SLP Corner: Every Day Language Learning: Dishwashers and Socks

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Editor’s Note:  This article was written for parents rather than clinicians.  We often like to feature articles for parents that you might like to share with the caretakers of your kiddos. 

By: Becca Jarzynski, MS, CCC-SLP

As a working mom, life is a perpetual balance of domestic duties, professional tasks, and child-related entertainment. When my son was young, I often attempted to maintain this balance by entertaining him with toys, books, and activities while he was awake and then feverishly trying to get all of the household chores done while he napped or after he went to bed each night. This worked well…except for the fact that the chores were rarely completed, I got way too little sleep, and I tended to be a bit, um, cranky due to both of these things.

With my daughter, I’m doing things differently. We still play and read books for sure. But I’ve also realized how much more fun chores can be when she is a part of them. And how much learning occurs inside those household tasks if I just slow them down a bit. Recently, we’ve been having a blast unloading the dishwasher and sorting the laundry. (No, really. Stop laughing).

Luckily, learning is easily woven into both these activities. The biggest thing we do right now is sort things. Sorting is a cognitive skill that really begins to emerge in the toddler years. As we unload the dishwasher, I let her sort the utensils into the right baskets; when we do the laundry, she sorts the clean clothes into piles of shirts, pants, socks and undies. (Yes, it helps that she’s an agreeable little girl who wants to do these things with me. I think her propensity for sorting suggests that she may have inherited her organizational gene from me. Poor thing).

I didn’t expect her to sort all on her own right away, of course. Laundry, for example, started out with just finding the socks and putting them in a sock pile. Then we moved to separating the socks from the shirts. Now-a-days, she sorts all the clothes out of the whole basket, but I still have to start the piles for her. Lest you think that I am just using some form of child labor, let me assure you that I sit right on the floor next to her (almost) the whole time. We go slowly, and there is lots of praise and excitement when she puts things in the right piles. Sometimes we even sing to a simple tune like Where is Thumpkin.

Where’s the shirts?
Where’s the shirts?
There they are!
There they are!
You found the shirts,
You found the shirts,
Yes you did.
Yes you did!

(I’m not a cool mom, but she seems to love me anyway).

Why is sorting important? It helps children begin to understand the concept of groups of things. A shirt is still a shirt- whether it’s red or blue or tattered or new. Forks are forks whether they are small or big. Sorting helps children see the similarities in objects, even when the objects are a bit different at the same time. As they learn this, they gain the ability classify things in their mind–to create groups of similar things; this skill is important for language and eventually math as well.

Beyond sorting, laundry and dishwashing provide lots of opportunities for language, too. My daughter and I discuss the utensils and clothing items as we go along. At first I used parallel talk and self talk to model the words for her; as she got older and started talking more, I started using choices and expansion to grow her phrases longer. We often weave in concepts, too: size concepts (big, small, long, short), color concepts (red shirt, blue shirt), possession (daddy’s shirt, mommy’s sock), descriptive concepts (soft socks, dirty pants), number concepts (one sock, two socks) and position concepts (fork in, fork out) are all emerging in the toddler years.

Who knew dishwashers and socks could be so useful for learning?

Featured Guest Columnist: Becca Jarzynski, MS, CCC-SLP

About Becca: (From The Child Talk Blog): I’m Becca, a pediatric speech-language pathologist. This long title simply means that I spend my days teaching parents the best ways to help their children learn to communicate. Since graduating with my Master’s Degree in Communication Disorders over 10 years ago, I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of children and their families. The children I work with all have delays in communication– some have diagnoses such as Down Syndrome or Autism, others have no diagnosis but still struggle to use words or produce speech sounds, and still others have difficulty with stuttering or using their voice well. Although I work with all kinds of children, my area of expertise is in autism; in addition to my M.S. in Communication Disorders, I have a graduate certificate in behavioral intervention for autism spectrum disorders. I love my job because it allows me to help parents build their child’s communication skills. There is nothing more rewarding than watching a child say a word for the very first time, especially when that child and her family have worked so hard to get there. When I’m not working, I’m busy being a mom to a kindergartner and a toddler. I’m lucky to have gotten a front-seat view of their communication development as well. It’s taught me that no two children are alike, even if they have the same speech therapist as a mom!

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