Finding ourselves back in lockdown might be feeling pretty overwhelming to you. You might be feeling pretty devastated that your child with SLCN, who may have already missed out on support and schooling last year, is now back at home. I will be putting out blog posts and social media posts to help you, so look out for info and tools to help you.
I am a big believer in controlling the things we can, and letting the rest be what it is, so let's have a think about things you can do today to support your child. This post is about leaning into your routines to help your child.
Routines are the way all children start to learn language in typical development. You may feel that you do not have much routine, especially right now, but our days are made up of many small routines and habits. Washing, dressing, eating, bedtime - these are all routines we can use to support children's language. If the thought of filling your child's day is filling you with dread, I suggest starting with expanding your routines over longer periods, and slowly building skills within those routines, rather than trying to think of lots of new activities for them to do. Now is the time for more familiarity, not turning yourself into a craft-generating children's entertainer.
Tips for using your existing routines to support your child's communication and learning:
I suggest you think about one routine in your day, and pick one or two things here to focus on. Small things done consistently will always work better than heroic efforts that you can't sustain.
- Slow down - you probably have more time to spend on this routine now, so use it.
- Talk to your child throughout the routine. I know you already talk to your children whilst you do things, but you can spend a bit more time using the opportunity to model and extend language than you might normally. You can also give them more processing and responding time than you might usually.
- Let your child do more of the routine for themselves - you can slowly reduce the amount of help you give your child over days and weeks. Backward chaining is a tool that is helpful - if your child is familiar with a routine (for example, putting their coat on and having the zip done up), try completing the whole routine except the very last step, and see if they can do just that bit. So, fasten the zip at the bottom, but let them pull it up themselves. Once they can do this, see if they can do the fastening too etc.
Life skills are 'learning' too!
- Communication/Language skills you might work on (have a think about what skills your child might need to practise). You can use your routine to practise any of these, just by choosing the words you choose to emphasise in talking, or slightly adapting the way you do things:
- Learning to anticipate what comes next. This is an early comprehension skill, and a good thing to work on if your child is younger or has more complex learning needs. Just pause more during your routine, and see if your child shows any signs that they know what is coming next
- Learning to make things happen. This is an extension skill to the one above. Wait during your routine and see if your child does something to make you continue - looking, moving, vocalising, using a word - anything that teaches them that they can communicate to make us do things!
- Learning to make simple choices non-verbally - hold up things during your routine and see if your child can express a choice by looking, reaching or pointing
- Learning and using everyday names for things (nouns) - if your child is not talking yet, or has just a few words, you might start with a focus on naming things (not on getting your child to copy, just name them yourself, using simple language). E.g. 'coat', 'hood', 'zip'
- Learning and using action/doing words (verbs) - this is a big area of difficulty for many children. If your child is using single words, verbs can be a useful thing to model in conversation. You can model these by themselves, or model them in two-three word combinations. Emphasise the actions using simple language as you talk to your child. e.g dressing, zipping, buttoning
- Learning and using describing words (adjectives) - once children are linking words, this can be a good thing to emphasise in your own talking to them. Name the colour of their coat, the texture. Describe things as you do them - the zip might be 'tricky', or 'long' for example.
- Learning how to use language to sequence your ideas. Many children with SLCN find linking ideas together using words difficult. Model this be describing what you are doing whilst you do it, emphasising the words that help you link the sequence: 'first we need your coat, then we need to put your arms in, next we fasten the zip'
- Learning about present, past and future tense. Some children need help developing the skills of using grammar. You can practise this by either talking whilst you do the activity to practise present tense, by stopping afterwards and talking through what you just did, or you can stop mid-sequence and talk to your child about what will happen next.
- Practising problem-solving and reasoning. Some children find these more complex skills difficult. In these situations, find ways to challenge their thinking skills. E.g. instead of getting their coat on, try looking out of the window and having them work out what they need to wear to go outside.
These tips are purposefully small. We know that this lockdown is here for several weeks. If you practise one language skill, in one everyday routine, for 6 weeks, you will see your child making small steps in the right direction. If that is all you can achieve for your child's communication skills on any given day, you will have still done a lot by the end of this lockdown.
If you have a question or need some help, come over to my Facebook group and ask! www.facebook.com/groups/findthekeyfamilies