All parents will tell you there is nothing more heart warming than watching the joy on their child’s face as they play happily. As a professional who has worked with children for over a decade, and a mother of two, I can tell you that it is always the simplest things that young children love the most, and what could be more simple than bubbles!
Both in my speech therapy sessions and at home, I use bubbles CONSTANTLY. We always keep bubbles on-hand in the house, there are large bubble wands for outdoor play and I even keep small bubbles in my purse! I don’t know one child (or adult for that matter) who doesn’t love bubbles.
You usually don’t need a lot of bells and whistles in regards to toys, even toys for learning. All you really need is a child’s interest and you have a language learning opportunity. As many speech-language pathologists will tell you, there are hundreds of ways to use bubbles to teach language skills. I have chosen a few that I think would be pretty easy for parents to do at home with their little-ones. However, before I get into the actual activity ideas, here are a few basic definitions of some ‘clinical terms’ just so we are all on the same page.
Expressive Language – This is the use of gestures, sounds, words and sentences to communicate.
Receptive Language – This is the ability to understand language, including words and grammar. Babies start learning vocabulary as early as 7 months of age. Vocabulary grows consistently as children get older.
Joint Attention – This is a pre-linguistic skill that is critical to language development. Joint attention means to have two people looking at the same object, at the same time, and being aware that the other person is looking too.
Pragmatics (Social Language) – This is understanding and using verbal, but also non-verbal forms, to communicate effectively. For example using tone of voice, facial expressions and body language to convey different meanings, making eye contact and turn taking. It also includes using language to behave appropriately in different situations.
Now for the activities!
6 months to 1 year
Expressive language – As the bubbles fall pop them with your finger and say “pop”. Pause after a few times and give your baby a chance to imitate you, either by trying to pop bubbles too, making sounds, or saying “pop”. Repeat several times.
Joint attention – Blow the bubbles for the baby to see. As they fall point to each bubble and say “look” to try and direct the baby’s eyes to the bubble you are pointing at.
Receptive language – Let your baby see you bring the bubble wand to your mouth. Pause for a second, then say “blow” just before you blow the bubbles. Repeat several times.
1 – 2 years
Expressive language – During bubble play point to a bubble your child is looking at and say “bubbles”. Pause and wait expectantly for your child to do something to communicate with you. This will be different depending on their age (e.g., they may smile, clap, make sounds, point, or use words). After they have communicated imitate what they have done or said to let them know they have been heard.
Joint attention – Sit across from your child so you are face-to-face. Blow the bubbles and as they fall say “wow” and “look”. Once your child is engaged in the activity, blow some bubbles then pause and wait expectantly, allowing your child the chance to direct your attention to the falling bubbles either with gestures or words.
Receptive language – Bring the bubble bottle down and come face-to-face with your child. Open the lid slowly and as you open say “open” a few times. Blow a few bubbles then close the lid on the container. Next hold out the bottle and see if your child can follow the direction “open”.
2 – 3 years
Expressive language – Come down face-to-face with your child and hold the bubble wand at your lips ready to blow. Pause and give your child a chance to communicate what they want you to do using two words or a short sentence (e.g., “blow bubbles” or “mommy blow the bubbles”).
Social language – Tell your child you are going to play the ‘bubble stomp game’. The object of the game is to stomp as many bubbles as you can when they land on the ground. Decide who is going to go first then practice taking turns blowing and stomping bubbles.
Receptive language – Sit face-to-face with your child and take the bubble wand out. Tell them you are going to blow bubbles softly. Then blow softly and watch the bubbles come out. Now tell them you are going to blow hard and see what happens. Blow the wand hard and no bubbles will come out. Say “Oh no! It doesn’t work”! (Hint: this should be done in a silly, fun way!). Next give your child a chance. Ask them to blow “softly” and “hard” and see if they can follow the direction accurately.
3 – 4 years
Expressive language – While you are getting the bubbles out talk with your child about how you are going to play with them. Practice past tense by discussing things you have done with bubbles before. Practice future tense by discussing what you are going to do with the bubbles this time. Put slight emphasis on the past and future verbs as you speak to highlight them in the sentence for your child.
Social Language – Begin playing with bubbles with your child. Once your child is engaged in the activity (secretly) spill a little bubble mix on your clothes. Draw your child’s attention to the ‘accident’ and pretend to be sad. Ask your child what you should do. Discuss appropriate social responses for you to do (e.g., ask for a hug to feel better, ask for a towel to wipe it off, etc.) then carry out the ones you decide upon.
Receptive language – Tell your child you are going to have a bubble blowing competition. Take turns blowing bubbles in different ways. See who can blow the highest bubble, the lowest bubble, the biggest bubble or the tinniest bubble. The more adjectives you can think of the more fun….and the more to words will be added to their vocabulary.
4 – 5 years
Expressive language – Talk with your child about what bubbles are made of (soap, corn syrup and water). Make bubble mixture together at home using critical thinking and problem solving questions to get the mix just right (e.g., “What should we put in first”?, “Do we need more or less water”?). When the mix is done have fun and play!
Social Language – Get the bubbles out but make sure the lid is on VERY tightly. Pretend you can’t get it open and then pretend to get mad (Hint: you are going to have to sell it for these older kids so get the acting chops out!). Ask your child what you should do when you feel angry (e.g., take deep breathes, tell someone you feel angry, ask for help, etc.). Have them watch you as you use these strategies to calm down and solve the problem together.
Receptive language – Blow the bubbles for your child then draw their attention to one that is still but hasn’t popped. Show them how they can see through it. Tell them that means the bubble is translucent because you can ‘sort of’ see through it. Help them understand this meaning further by discussing what other things are translucent that they use every day.