Adding Structure and Promoting Communication in a Time of Chaos

Photo of young doctor hand on the child hand

Laura D’Ostilio, MA, CCC,SLP

Children respond best to structure and routine. Adults often do too! Weeks without school make this challenging so here are some suggestions that will help families get through this taxing time, while promoting opportunities for speech and language development, which will ultimately make children more effective communicators.
-Make a schedule for your day, using block scheduling. Make a list of blocks (activities) for the day and estimate a specific amount of times for each one. Set a timer for each block. Time does not seem endless and overwhelming when there is a limit on each activity. The timer can be on your phone or the oven timer. A free visual timer app is available on most devices. Tell children how long the block is for and try and only do what is intended for that block. This will help them start to understand the concept of time.
-Write a list of the schedule and review it with children. When an activity finishes, have children cross it off on the list and refer them to it when they need reminders.

Block Ideas to promote communication opportunities:
-Breakfast: Possible discussion topics: Talk about things you are thankful for, discuss favorite things and things you do not like for different categories
-TV/Screen/Movie: Setting a timer for this will make it easier for your child to transition away from the screen.
-Arts and crafts: This does not have to be organized but add various directions by saying, “ We are only using crayons today!” Encourage children to verbally share what they made.
-Movement: Do a YouTube workout together if you can’t go outside and discuss what was easy vs.hard.
-Spring Cleaning!: Pick a section of a room a day to clean and purge with your child. Make a donation bag and talk about the importance of giving to others, and what your child needs vs what they do not need.
-Lunch: Possible discussion topics: Talk about the mistakes you have made because that’s how you learn, discuss things you want to get better at, discuss things that are hard/easy to do.
-Board Game time: Practice your child choosing one independently and asking you or another family member to join them.
-Stop, Drop, and Read!! (Independent Reading and Co-Reading)Have children share what they read and make a chart of the number of minutes they read each day. Discuss their progress and goal.
-Independent play time (Have children answer WH questions about something they played like, “ What did you do?, How do you play it?, Why do you like it?” )
-Social time: FaceTime and call people! The social pragmatic language differs from talking to someone in person and there are many learning opportunities. Current teenagers are struggling with soft skills needed for job searches because of increased texting.
-Act of kindness: What if you did one thing a day? For example,make a card for a family member and send it, or write a thank you note to a friend. Have children help with putting the stamp on, folding the paper, and putting it in the mailbox until they are as independent as they can be.
-Dinner: Meal planning and meal preparation provide a lot of language opportunities. During dinner, play high/low game (what was your high and low of each day?)
-Dance party: Everyone gets a turn to request a song.
– Nap time or quiet/meditation time- Put on a guided body scan (encourages following directions) or play music quietly and encourage silence for at least 20 minutes a day.

You will most likely write the same activities/blocks on your schedule every day. You don’t have to think of something new every day and by keeping the blocks similar, it will resemble the structure at school. For example, at school, they have reading, math, special, lunch, and free time daily. They do something different during those times daily but the structure is the same.
At home, they can always have meals, free time, screen time, reading, and movement. By nature, every day will be a little bit different. Remember repetition increases children’s learning,
especially with language skills!

Laura D’Ostilio, MA, CCC,SLP. Laura is a speech pathologist in Connecticut and has worked with children 3-21 in public schools for the past 14 years. Laura kidly wrote and shared this article with us, as we all preparing for the COVID-19 school closures. Thank you Laura. She may be reached at

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