Daily Routines to Help Preschool Children Communicate

  • Situation

    I would like to help my 3 year old son to communicate better. He’s very smart and can do just about anything on a computer. When I ask him questions he seems to understand, but sometimes he just repeats what I ask him. What are some ways to teach him how to communicate better? What can I do to help?

  • Summary

    One method to try is to use daily routines to help your son expand his communication. Provide choices, use fewer open ended questions (e.g. rephrase What did you do at Gram’s today?  with “Did you swim or ride your bike with Gram?), model the correct language and build on his existing speech. Supplement by using photos, pictures, objects, and gestures. One fun idea is to make a photo album that will encourage conversation.

  • Definition

    Using daily routines is a great way to help your preschool child communicate. The most important thing is to make his communication with you meaningful and functional. Start with simple daily routines such as playtime or mealtime that provide many communication opportunities and include choice making rather than just answering questions. The use of modeling correct responses will help him learn new language even if he only repeats what he hears. Through using visual supports (photos, pictures, objects, gestures), it will be easier for your child to converse in a more natural way.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 0-2, 3-5
    • Planning Effort: Low
    • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Pre-requisites

    The natural environment and a camera for photos.


  • Process

    1.Teach your child to communicate a simple request by giving him simple choices (Do you want the red car or the blue car?)  If you have the cars present, you can hold them up and gesture while you ask the question.  This will allow your child to either say, point or do both to request which car he would like. If your child just points, prompt him to imitate your speech by saying “red car” or “red”.  When he repeats or tries to repeat, you can then give him the car rewarding his successful communication.



    2. Once that is accomplished, expand that request by modeling more descriptive words (I want  the big, red car).



    3. As his play continues, model to expand his language by commenting about what is happening. (The car is fast. The car crashed into the blocks. Mommy is driving the car to the supermarket.) After you have modeled  more expanded sentences during play, try leaving off the last word on one sentence and pause…giving your child time to “fill in the rest”.  For example “Ohhh, this red car is so____!” (fast)  Initially pause to give your child the opportunity to complete the sentence but if he doesn’t respond after 2-3 seconds, you can prompt the response by saying “fast”.



    4. You may also provide choices and expand language  like this at meals and snacks, as well as while getting dressed or when reading books.


    • -Hold up juice in one hand and milk in the other. Ask your child to choose.  If he doesn’t respond, prompt the response if you think you know what he  would like “oh, milk” and see if he will imitate you.  Then, follow with giving the milk.  If you are NOT sure which he would like, offer him one which creates an opportunity for him to “protest”.  He may cry, push it away, say no.  When this happens, offer him the other choice while prompting him to say or at least, point to it before you give it to him.  “Oh, you want juice!” (hold up, say juice, pause, prompt “juice” if needed).


    5. You can also model how to tell “no”.

    •          Model the sentence “No thank you. I want juice.”


    6.  Another idea is to make a photo album of your child doing different things, his/her classmates, family members, pets, vacations and favorite things.

    • -Use the photo albums as conversation starters and to model new words, longer phrases and sentences.
    • -Try to limit questions in order to also teach commenting.


    7.  The rule of thumb from The Hanen Centre in Toronto tells us to Say Less and Stress; Go Slow and Show.  Take your child’s typical verbal language level and add 1 or 2 words when speaking to him and modeling speech.


    8. Refer to “Visible But Unreachable” on this site to see another method for expanding language.


    *If you have concerns about your child’s language development, you may also want to contact your child’s pediatrician or a speech-language pathologist.

  • Documents and Related Resources

    Visible But Unreachable (related strategy on this website)


    www.asha.org (American Speech Language Hearing Association)


    MTW professional research summary (pdf) Sussman, Fern. MTW More than Words, Helping Parents Promote Communication and Social Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, The Hanen Centre, 1999.


    If you have questions or concerns about the Watson Institute’s use of this information, please contact us.