Making use of everyday routines and objects in your environment to play with my baby

In this episode, Ayelet sits down with Lia Kurtin of the website “Speech & Language At Home.” Lia Kurtin is a pediatric speech-language pathologist. She has been working with kids from birth through high school for nearly 20 years. Lia is currently providing assessment, treatment and parent education in the home health setting. She also owns a private practice and runs the website Speech and Language at Home. Lia creates and sells speech therapy materials for families and educators on her website and through her store on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Lia offers three great categories of materials families can consider when playing with an infant or toddler, which also tie into everyday routines: everyday objects, food items, and nature!

Lia and Ayelet discuss the reasons why everyday routines are such great opportunities to connect with a young child, how parents might use them to support language development and create multi-sensory experiences, and what additional favorite resources exist!

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text transcript of this episode

Welcome to episode 42 of the Strength In Words podcast! Today, I’m speaking with Lia Kurtin of Speech and Language At Home. Lia is a pediatric speech and language pathologist on a mission to empower families and support professionals to keep it simple when it comes to supporting young children. Lia, welcome!

Lia: Thank you so much for having me, I’m so excited to be here!

Ayelet: We’re happy to have you, too. I asked you to come on the show today to talk a little bit about everyday routines and play with infants and toddlers. So, first, I would love just to hear a little bit about you, what brought you to this kind of work, and who you are.

Lia: Sure! Well, I’m a speech-language pathologist and I had worked in the schools for, oh gosh, 14 years… so I worked with preschool to high school kids in that setting. Then, almost 5 years ago, I transitioned to home health, where I would see kids of all ages, many in the birth-3 population, but also some older kids, as well. So, I’ve pretty much worked with pediatrics, children of all ages, with just a variety of needs that they have. So, I’m in the home setting now, and when I transitioned, I really had to re-educate myself and see how I could best serve those kids. In that process, I’ve learned so much. I started bringing in a lot of materials, doing a lot of therapy that I was used to doing, traditionally, but as I’ve gotten more experience and learned more what the evidence is, it really just states that children learn best from their natural environment, so anything I brought in was not… it might help them, we might have a good session and learn a lot at that time, but I really tried to expand into more of an education role, helping families, training, teaching what they can do at home, as well. That’s kind of where I’m at now – it’s been a process for me, I’m still learning, but I’m hoping to share a little bit of that with you guys today!

Ayelet: That’s so great. So, let’s hear about it! What can you tell us about why everyday routines are such great opportunities to connect with a small child?

Lia: Exactly. I think sometimes parents might feel like a therapist “knows something” special or different, that what we’re doing is kind of a unique trick. But really, it’s just thinking intentionally about what you’re doing, and it doesn’t matter so much what the object or material is… an everyday object is those things that kids see everyday, and it’s going to give them lots more exposure and practice for learning language. So, by focusing more on things that kids see everyday – those are the words that they’re going to need to use, and the vocabulary to build into daily routines, so focusing on those kinds of things vs. strategies or tricks that you can bring in and do in a therapy session – it’s really more about the family’s routines, and what’s important to them.

Ayelet: Yeah! So I understand that you brought a few commonly found household objects with you today. Can you tell us what they are, and what are your best tricks for using them?

Lia: Yeah, I’ve been kind of thinking about the things we use and they sort of fall into, in my brain, into three categories I look at them as having grouped together.

The first group is “everyday objects.” It could be something like their shoes (kids need to learn how to practice the word “shoe!”) – just common objects they use all day long. So, things you have around your home. The second group would be foods. Some of the kids I see aren’t really eating yet, because I work with more medically fragile kids, but parents can be in and out of the kitchen all day long, so even if their child’s not at the stage when they’re eating yet, you know, having them in the kitchen with you, handing them a food – it could be something simple like an apple – to explore and play with, those are really unique sensory-rich opportunities, too. And then, the third one which I think, especially nowadays, all kids benefit from, is nature. Exposing kids to being outside, I think as parents, we tend to buy those baby-safe toys that are fantastic, and they are safe for a reason! And they sell them because, you know, there’s all these warning labels and stuff, and you obviously want to watch your kids and make sure they’re not into harmful things. But at the same time, we need to let our kids explore things like sticks and rocks and experience things that they would find outside or during play time where it’s not quite so protected.

Ayelet: Yes. I think that it’s so important… when we think about things like “nature objects” – those kinds of things can be done anywhere, in any setting. You can be living in a city, you can be living way out in the ‘burbs or in a very rural setting. All it takes is going outside and taking a nature walk, which can be going outside on the pavement and I’m sure there is some tree somewhere that has bark, or a leaf or if there’s a spider web somewhere – things like that are great! That’s awesome. So to recap, the other two categories you mentioned are…

Lia: Right, just everyday objects, and then foods. I think it’s just really good, you get so much multi-sensory opportunity with foods, which is just really good. I mean, letting kids play with or explore the texture – it doesn’t always have to be eating it! – it could just be playing with, say giving your kid a banana: feel the outside of a banana! They can work on peeling it, smashing it with their fingers. If they’re a little bit defensive, you can combat that sensitivity by putting it in a Ziploc bag. I mean you can put other objects in the bag with the banana! They can just explore the texture! They’ll get some on their hands, you know, they can smell it, and have more of an experience that is an activity based around food, but not for the purpose of eating, necessarily.

Ayelet: Yes! That’s such a great example, especially for our little ones who maybe are kind of weirded out by that texture, putting things in a plastic bag is awesome. Or putting plastic wrap and taping it to a tray or even a surface.

Lia: Right, a table top or some surface and just covering it. I think sometimes parents feel like they have to go out and get stuff, but really, if you just look in the refrigerator, there’s a lot of things… One of the things I’ve done with kids before is just take yogurt – plain yogurt – and put it in different containers and add food coloring and it makes a really easy finger paint that they can explore as an art activity, but it’s still safe, so that’s just one simple idea as far as using your refrigerator.

Ayelet: And I know you had some ideas – shoes are a great example of everyday objects, can you give us a couple of others.

Lia: Yeah, I think with a lot of baby toys, they’re all kind of the same material – you know, plastic and that soft fabric material which of course is so cute and fluffy, but exposing kids to other materials… I mean, what child does not like a phone? Pulling out, if you have any old electronics, like old phones, keyboards are great, just to kind of play with old electronics for little ones just to feel or toddlers who are getting into that pretend play. I’ve used old phones with kids to help get them talking, like they’re pretending to talk on the phone… you know, it’s not going to matter if they’re chewing on them… it could be something like tape! That will keep kids busy for a long time if you just explore the texture making a roll inside out so they can stick things to it, putting it around their wrist so they can play with it, be entertained, or if they’re sitting in a high chair while you’re making dinner, you can tape some things down to their tray, and they can use their fingers to pull it off – which is great for fine motor skills! And you can work on vocabulary – pull, pull it off, sticky, uh oh, off, on, more.

And then with the nature thing, too, also bringing it… if it’s a windy day, I have a lot of kids who just won’t go outside because they don’t like the wind, and I know as a parent, I would avoid those situations, too if it’s too windy outside. But if you… they’re never really gonna get used to it if you avoid it – so I think even if just for 5 minutes – it doesn’t have to be a long activity, but if you intentionally say, ok, I know it’s cold, but we’re going to go outside, we’re going to play in the snow, or it’s really windy let’s throw leaves…

Ayelet: Yes – or “let’s find 5 leaves!” or something…

Lia: Right, scavenger hunts are really great for outside. First of all, it’s a great way to burn off some energy! But if you say, ok, let’s look for a pinecone! How many pinecones can you find? That’s great to keep them busy, lots of movement, they can run around and look for things – where did you find it? – lots of great language, there!

Ayelet: Oh, that’s wonderful. Well, we’re going to just take a small break to hear a word from our sponsors, and then we’ll come back to hear some of your favorite resources, Lia for other ideas that you mentioned.

Do you want to provide an enriching environment – without all the plastic bells and whistles? Do you want to know how to stimulate your infant or toddler’s growth and development? Are you tired of trying to do all this in a vacuum? 

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The Community LAB is an all-in-one resource that isn’t one-size-fits-all. To take your free 1-week trial and join us for everything I’ve just described as well as member access to Q&A sessions with the featured guests I bring onto the podcast, come check out

Ayelet: Alright, so what are some of your favorite resources for ideas and information about play and routines, Lia? Can you tell us a few of those?

Lia: Right. Well, I think a lot of parents turn to Pinterest to look for ideas, you know, which can be good or bad. I think sometimes we compare ourselves. There are a lot of ideas out there, but you also just have to keep it realistic. You know, I don’t need to keep up with that parent to be as elaborate as that. But there are a lot of really good ideas! So if you find, like when we were talking about the food, if you’re looking for more ideas of what to do with cooked pasta, that’s a great resource to search for things.

I’ve been working on creating a packet of monthly activities or resources for parents, and every month, I’m putting out a resource that gives you ideas of specifically what to do with everyday items, so it could be paper plates or rocks from outside, or sticks. Just giving parents more specific, concrete examples of that.

As far as daily routines, I also look for songs that I can sing… you do great songs, I know that your podcast and your resources have a wonderful library of songs! But you can just make them up as you go – so a lot of the things are just based on what I need to individualize for each kid.

Ayelet: Yeah! I love taking a song that’s just a familiar tune and then making up the words based on what I’m doing around my son..

Lia: Exactly! Yeah, it’s hard for resources like that, I think what you do is great – is, you take the situation, a song that you know, and then you kind of pair them together! You have great examples of that.

Ayelet: Thanks! And we have a ton of those, each month in the Community LAB, we have a new enrichment session full of a bunch of new ideas each month, so we keep a whole running library of that in here, too.

Lia: Yeah! I think it’s good. I think parents, when I work with them, they see that, but I think sometimes they just need an example or two, to hear and to listen to, so that’s a great resource for that that you can, “here’s something that might give you an idea” of things that you’ve done, but it’s also a good model for things that they can go and do on their own.

Ayelet: Yeah, exactly! Well, thanks so much, Lia! And thanks to all our Community LAB members who are here listening live. We’ll continue the discussion and open up for a q and a session for you guys in just a minute. For everyone listening from home or on the go, thanks so much for joining us, and we’ll see you next time!

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