By: Stephanie Magnussen
Most parents know that it is important to read to their children. Many parents do this naturally before bed even when their children are very young. Children crave language and pick up on so much of what parents say in conversation during the day, but book reading is another opportunity to add words and phrases that may not naturally occur in everyday speech. This exposure to language adds variety to the input kids are getting on a daily basis and can increase their language abilities.
The more you read to your child, the more language she will potentially acquire early on. When parents read to their child, they use more diverse vocabulary and rephrase sentences in different ways, exposing children to varied sentence structure. We have all noticed that as we get older, it gets harder and harder to master a new language. Children learn an entirely new language within their first few years of life without even realizing they are mastering such a complicated skill. During these impressionable years, it is important to expose children to not only lots of vocabulary, but different ways of saying things. Books give parents the opportunity to get out of their daily way of speaking and add some different flavor to the language they are exposing to their children. It also gives kids the chance to directly engage with the words and phrases on the page.
There are easy principles that can be applied to the way a parent reads to this child that can promote language development. This method of dialogic reading can be used for typically developing children as well to increase language skills! Parents can and should start reading to their children as early as eight months to aid in their language development.
- Guess the plot of the book after reading the title. The first time you and your child read a book, read the cover page to your child. Encourage her to guess what the book could be about and take your time talking about this.
- Point to the words on the page as you read. Once you have read a book to your child one time through, point to the words as you are reading them. You can name some of the letters and identify which one is the same as the first letter in her name.
- Expand on your child’s sentence. If a child says “blue,” the parent can respond and say “Yes, the kite is blue and so is the sky!”
- Model, model model! If a child cannot answer the question, simply say “That is a kite. Can you say kite?” This will instill a sense of accomplishment when they can repeat or attempt the word even if they were not able to find it the first time. Then, later on, when they have learned the word, give them praise!
- Pause reading and respond to what a child is interested in on the page. Sometimes a child will point to or name something while a parent is reading. Pause and expand on this by giving context to what she has named. For example, “Yes, that is a kite and we can fly kites on windy days.” This is also a good opportunity to talk about the story. You can ask, “Remember when he flew the kite?” or “Have you ever flown a kite?”
- Prompt your child to read with you. Leave out the last word in a sentence and encourage your child to fill it in.
- Have fun! Reading can be free flowing with pauses to talk about interesting things on the page. Parents can engage a child by asking her to help turn the page, encourage turn taking by pointing to objects and naming them, etc. There should not be any pressure associated with reading and children should feel encouraged. Make reading into a game or activity that you can share with your child!