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by Mollie Romano, PhD, CCC-SLP, and Juliann Woods, PhD, CCC-SLP

When providers discuss routines as contexts for early intervention, parents may wonder, “That sounds strange.  Bath times are for bathing! How does that help my child learn?” As team members in early intervention, one of our primary goals is to share the fact that infants and toddlers learn by doing everyday things and gradually taking bigger roles in those activities. Let’s think about a few ways bath time can help children learn:

  • Caregivers can label body parts as they lather up little arms and legs.
  • Older toddlers can start to use the soap and learn to wash up!
  • Babies and toddlers can learn spatial concepts by pouring water in and out of containers.
  • Bath time can lead to back and forth songs and tickle games!
  • Toddlers can practice building with foam bath time blocks
  • Drying off leads to motor opportunities to stand, or to sit with support on a caregiver’s lap while getting a nice snuggle.

Like all family routines, a simple activity like bath time will look different for each family. Some families will bathe young infants in the kitchen sink, and others have all the kiddos pile in the tub at once! Those differences bring unique opportunities and steps in the routine that can be built upon. A kitchen sink bath could involve gathering up the towels and soap which provides  opportunities for labeling items or making choices between a pink or green towel. A family bath could include some fun sibling interactions and roles.  Big sis might get a bubble beard from a younger sibling!

It is important, though that families are the decision makers about what to target and when.  Families should also understand that routines can be flexible to meet them where they are on a particular day and how their child is developing. Some working families might feel that bath times have to be quick – like a baby car wash!  And that’s ok!  They don’t have to choose bath time as a routine for intervention.  If they do though, they can tailor the strategies and targets to their family’s needs.  For example, they may choose to label some body parts as they wash, two quick peek-a-boo’s with a towel, and then done! On other days where there is more time, Mom or Dad could also play with containers and squirt toys, too! In this way, routines can expand and contract, and be built up as children are ready to take on bigger roles.

As we help families make choices about what developmental skills to target and when, a routines matrix may be helpful. It can even serve as a reminder of the possible routines in which to embed learning opportunities, and they are endless.  One family we worked with had a routine when greeting the Walmart online delivery person – a routine straight out of the digital era! The toddler greeted the delivery person, waved bye-bye, then he helped Mom take the groceries out of the bag! As we share information about routines and the ways they expand and contract, families can see that there are opportunities all throughout their day to help their child learn, grow, and have fun, even while putting the groceries away.

Image from, CC0