I was describing how I use bubbles with children to my husband the other day and he was genuinely surprised at how many different communication skills you can target with this one simple tool. On that basis, I thought I’d do a series of posts telling you about my 6 of my favourite resources and how I use them! Every game or resource I’m going to cover is readily available to buy from most toy shops so it will be easy for you to try the activities at home if you want to. Without further ado, let me share with you how I use that most simple of toys, bubbles.
Using Bubbles to Develop Communication
Bubbles are available in most shops that sell toys or, alternatively, you can make your own with washing up liquid. The Early Learning Centre produce the best bubble mixture I’ve found so far and you can buy it in 1 litre bottles which is brilliant if you use as much as I do! ELC and other manufacturers also make a wide range of different equipment for blowing bubbles from simple wands of various sizes and colours to bubble guns and bubble blowing machines.
Something to bear in mind with bubble mixtures is that if the tiniest bit of saliva gets into the mixture, your bubbles will pop as soon as you try to blow them. For that reason, it’s worth having a couple of smaller bottles that you can fill from your bumper 1 litre bottle. Cunning! If the wand does get licked and saliva gets into your bottle, throw away the remaining mixture and make sure you give both the bottle and the wand a really good rinse before you use it again.
Blowing bubbles is a fun, simple and repetitive routine which lends itself really well to repeated use of the same words, sentences and nonverbal communication and is therefore an ideal communication building activity.
So how do I use bubbles for communication work then?
- Reward - Most children enjoy bubbles so I often use them as a reward at the end of a session. Always check with parents first if you’re a therapist working in a client’s home as some people prefer to use bubbles outside only!
- Anticipation – For children who are at an early stage in their communication development, developing anticipation in familiar routines is essential. It helps to build understanding & use of language as well as reinforcing the idea that communication is a rewarding and fun thing to do. You will find more information about these building blocks of communication in my post titled ‘The Fundamentals of Communication‘.
- Cause & effect – that idea of ‘I do something (cause) and something else happens (effect)’ is also a fundamental communication skill. Babies very quickly learn that making a sound results in them getting what they need or want and this underpins all subsequent communication development. After all, getting what you need/want is very motivating! There are lots of ways to develop this skill using bubbles from waiting for the child to make a noise before blowing some bubbles to teaching them to operate a bubble machine by pressing a switch.
- Eye contact - Bubbles are a nice, simple way to give tangible as well as social reward for making eye contact. I usually blow some bubbles first ‘for free’ to let the child know I have them then I wait for eye contact (or indeed other non verbal communication) before blowing more. Obviously the child needs to enjoy bubbles or this won’t work!
- Joint attention – When you blow bubbles with a child, in all likelihood, both of you will end up watching the bubbles as they move & pop. You can tweak the situation easily to make it into an explicitly shared experience by pointing at the bubbles, saying ‘look’ and looking back at the child. Joint attention is another one of those fundamental communication skills (LINK) that are essential foundations for more advanced communication and learning.
- Early expressive vocabulary - Blowing bubbles is an activity which lends itself well to practising a range of early expressive vocabulary (spoken words, signs or symbols) such as ‘more’, ‘again’, ‘stop’, ‘go’, and the action words ‘look’, ‘pop’, ‘blow’, ‘open’.
- Colour & size vocabulary – you can develop understanding and use of colour vocabulary by asking the child you are working with to choose a different coloured wand each time you blow more bubbles. You can work on size words by blowing big or small bubbles or by using big or little wands.
- Sentence building – it’s easy to extend your single word communication to start building 2 and 3 word sentences like blow bubbles, Isla blow bubbles, blow big bubbles, mummy blow more bubbles. Once again, you can do this with spoken words, signs or symbols.
- Oromotor skills – the oral movements required to blow bubbles are great for developing lip control, breath control and soft palate control.
- Speech – If you’re working on ‘p’ and ‘b’ sounds, bubbles are good for word level practise. First you have ‘bubbles’ which you can get the child to use to request more, then you have ‘pop’ which you can say as the bubbles burst.
- Attention skills – If you are feeling mean, you can try this activity with someone who is learning to sit still in the face of distraction. Have them sit on a chair while you blow bubbles over them. Their challenge is to stay sitting still until you say ‘go’ then they can pop the bubbles!
So there are some of my top uses for bubbles. There are many more I’m sure and several that I haven’t thought of. Please do feel free to email me if you have any other ideas! Happy bubble blowing and popping…