Many parents are adjusting to a new reality and working hard to provide an enriching and safe environment while observing social distancing due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It can be really challenging to adapt to a new environment and the Madonna staff is here to help. We asked Speech-Language Pathologist Lacy Albrecht, herself a mom, to share some tips for activities to help develop language and cognitive skills at home. Here are Lacy’s top tips:
Maintain a schedule…
For younger children, this may mean a visual schedule using printed pictures, drawings, or icons on screens to display different tasks they need to complete daily. For older children and teens, utilizing a planner to organize their week and make sure all school tasks are completed can be helpful. “We all depend on expectations, predictability, and routine to some extent, especially during these uncertain times,” Lacy said.
…but take breaks when needed.
Even the best planned schedules can get tiring for both parents and children. It’s important to take breaks, especially when you feel like you’ve reached the end of your productivity. Lacy suggests a “sensory break,” which may include going outside, stomping to the beat of a favorite song, bouncing on a ball or completing an obstacle course.
Teach life skills
This is a great time for children of all ages to learn how to complete tasks around the home, especially those that involve cognitive skills: cooking, washing/folding laundry, building something with wood or tools, teaching a pet a trick, washing and putting away dishes, making a grocery list, spring cleaning and organizing or planning an event like a game night or talent show. Not only are these useful tasks to know, but the process of thinking through and executing tasks step-by-step is a useful tool for cognition development.
Have fun with sound
Engaging in phonological awareness is a fun and interesting way to learn. This can be a great way to combine a physical activity with a language development activity, like going on a walk and writing what you see, writing letters to friends, alphabetizing a bookshelf or writing a nice message in chalk on a neighbor’s driveway. “There are so many options to incorporate spelling and phonics at home. You don’t have to buy fancy flash cards or expensive games,” Lacy said. “Try having your child label letters on a cereal box, write letters to friends and family, play hangman, or even create a book using construction paper and markers. These are all educational activities that require minimal materials or setup.”
Cozy up with a book
Reading is always important, but this is a great time to expand upon the activity even further. It could mean labeling and discussing what is on the page for a younger child or reading a chapter and writing a summary for an older one. You could also consider incorporating a social activity and having a grandparent or other family member read a book via Skype. Your child could become the teacher, crafting a fun lesson plan to tell their siblings all about their favorite book.
Learning by doing
Most daily activities can be repositioned to make them even more educational. For instance, if you’re making pizza for dinner, you can include basic learning concepts: pepperoni circles and oval peppers (shapes), red sauce and white cheese (colors) or adding 1 cup of cheese and ½ cup of pepperonis (fractions). You can incorporate these concepts during preparation (ex. planning ahead to pre-heat the oven, time management and setting a timer, alternating attention by setting the table while it cooks). Help your children identify the soft texture of the pizza before it cooks and the crunchy textures after. If cereal is on the breakfast menu, invite them to sort Fruit Loops by colors and count how many of each. For older children or teens, have them study the weather, noting forecasts for each day, helping them identify various types of clouds and studying extreme weather events.
Connect socially and safely
Even when we can’t connect in person with friends and family, leveraging technology can help keep us in touch. Call or video chat with grandparents and involve them in the daily activities, write an email to teachers, make cards for friends or neighbors. Lacy also suggests revitalizing family game nights. Activities like board games can help teach social skills such as turn taking and praising someone for winning. Games like charades can help teach non-verbal communication, and games like Heads Up can help with processing information quickly and forming descriptions of an object using a variety of language. A decrease in community activities can lead to fun conversations around the dinner table for family members. “Use various topic starters by writing them on a piece of paper and putting them in a bowl. Pass them around the dinner table and have each family member answer. They can be silly or serious questions. You might be surprised at what you learn about your family!” Lacy said.
Above all, remember that these are unprescedented times. Give yourself and your family some grace as you make a huge and sometimes difficult adjustment. Remember that your child develops verbal skills just by talking with you, so don't put great amounts of pressure on your family to have the same learning experience that they would in school. Have fun, connect with one another, and stay safe.