Do you like baking? And…do you have kids who are learning to talk?
The one thing at Thanksgiving dessert that I love more than pumpkin pie are Cranberry – Pumpkin – Butterscotch – Pecan cookies. They are my Fall Favorite and I make sure to bake them every year. This year I baked them with my 2 older children (ages 5 & 3) and a recipe that would take 20 minutes to prepare actually took an hour. But, 3 spills later, my son’s cookie batter fingers wiped on the cabinets (instead of a napkin) and, everything cleaned up finally, it was totally worth it. Why? Because not only are fresh baked cookies delicious, but we shared in a meaningful task that had a narrow focus on a specific preschool language skill.
I am not actually going to tell you about how to make the cookies (but I will leave you the recipe at the end of this post). Instead, I want to talk about my real passion. Not baking, (though it’s high up there!) but child language development. In every shared interaction with my kids I try to incorporate some aspects of language, and oftentimes it is pretty broad. However, I want to show you today how you can use modeling (within any activity, mine just happened to be baking) to help your preschooler form sentences with future tense verbs. You’ll want to have a look at the video so you can see how I did this and get a better idea of how to implement it at home. (Disclaimer: I am not a photographer, and I am additionally holding my infant son in the other arm while recording, so go easy on me!) The entire hour of cookie making is not recorded-but specific portions to demonstrate the targeted goal.
I begin with laying out the task. “Today we will make cookies!” Notice-my focus is on future tense sentences: using a subject + will (indicating future) + verb. I began with modeling the sentence construction that I wish for my children to use.
I ask questions. “What will you do next?” Note that the sentence construction is different for a question than a statement with “will” as listed above. I ask questions because this is a function of language…you ask me a question, I respond. And vice versa. We also need models of how future tense questions are asked, not just using future tense in statements!
I wait for responses. Ok, I will admit this one was tricky to do, mainly because my 5 year old likes to talk and won’t allow time for her brother to process how he’d like to respond to the question. Ideally, you ask a question and have a silent count going in your head “one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand,” before you jump in again with more questions.
I provide a verbal model or prompt as needed. Depending on how quickly your child is catching onto the task of using future tense, you may give him/her the first word or words of the sentence you are looking for. “I….will…..” Perhaps you may end up modeling word by word and your child repeats, or perhaps he/she will finish the sentence for you after being given the first word or two.
I allow multiple opportunities for repetition. Like the great Elena Plante of the University of Arizona says, “Vary everything except for what you want them to learn” (2014). This is based on her research of statistical learning for morphemes. The research concludes that you should use at least 24 examples within the context of teaching a specific concept. Basically, if you want a child to learn “Subject + WILL + verb,” you should use a variety of subjects, and a variety of verbs. Notice in this video how I used different verbs, such as “dump”, “stir”, “mix”, “pour”, “eat”, “pick”, and I did not always use the subject “I”. You’ll notice that “You” and “We” are also used. Why is that? We want to change everything about the sentence except for WILL, in order for the child to learn the construct of the future tense sentence. Thus, a child will be able to create new sentences with the same construct, because they have had many different examples of how a future tense sentence is formed. I will provide you with 24 (plus a bonus 7) different relevant verbs that you may choose to use when cooking with your child, in case you find yourself stuck using the same few action words.
I continue to model the construction of the future tense sentence throughout the activity. You will notice my daughter is so therapized. She knows exactly what I am going to ask or want her to do without even prompting her. Because of this, you will hear me chuckling as I record that portion of the video! You’ll also see that my son is catching on to the task and can form future tense on his own by the time we wrap up.
So that’s all there is to it! I like to use baking with my children when focusing on language skills because my kids are highly motivated to talk in order to continue on with the baking activity.
Plus, when I use a specific activity, I am more intentional about focusing on a specific language goal in this finite amount of time.
If you would like to learn more about child language, follow me on https://www.facebook.com/SpeechWithHeart.
If you’re wondering how you could modify this activity for your toddler or older child to match their language needs, check out the contact link on my website, and we can be in touch.
Don’t forget to download the recipe and the verbs handout for completing your own baking activity!