxx”. I carry Maxx’s food back to the office behind him while playing along, patting my leg and modeling “come on Maxx”. This is Van’s favorite part of the routine so I try to be extra playful with it!
9. Maxx follows us, I put his food down and tell Van “let Maxx eat”. And move both of us away from Maxx’s food and water. Sometimes we watch for a bit and I talk about whether Maxx is eating or drinking or whatever. But I do try to get us out of there while he’s still eating.
Although I trust Maxx 1000%, I do want Van to learn that while it’s okay to help feed the dog, we don’t mess with animals while they’re eating.
10. We wash hands.
When Van was younger we did basically the same thing, just I carried him the entire time. And if you have a pet that gets super excited about food, or that you’re worried might get aggressive with your little one you may want to carry your toddler around too. Again, that is absolutely fine! The main thing here is that you’re drawing attention to the routine and using vocabulary pertaining to what you’re doing as you’re doing it! And of course you want to keep it playful the entire time by using gestures, smiling, and verbally reinforcing your little one when he or she follows a command correctly, vocalizes, or simply participates in the routine with you!
When Van’s a little older I’ll probably encourage him to climb up and down the stairs to get the food with me, and will probably let him scoop the food himself with a little assistance. I also plan to ask him more questions like “what’s next?” and “where do we go?”. You can also prompt older toddlers simply by pointing out a need. For example, I could say “it looks like Maxx’s food is all gone” then wait for your Van to tell me (or show me) what to do next. Another example may be to go to the door to the garage and wait for Van to do something (vocalize, point, speak, use eye gaze, etc.) to communicate the next step in the routine (opening the door to get the food).
Luckily, as Van’s gotten more familiar with the routine, he’s actually gotten less interested in playing in Maxx’s food and water bowls (and trying to eat the dog food)! This has been awesome as he used to get into them ALL THE TIME.
But I can see so many additional perks of including him in this routine! It’s introducing him to early sequences, encouraging participation in household chores, teaching a couple of different rooms in the house, working on one-step commands, and- most important to an SLP- giving him words for what he’s doing as well as what’s going on around him!
Again, please use common sense here y’all! Adapt what you need to adapt to make it safe and fun for your child to “help” feed the pets! I hope this gives you some ideas!
I hope everyone has a good Super Bowl! Anyone else super excited for JT’s halftime show?!!