Unbabbled: Coronavirus Resources (Part 5)

Making Everyday Activities Language-Rich

With so many of us at home likely doing more cooking and cleaning than ever before, this episode explores how to turn these everyday activities into language-rich lessons for our children. Additionally, we discuss ways to build early academic skills into our everyday lives. Two fantastic Parish teaching staff, Amy Lerman and Elsie Torres-Verdejo, join us as guests.

About Amy and Elsie

Amy is a certified speech-language pathologist and the Community Outreach and Social Thinking Specialist at The Parish School. On top of that, she is the lead teacher for one of The Parish School’s youngest classrooms. She has over 15 years’ experience working with the pediatric population and has a strong passion for early intervention.

Elsie is an early childhood educator at The Parish School. She began her nearly 20-year career at Parish as a paraeducator in 2000, before moving into her role as an educator. She has worked in both the elementary and early childhood programs. Elsie holds a master’s degree in education and is a certified special education teacher.

Stephanie (00:05):

Hello and welcome to Unbabbled, a podcast that navigates the world of special education, communication delays and learning differences. We are your hosts, Stephanie Landis and Meredith Krimmel and we're certified speech language pathologist who spend our days at The Parish School in Houston helping children find their voices and connect with the world around them. Welcome to another episode of Unbabbled. On today's episode, we have two fantastic guests, Amy Lerman and Elsie Torres-Verdejo here to chat about ways that we can turn everyday activities that we're all stuck at home doing all day long, into language-rich, activities as well as ways to build in the early academic skills into our everyday lives. We'll start with Amy. Amy is a certified speech language pathologist and the community outreach and social thinking specialist at The Parish School. On top of all of that, she's a lead in an emerging language classroom. She has over 15 years experience working with the pediatric population and has a passion for early intervention. Hi Amy! And then Elsie is an early childhood educator at The Parish School. She began her journey at The Parish School nearly 20 years ago as a paraeducator before moving into her role as an educator. She's worked in both the elementary and the early childhood programs. She holds her masters of education and is a certified special education teacher. Welcome ladies. Thank you for agreeing to be here. So we're all kind of at home right now and instead of trying to go out and force our kids into learning activities, especially the younger ones, we're thinking about ways that we can just take all the things that we're doing anyway. Like we still have to do the laundry, we still have to make dinner, all of the things going on here at home and let's now build that into ways that we can work on academics and language. So we appreciate you guys being here chatting with us. Thank you. So we'll just start out with, is there any one activity that pops in your brain as like the best way to build in pre-academics?

Elsie (02:14):

Cooking. Cooking is a perfect example of it. You know, the kids are always wanting to be in the kitchen with you. So, you know, if you're reading a recipe that's literacy, if you're counting, you're measuring all of those things. Math can be built into all of those things. So yeah, cooking is a perfect opportunity to, to, um, to work on some of those pre academics for sure.

Stephanie (02:38):

Yeah. And you can go from age ranges because the younger ones can just count like, right on correspondence their kids, you can make them do those fractions.

Elsie (02:49):

Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah, the little ones, especially with one-to-one, I mean there's so many things in your kitchen, right? Your ice cube tray, your cupcake trays, your, you know, all those things that they can, that they can put things into that takes one to one and then you know, you can have them count it out.

Meredith (03:08):

That's great for language too. I mean, right. I mean there's lots of things you can do with language in the kitchen.

Amy (03:13):

Cooking is one of my favorite things to do with language, just especially with our little ones and all of the sabotage. And even with our older ones too, like I love it when I'm doing some sort of language building activity. And they tell me to put it in the bowl and I'm holding a box of brownies and I literally take the box of brownies and put it in the bowl and they're looking at me like, that's not what I meant. Didn't you listen? And I said, yeah, I heard what you said. You said put it in the bowl. So I stick the box in the bowl. And what's so nice about that is triggering that memory of wow, we really have to walk our kids through sequencing how all of this takes place. Well, okay, Oh first you have to open the top and then you have to cut open the bag and next you have to pour it in the bowl. Right. So taking them through that entire sequence. And then with those little ones, every time you sabotage and they give you one of those no and you're working on that. Yes and that no. And just like Elsie said, bringing in all of that really rich specific vocabulary that has to do with that one room of the house. Yeah. That's all that kitchen vocabulary. And you know what that even brings to mind for me, where I was thinking to go with, when I think about home, I think about the job wheel. Okay. And we could even start right there in the kitchen. Um, I think about there is a woman named Sarah Ward and she's a speech pathologist out of Boston and her work, um, specifically is in the realm of executive functioning. Um, and she talks a lot about when we work with our kids, if we can put an E R on the jobs that we are encouraging them and supporting them and doing it takes on a whole new meaning. So now that you've done cooking and the child has learned all of these wonderful items that you use to do the cooking activity, when it's time to wash them, you can be a dishwasher. You can also be, um, the one that puts the dishes away. I don't know how you would put an earner on mat a dish put-er away-er, but if you spill something on the floor, there's, you can be the sweeper, you can be the counter wiper and this job type language. I think is really important in the context of the home in which we are all constantly in. We're not really leaving much. I think it's really empowering to support our children in taking an active role in, in owning the structure and the functionality of that space. So you can have a bed maker and a floor sweeper and a laundry folder and all of those things. And wouldn't it be so cool if you had a job wheel in your home where the kids could look up and that was their job for the week or for the day, even if teeth brushing is hard, you are a teeth brusher and you build that in as your praise and reinforcement as well. So I like that.

Elsie (06:53):

And, and so to piggyback off of that, you know, there's so much vocabulary, right? There's so many words that you, that sometimes kids, we don't, we don't talk to them about because we just do it. Right? And so there's so much vocabulary, so much, um, identification of, of everything, of utensils, of everything in the kitchen. Um, and then there was another thing about the sequencing. You know after that activity, after your, you're done, you go through the first we did this and second we did this and third week and then you got ordinal numbers in there and it's just, I think it's just a different way of thinking, right? Because as a parent you're doing your daily chores and you're not talking about it, you're just doing it. So it's just about talking through what you're doing. Just modeling that language for the kids.

Meredith (07:44):

I love that you said just talking about Elsie because sometimes my kids don't want to participate in the cooking, but if I find that I start narrating my actions, I'm going to open the box and now I'm here and they're hearing that. So they're still getting exposure to the vocabulary. But often when I narrate it they jump right in. I love that you said that's a great idea.

Stephanie (08:06):

In thinking about the sequencing and the executive functioning piece, sequencing is so important for both executive functioning and building in your planning and in building reading skills and vocabulary and everyday life. And often we think that to build a reader we have to sit down and like make them memorize sight words and drill sounds all day long. But you can read from a recipe card, you can follow directions from pictures in a recipe book. And learning those sequential words will help you figure out that there's first, second and third in his story. There's first, second and third in a recipe. There's first, second and third in all different skills in life. Like you said in the jobs, in folding laundry that builds in executive and vocabulary.

Amy (08:57):

I think for all families and for all children, so much of task oriented home care is something that happens to families or happens to our children and we don't narrate as much. And that's because of the pace of our lives and the pace of the day. But there's been a shift and now we're home and the pace is exponentially slower and we have a unique opportunity to capitalize on that. And like Elsie and Meredith said, narrate and talk and teach to the executive functioning that's necessary. And when you become active in caring for yourself, dressing yourself, brushing yourself, that independence, that initiative, that sequencing, this is all of that problem-solve thing that's necessary for lifelong learning. So, um, I think anytime children become actively involved in problem solving and caring for themselves and their immediate environment, you're more of a stakeholder. Yeah.

Stephanie (10:28):

Yeah. I realized as we can slowing down in the mornings now that we don't have to get up and out the door at 6:50 AM um, my three year old was still not very good at putting on his own pants. Okay, well buddy, time to learn. Yes you can put your own pants on. And now we've got almost all day until I have a video call, but almost every day. And so empowering him and even working on sequencing and problem solving of getting himself dressed and what do we need to wear for the day? And my daughter's been loving, you know, asking, um, asking her Siri, like what the weather is and then taking ownership of planning out her own clothes now that she doesn't have to wear a uniform.

Meredith (11:12):

Yeah. That's nice.

Elsie (11:14):

Even doing the laundry, I mean, you know, that's sorting right there. That's another math, you know, so they're sorting their, they, if they're helping you, you know, sort your clothes, but the whites together, put the darks together, whatever. That's an activity right there. Again, you don't usually talk through that, but if you start, no change that in that mindset, they're going to hear you and they're going to, Oh, that makes sense. Right?

Amy (11:40):

The vocabulary, you can get really creative there too. Cause then you've got um, tops and bottoms, narcs and lights. You can sort of sort into all, you know, pants, shorts, shirts, long sleeve, short sleeve are so many ways to go. Um, you can do patterns and solids and looking for patterns. And once again, what a simple way to build in language. You can get your prepositions in there to take your dirty clothes and put them in the hamper. Oh, they didn't get it. Oh my gosh, they're next to the hamper, you know, Oh, you dumped all the clothes out, you know, and getting all of that prepositions in. Um, and also to following directions. Even for our children in emerging language are two and three year olds. Once again, what a wonderful, simple, routine. One step direction. Put your laundry in the hamper, right? We're checking for listening comprehension. You can also, where did you put it? Wh questions and the hammer.

Meredith (12:53):

Whose shirt is this? Whose pants are these? Going back to Amy, you said the ER giving jobs. There are so many jobs within laundry. You're in the sock matcher. You're the color sorter. You know, you're the basket mover. There's so many jobs you can do just with laundry, right?

Stephanie (13:14):

Yeah. In our home went to worked on size comparison because having to figure out, cause we'd dumped the whole family's worth of clothes and they're like, whose shirt is this? Like you said, and which one's bigger? Which one's smaller? How do we know this is daddy's? Yeah. What would happen if we put it in your drawer?

Amy (13:35):

I think there's so much, um, pride too in taking that, you know, with that job language. Oh, I'm the sock matcher. Right? And even with your older kids, I mean, my goodness, my 11 year old, she knows that we have folding parties and we put on music and everybody like you said, has their job and they start, they start going to work. It's just part of the routine. And I think a lot of our parents too, and I think a lot of parents in general are going, how are we filling our days? Right? It's a wonderful way to fill your day and it's also a wonderful way to alleviate stress unless you're one of those people that really likes things done a certain way, you might have to let go a little bit in order to, um, I don't know another, um, great place to do this as getting ready for meals. So this is another place where we're slowing down and we have an actual opportunity to sit around a table. Well, if you're a table setter, you know, here's another sequencing opportunity. First I'm putting down the plates. Next I get the cups, but then I, the utensils and last I put down the napkins and they're shaped language there too, aren't there? Right? Because most, most plates are going to be round like circles, you know? And there's just so many, um, descriptive words in that and um,

Elsie (15:11):

and figuring out how many you need. So how many, how many people are in the house? Oh, we have four family members. So how many will we need? I wonder, you know, like having them put down the four and again, one to one correspondence things. Yeah.

Stephanie (15:27):

And then adding it together. If we have four forks and four spoons, how many do we have? Yeah. Love that. Yeah. My daughter has been really loving being the table setter.

Amy (15:40):

We've really also been enjoying, um, grocery list making. So do being the grocery list maker right now I'm not able to go into the grocery store. I'm immunosuppressed so my husband can go if he's not at work. Otherwise we've been doing the online ordering. Such a wonderful way to check what you still have and what you don't. So that positive and adding in those negatives. Oh, not, Oh, we're out of, we have that. We don't have that. And checking and you know, making lists, sorting within that. Okay. So let's keep the fruit all in what area? Let's keep the bread all in one area.

Elsie (16:28):

Category. Yep. Using your categories. That's right. That's awesome.

Amy (16:34):

Then being able to, for um, predicting, looking at what you've got in the pantry and what you got in the refrigerator. What could we make with this? Let's make a smart guess right now.

Meredith (16:52):

I'm not sure what kind of things would come out of my five-year-old's mouth for what it might be.

Amy (16:57):

But that might be for some of your older students. I've been seeing a lot of families getting involved in, you know, chopped junior type games and Cupcake Wars type games. And I think for a lot of kids that are working with, um, predicting and inferencing and things of that nature, it's really good before you start. And I think those are great games to play, but I think that it might involve making a picture in your head first of what would I need? Yeah. And then experimenting with, you know, what kind of thoughts is it going to give somebody if it's not, you know, that type of thing.

Elsie (17:44):

I like to hear what the five-year-old would think of tacos or spaghetti.

Meredith (17:52):

Yeah. I think my kids would say tacos or spaghetti. That's like what they want. Every meal are Mac and cheese. That would be the other, you know, another activity that we've done in the kitchen is matching lids to containers as by saying, not saying kind of things like that. So that's been really fun. My husband struggles with that a little bit.

Elsie (18:18):

You know, if you're unloading your dishwasher, right? If you're unloading your silverware, well, they're going to have to sort them out and put them where they belong. Right. And you might have more spoons than forks and you might have, you know, that counting that, um, sorting and counting. And then I was thinking if you, I mean, you know, we're trying to do things that, um, that we can just incorporate in our, in our daily lives, but if you want something a little bit more structured, right, then maybe, you know, you can choose, let's say a letter a day or something if you wanted to work on something like that. Um, maybe start with the first letter of their name because that's what's important to them. And, um, when you're reading a book, see if they can find it in there. Just that one letter, see if they can see it. Um, when you're, when you're in the kitchen or you have something written down or you're making a list, see if they can find that letter and just work on that one thing. Go outside, um, write it on the, on the ground with chalk. You know, just if you wanted to do something a little bit more structured that you feel like they're, you know, learning, learning where, you know, but um, you know, activities like that.

Amy (19:35):

I was thinking even to piggyback on what you were saying, I think more than ever, it's so important for us to, you know, we've talked a lot about things that we can do inside - getting outside. And so building in a walk, whether it's a morning walk or an afternoon walk or a walk right before dinner, that's a great time too. So if you have that letter of the day and you're passing a street sign, you can look for it in the street sign or you can look for stop signs, um, or in the traffic lights. But something else that's nice to do with that walk. It's a great time to build in propositional language as well. So, Oh now you're behind me. Hurry up, come get in front of me, oh look, child's comment is walking between us. Now we're next to each other and we can really start to build that in something else. That's really nice. It's just building in words like notice, see what do you think we're going to see around the next corner? And that predicting who we might run into. Do you think we'll see a biker? What kind of car might pass us? Will it be a truck? Will it be, will it be, you know, a sedan? I don't know what kind of language the child has. And then finally take with you a small bucket and put little treasures from nature. Something that we've been really enjoying is, um, just taking different things from the earth. You know, small rocks, acorns, grass, twigs, and we brought those things home the other day and we made self portraits. So the girls put my, my girls put that out on um, the driveway and they made their face in their hair. And my younger daughter was saying, you know, that she had curly hair. So, um, she used this plant to show the curls and now in her hair. And those are things that you can do. I'm thinking of literacy and handwriting as well and I know that we, um, with our younger kids work on mat man, so you can take those items from nature and be working on the parts of the body, the head, the eyes, you know, the arms, the hands and you can really extend that learning to, um, for those children that are working on drawing themselves.

Stephanie (22:07):

Yeah. Yeah. After walks are great time for language. You can work on speed, fast, slow, medium around adjectives, looking at colors, things that are big sizes, shapes. And it's been fantastic. My daughter had an assignment to go look for living and nonliving things and we just kept adding to them around the neighborhood. And right there we counted that as science for the day, right?

Amy (22:30):

The house is not living. Grass is living and not so wonderful to build that in. And it is so important for moms and dads to get that release too. Right? All of us need to get outside, take a deep breath, kind of get outside of our four walls for a little bit and um, take in what's always been here for us. Right. And um, we're really fortunate for a while before it gets kind of steamy out here in Houston. So it's a good time to really take advantage of that space and our kids need it too.

Elsie (23:11):

Yeah. And I think, you know, as a parent, forgive yourself, they are learning all the time. You are constantly teaching them something and you know, it doesn't have to be a set of activity. You know, it just, you know, forgive yourself. It's fine that we were, this is what we're doing right now, this is the way we're going to survive right now.

Meredith (23:33):

And I love, I love that you say that. Forgive yourself because sometimes the nature walks don't turn into these wonderful things and sometimes they turn into, as my the other day turned into is we're abandoning your scooter so later we'll get in the car and come back and get it because you're taking off your shoes. So there's lots of things, so it's okay if you have this idea of what a nature walk will be and it's okay if it doesn't turn into that.

Amy (24:04):

And what if it wasn't supposed to be that action thing. What if you needed to go through all of that to get some real teaching done anyway, because that's just it. I think that now more than ever, we are all on social media and we're looking at this great chalk activity that somebody did and the end product that people post might look like that, but what goes on in between all of that processing and navigating and language and experience and it's not always beautiful and it's all supposed to happen that way, right?

Meredith (24:44):

You can find a learning and you can, you can do learning and find a lesson than anything. Even in the abandoning the scooter on the phone, you should have seen that was with my two year old. My five-year-old at the time was trying to problem solve everything he could to ride his scooter and carry his sister's gear because he was so worried about leaving it behind. But it was a lesson there, you know, there were, we were problem solving and I was, you know, we were talking through it, but it was very frustrating in the minute. In the moment it did not turn out the way I expected our scooter ride to turn out. But in the end it was all okay and they still learn something. So,

Stephanie (25:23):

and sometimes they just need to be left alone to go scooters so they can get in the right head space to come back and do something else. Well, we want to empower parents to be able to find language and academics in their small moments so that they don't feel like they have to have worksheets in front of the kids at all times. We also don't want to pressure parents into thinking that they have to be like on at all times. Exactly.

Amy (25:50):

And that's why I think getting, I dunno if religious is the right word, but committed to the goings on of the home and placing children in the active role of participating in that, right. That's the best place to start because those things are necessary for the functioning of the family, especially in this time. And um, I don't know, I have never felt so good about my laundry in my life at this point. I was on a zoom call the other day. My 11 year old came to me. I took the, um, I took the laundry from the washing machine and put it in the dryer. I didn't ask her to do that.

Meredith (26:38):

Well, you're just bragging now.

Amy (26:43):

In that same breath, I've also had moments where I say, Oh, but remember you're the folder where there was a big no, and you know that's going to happen too. Yeah. Don't have other people to bounce all of this language facilitation off of. It's just us.

Stephanie (27:04):

My older brother said that he was bringing them back home economics as their main class.

Elsie (27:11):

There you go.

Meredith (27:13):

Good idea. It's important. Everyone needs to know how to take care of themselves and take care of their home. So it's a great opportunity to teach our kids now while they're young and we're stuck at home anyway.

Amy (27:24):

These are wonderful, wonderful virtues and hopefully when we can do a better job of taking care of ourselves by self care, going through the things that need to happen in our lives, indoors and outdoors, when we all come out of this, we'll be stronger and self so that we can be even stronger for one another. So here's to that.

Stephanie (27:55):

All right, well thank you both very much for putting up with the technical difficulties in hearing your expertise. I appreciate your input.

Elsie (28:05):

Thank you for asking.

Amy (28:07):

Thank you for having me and Elsie, I love all y'all like crazy these girls.

Meredith (28:15):

So I can't wait until we're all back together and thanks everyone for tuning in. For more information on the Unbabbled podcast, please subscribe to our podcast on your app of choice and for more information on The Parish School, visit parishschool.org thanks. Thank you.

Meredith (28:33):

If you're not already, don't forget to subscribe to the Unbabbled podcast on your app of choice. And if you like what you're hearing, be sure to leave a rating and review. A special thank you to Stig Daniels, Amy Tanner, Amanda Arnold, and Stella Limuelfor their hard work behind the scenes. Thanks again for listening.