Speaking with Spoons

Does your child ever seem more fascinated with random objects around the home versus his own toys? Have you ever wondered why?   Chances are he’s seen you use some of those items while cooking, washing dishes, and opening food containers among other seemingly mundane routine chores, which instantly catapults said items to prime status. Simple, random household objects that appeal greatly to your child can motivate your child to learn new speech and language skills. Here are a variety of fun activities you can do with one common household item, a wooden spoon (or just spoons), to encourage speech and language development by learning about words, numbers, colors, sizes, shapes, emotions, music, and more.

WORDS

ASK:
What’s This?
Do you want a spoon?

Before moving on to the following activities, see if your child can respond to the simple questions above.  Can your child say, “spoon”, when asked, “What’s this?” and respond to yes-no questions, such as,“Do you want a spoon?” If your child cannot label the item yet on his own, it’s okay to first ask, “Do you want a spoon?”, so that your child hears the correct response prior to asking him the question (scaffolding), “What’s this?”

NUMBERS

All or None

Give your child some wooden spoons and an empty bucket or clean used food container, e.g., coffee container.  Let your child have fun placing the wooden spoons and have him count them if possible as he puts them in the container.  Count with him if he needs assistance. Then when done, he can have fun dumping them “all out.” Repeat this process several times, especially if your child cannot yet count independently.  Have him hear you count them repeatedly while placing them in the container.  After a few times of placing the spoons in and dumping them out, use a closure technique by counting the first number or numbers and then pausing for him to fill in the rest, e.g., “1…” You can also talk about the child having “all” of them while mommy has “none” of them as well as discuss the container being”full” versus “empty,” to help the child understand the concept of 0 versus 1, or no value versus value, nonexistence versus existence.

Count and Chat:

ASK:
How many spoons do you want?

(Can prompt with choice question if necessary: 1 or 2?)

How many spoons does [child’s name] have?

How many spoons does mommy have?

Expand your counting repertoire beyond 0 and 1 or all or none. Ask your child to help you set the table. As you prepare to take spoons out of a drawer, see if your child has some idea of quantity by asking, “How many spoons do you want?” If it’s too difficult for your child to answer, offer them a choice question, e.g., “1 or 2?” Respond contingently to your child’s answer by giving him the requested number of spoons so he may visually associate the number with quantity.  Then ask, “How many spoons does [child’s name] have?”Offer a choice question if needed and use your fingers to point and count each other’s spoons. Then take some spoons from the drawer for yourself and ask, “How many spoons does mommy have?” Offer a choice question again if needed or use your fingers as necessary.  Vary the number of spoons you take out for “mommy” every time you prepare to set the table so your child will gradually begin to associate each number with its current quantity.

Plan and Solve:

ASK:
How many spoons do we have?
How many more spoons do we need (for the whole family to eat dinner)?

If your child has basic counting (1-10 is fine) mastered you can also try to introduce basic addition or subtraction in the context of setting the table. First, set the correct number of plates needed for your family at the table.  Then place some spoons at the center of the table, making sure to have one less spoon than the total family members, and then ask, “How many spoons do we have?” “Let’s see! Proceed to place all the spoons by each plate on the table while you count them out loud:” One for Mama, one for Baba, one for Jane and…uh-oh!” As you approach the last plate, you should have one spoon missing upon which you could ask, “How many more spoons do we need?” You can try this same activity with different number variations. You can get creative by having “guests” over with stuffed animals to add more plates and explore various number combinations and their sums.

Once addition has been mastered, you may try a similar activity to learn subtraction.  First, set the number of plates needed for your family at the table.  Then place some spoons at the center of the table, making sure to have one or more extra spoon(s) than the total number of family members, and then ask, “How many spoons do we have?” Proceed to place all the spoons by each plate on the table while you count them out loud. As you approach the last plate, you should have one or few extra spoons upon which you could ask, “How many spoons should we take out?” Again, get creative to explore numbers and their combined differences.

COLORS

Teach colors while brightening up your kitchen. Paint the ends of your wooden spoons in varying shades of the color spectrum. Check out http://www.aprettycoollife.com/2012/03/rainbow-painted-wooden-spoons.html Cheryl’s original post on making rainbow painted wooden spoons or alternatively, you can use markers.  Once you’ve colored all your wooden spoons, name them out loud with your child: “Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple, Pink…Magenta.” Line them up one beneath the other so the colored ends are on top of each other to make a rainbow with the red painted spoon at the top, followed by orange, and the rest of the colors of the rainbow in order.

Depending on your child’s speech and language skills, use a variety of wh– questions to talk about rainbows: “What is a rainbow?, “Where do you see a rainbow?, “When do you see a rainbow,” and “How do you see a rainbow?” If you do not know much about a rainbow, Google it first, so you can answer your child’s questions! If you forgot to look it up beforehand, that’s okay too—say, “I don’t know, let’s look it up” as you search for the information together while looking at different pictures of rainbows. Better yet, make your own rainbow. Check out http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Rainbow to explore 6 different ways to make your own rainbow!

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For older children, when painting your spoons, talk about primary colors, red, yellow, and blue, as you mix them into secondary colors, orange, green, and purple.  Then mix primary and secondary colors to make tertiary colors such as red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-purple, and red-purple. You may elect to make a color wheel with your spoons and discuss how opposite spoons complement each other.  When all is said and done, place your wooden spoons back in the kitchen to create a joyful, artful, usable display.

SIZES

ASK:
Do they all look the same or different?
Which one is the longest? Which one is the shortest?
Which one has a wide handle? Which one has a narrow handle?
Which one is the biggest? Which one is the smallest?

Gather a variety of spoons (wooden, metal, plastic) to discuss their attributes with adjectives – same, different, long, short, wide, narrow, big, and small – by asking questions like the ones above.

SHAPES

ASK:
Which one has a round handle? Which one has a flat handle?
Where’s the: dot, line, circle, triangle, square, rectangle, diamond, heart, star…?

Draw different shapes on your colored wooden spoons. For example, draw a circle on the red painted spoon, a triangle on the orange pointed spoon, a square on the yellow painted spoon, etc. (Tip: use a black marker to boost visibility). Ask your child to find each shape you name. Then take a closer look at the shapes and count the number of edges in each shape, e.g., count, “1” for the line, “1, 2, 3..” for the triangle, “1, 2, 3, 4” for the square, rectangle, and diamond shapes. Ponder further and ask how are a square, rectangle and diamond shape different? E.g., the square has all sides of the same size (equal length) compared to a rectangle, which does not.

EMOTIONS

Now that your spoons have shapes on them, flip them over to draw faces on the reverse side with various facial expressions. For example, some expressions you could draw may include a happy, sad, mad, worried, shocked, or confused expression.

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Ask your child to name the expression on each spoon you present to him. Once your child identifies the emotion to match the facial, expression, ask, “why”; for example, if your child says, “happy”, ask, “why is he happy? If it’s too difficult for your child, offer them a choice: “He’s happy because he has a boo-boo or he’s happy because he has a balloon?” Tip: Provide an example to your child to which he can relate.

STORY-TELLING

Upon labeling emotions, ask other wh- questions in succession to then build a story.  For example, a follow up question to “he’s happy because he had ice cream” could be, “Who gave him the ice cream?” “Where did s/he/they give it to him?

For older children you can take it further and incorporate key story-telling words such as sequence words (first, then, last) and story openings and endings. You can get more creative beyond, “Once upon a time,” and “they all lived happily every after.” Try adding something more unique, such as, “three apples fell from heaven.” Check out  http://www.folktale.net/openers.html and http://www.folktale.net/endings.html for some amazing  and creative story openings and endings from different cultures.  Discuss how you think the sayings originated.  Ruminate.

You can also play out already well-known fairy tales.  You could try Snow White and The Seven Dwarves, whose names already convey expressions or emotions –  Happy, Bashful, Sneezy, Dopey, Grumpy, Sleepy and Doc.

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MUSIC

You can also use your spoons to tap a rhythm to the beat of a favorite song.  Play music with different tempos and different styles as you use different adverbs and adjectives to discuss your actions and results.  As the music gets “louder”, tap your spoon “harder” and as it gets “softer”, tap it more “gently”.  As the music gets “faster,” tap it more quickly and as the music gets “slower,” tap it more slowly.

Try tapping on different surfaces such as the couch, the floor, a pillow, a table, or whatever else you think is tappable.  Talk about soft and hard: “The couch is soft; tapping on it makes a soft sound” or “The table is hard; it makes a loud sound.” Talk about the different surfaces and their textures, e.g., how a couch may be “bumpy” or a table may be “smooth.”

For older children or music enthusiasts, take it further and talk about related terms, e.g.,”piano,” as a term for soft and “forte” for loud, or “pianissimo” for very soft and “fortissimo” for very loud. You can also discuss  “largo,” for slow, “adagio” for moderately fast, and “presto, for a fast tempo.  Check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Italian_musical_terms_used_in_English for a list of Italian musical terms for more discussion.

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As you feel the rhythm during these activities feel free to get up and dance! You can also always pretend to be a maestro and conduct the orchestra with your wooden spoon baton!

COOK

Last but not least, you can of course use the wooden spoon for what is intended and cook with it (or pretend to cook or bake)!  Make simple cupcakes.  Talk about what you are doing as you do them and the verbs, “pour, mix, stir, bake” and any other words that come to mind including, “eat!”.

These are just some ideas of what you can do with a simple spoon.  There are plenty of other household objects which are just as versatile including cups, caps, coasters, and tags.  Do you use any simple household objects to promote communication? Feel free to share your ideas here!