Bath time! Bath time is one of my favorite routines for targeting speech and language skills! It’s done daily (or at least several times each week), is appropriate for babies and toddlers, and there are so many things you can do with it!
So here is a short list of my favorite ways to build speech and language in the tub:
Bath time is awesome for practice with early developing sounds. Bilabials are sounds formed with you lips, and they tend to be some of the earliest sounds that children produce. Which means they are perfect ones to practice with older babies and young toddlers (or older toddlers who aren’t producing them yet)! Bilabials include p, b, m, and w sounds. In my opinion, they are some of the easiest sounds to teach, because they are highly visual! A child doesn’t have to look inside your mouth to see where your tongue is, it’s generally pretty easy to see your lips move. So thinking about bath time vocabulary, many of the key words contain bilabials: “bath”, “water”, “wash”, “wipe”, “rub/scrub“, “bubbles”, “pop”, “tub“, “soap“, “boat”, and plenty more! Use key words like this while talking with your little one during bath time, emphasizing these early developing sounds through your tone and repetition of the words and sounds (“bath time! B–b–bath“). For “m” and “w” words, you may find it easier to draw attention to the sound by prolonging it (i.e. “Mmmmore toys. Mmmore.“). This is a great way to do it too! Pointing to your mouth or using gestures held near your face can help draw attention to your mouth how to form the sound as well!
Language-Building and Body Parts
Another reason I love bath time, is because of the vocabulary component! It is such a great opportunity to target body parts! Receptively, you could tell your child, “let’s wash your foot (pause)”. If no response ask “where’s your foot?” and pause again. If still no response, gently take your child’s hand, put it on their foot and say “there it is…foot“. You can then say “Wash foot” as you wipe your child’s foot with the wash cloth. To target expressive language, you can ask your child “What should we wash? Hmmm” or say “Let’s wash another!”. Then you would pause to see if your child attempts to communicate another body part by pointing, touching, or naming it. If they do, great, if not, just do it for them! The repetition and pausing will help your child learn the vocabulary! And try to talk about some of the same body parts while you put lotion on after the bath! Repetition, repetition, repetition!
Language Building and Labeling
In addition to body parts, bath toys open up a whole new world of vocabulary options and communication temptations!
I like to put Van in the tub without any bath toys. From here, you have two options.
The first option is to leave the toys sitting on the counter where your child can see them but can’t reach them. This drives some children bananas, and would probably work best for an older toddler or a toddler that really loves his or her bath toys. Don’t say anything, just wait until your child does something to tell you they need their toys. It might be saying “toys”, pointing, reaching and grunting, eye gaze, etc. Once they do this you just say “oh toys! Mommy forgot toys! Here’s toys!” as you get the toys for your child.
The second option is what we do with Van. It would work well for older babies and younger toddlers or little ones who may not notice or care if they don’t have their toys in the tub. You’d still put baby/toddler in the tub without toys, but you have some toys next to you on the floor or somewhere out of your child’s sight. Then you pick up one toy and hold it up next to your face to show it to your little one. Don’t say anything yet, just hold it there and pause for 5-10 seconds, looking expectantly at your little one. Hopefully your child will do something to let you know they’re interested/want the toy. Again, accept any and all communication attempts whether it’s speaking, pointing, reaching and grunting, looking from the toy to you, etc. Then name the toy several times as you give it to your child. You can do this with one toy at a time until your child gets bored or you’ve gone through whatever toys you had next to you.
Language Building and Verbs
Confession: I love just about any activity that I can use to target verbs! Verbs are essential for constructing unique 2-3 word phrases and early sentences. And what’s even better about bath time is that it doesn’t require a ton of physical efforts like many of the other verb-activities out there! I don’t have to crawl through play tunnels, jump, run, etc. I can sit down and give Van a bath! I just have to demonstrate and talk with him about different verbs while I wash him and play with him. Great bath time verbs include: “wash”, “splash”, “wipe”, “dump”, “scoop”, “push”, “go”, “dry” and “rub/scrub”. And if you choose to do a bubble bath (Van’s skin is super dry and we have yet to find a good brand of bubble bath that doesn’t make it worse), you can use even more verbs like “blow” “pat” “pick up” etc.! Just repeat the verbs several times as you play together an try to use them in short phrases and sentences.
Remember with all of these strategies, your child is probably not going to speak the first time you try them! By choosing a strategy or 2 and incorporating it into your bath time routine (meaning you do it EVERY time you give your child a bath), you’ll be teaching your child the vocabulary needed to start talking! Over time, that repetition will help them learn, and hopefully will get them communicating with you throughout bath time!
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