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9 Tips for Reading to Children

In a previous post,  I wrote about why you should be reading to children.  This week I thought I would talk about some tips to help increase the value of reading.

1. Have children pick out the books to read.  They will be more interested in the book.   Take them to the library to choose some different books.  Many libraries have free memberships for young children. 

2. Don't worry if you have read the same book "hundreds of times."   It's important to read a book more than once.  They will get a better understanding of the story, learn more vocabulary and pick up on small details that they might of missed the first few times they  heard it. If a child gets "stuck" on a book (i.e. the only book they will listen too and you really have read it hundreds of times), then try first/then statements.  For example, "First we will read book X, then we will read your favourite book."

3. Pick out a variety of fiction and non-fiction stories.  If they are like Thomas the Train, then also have a variety of books about real trains available too.  

4. When picking out a story book, pick ones with good "story structure." Let it have a beginning, a middle and an end. You can then ask questions like, "Who is Thomas?" or "What do think is going to happen?" or "What else could Thomas do?" or "Why was Thomas in the forest?"

5. Don't hurry through the book.  Read slowly and pause at the end of a page.  This is like talking, you need to let children have time to understand what they have heard and they need time to come up with comments or questions.

6. Think about the children's language levels when picking out a book.  You may not want to read a book with lots of text if your child is understanding and/or talking in short phrases.  If you have a book that you feel has too much text, it's okay to edit.  You don't have to read every word.  Shorten the story as much as you can or just look and talk about the pictures.

7. Highlight new vocabulary.  Books often use words children may not hear everyday.  Talk about what that unfamiliar word means. For example, "Gloomy is another word for sad." If you can, act out the word (e.g. pretend you are sad when you read the word "gloomy.")

8.  For teachers and daycare staff, read in small groups (i.e. three-five children in a group).  This will allow you to gage whether the children are understanding the story.  Also it will allow the children to talk about the book.  Let them interrupt you.  Teach them to put up their hand and then respond when they do.  This shows they are interested in the book and are learning.  I will fully admit that it is a pet peeve of mine when adults shush children  when the children have questions or comments because the adult is reading.  Children get more out of the book when their questions/statements are being acknowledged and answered.  

9. Lastly have fun and enjoy this time. Don't be scared to be a little goofy.  Get animated.  When you show that you are excited, then children will be excited. This is not just about helping them do well in school.  This is a great time to bond and have fun. 

Moving Away from Sign Language and Towards Other Forms of AAC

When I started working as an SLP, I was a huge supporter of introducing signs to the children I worked with.   Why?  Well first off I have a strong background in American Sign Language (ASL).  When I first started with children who were severely delayed* using signs was a comfort to me, it was something I knew how to do well. Parents were more receptive to signs than using pictures. As the years have gone by, I have introduced less and less signs to the children I work with and I am more choosy about who I introduce sign to. Here are some reasons why:

1. Not everyone knows how to sign.  While in some ways it has gained popularity with the introduction of baby sign programs, the number of people who could communicate with the child is limited.  What if there is an emergency and the child has to communicate?  Will the person who is communicating with them understand them? Added to that ASL vocabulary (which many people borrow signs from) can vary greatly from region to region. Will the person know the regional variations  that could affect communication? Pictures or written words are much more easy for the lay person to understand.  

2. The next hurdle is what kind of sign system are you going to use?  Are you going to use proper ASL?  ASL is a different language with it's own grammar.  Do you or the parents know those rules and have enough vocabulary to teach their child to communicate?  Probably not.  I liken it to asking a parent who only speaks Italian to communicate with their child in English.  We don't do it because we want strong language models.** 

Are you going to use some form of signed English?  If you do then many signs you use will look different from ASL signs.  Also all the English morphemes (e.g -ing) and functor words (e.g. is, to, at) are going to have their own signs. You run into the same challenge as you do when introduce a system with pictures, people end up using signs telegraphically.  We know that telegraphic communication is not ideal. 

3. In my experience, many children who have severe language delays also have fine motor delays.  This can make being able to form the signs correctly challenging.  As a result, the child, or the SLP, or the parent modifies it.  So unless you know how that child's sign for that word, people who do sign will have troubles communicating with him or her.  Fine motor delays can also mean that combining signs into phrases and sentences could be more difficult.  This limits the child's capacity to communicate. Picture systems of communication have developed direct and indirect access to those pictures.

4. There has been a lot of talk about cultural appropriation in the media these last few years. I wonder if this is what we are doing to the Deaf*** community when we borrow signs?  The Deaf community has not had a good history with teachers or SLPs.  Should we be borrowing signs from them when, unless the child is Deaf, they will not be apart of that community? Apparently all those classes on Deaf culture and power dynamics stuck.

5.  Before the advent of iPads and tablets, some parents felt using speech generating devices (SGD) drew attention to their child's differences.  This was particularly true for children who used AAC to augment their speech.  Now that people carry around smartphones and iPad/tablets everywhere, those children stand out less.  This can still be a challenge with low tech forms of communication but it seems a slightly smaller hurdle these days.  

6. People have a greater access to speech generating programs with the advent of Proloquo, LAMP and such apps.  Where I live, children who might not qualify for other SGDs now have an alternative means to access speech generating programs.  As well, where I work now has a greater access to some of these apps.

7. Pictures, even lines drawings, are often easier to understand than signs (my opinion).  While some signs closely resemble gestures, many many signs are more abstract.  As well,  pictures help provide the child longer time to help better understand the message than many signs. The pictures don't "disappear" like signs do.  Non-verbal and low verbal children tend to learn to point to pictures faster than learning the different signs (my opinion only). 

8.  As my education on using core words, PODD and even PECs grew, I was able to educate team members. These other members then went and did their own education on using pictures to communicate. I was able to get better buy in (not perfect but growing).  As a result we were able to introduce more and more picture forms of communication.

Signing has a place in the world of AAC but it must be applied as thoughtfully as other forms of communication.

*These children did not have a hearing loss.
**There are programs to help provide children with a hearing loss and their parents supports form the Deaf community, including language models. 
***Deaf = someone who associates with Deaf culture and is usually involved in the Deaf community.  Most have some form of hearing loss but not necessarily.  

5 Reasons Why Reading Books to Your Child is Important

When parents ask me "What can I do to help my child's language improve?"  One of my first recommendations is to read to their child.  I'm not alone. Many SLPs that work with preschoolers and even early elementary SLPs recommend reading as a great way to help with language skills.  So why are books so beneficial?

1. Books, for this age, contain lots of pictures.  These work as great visuals to help children understand what is being read to them.  You can also just look at the pictures and talk about what you see.  This allows you to expand how you use each book.

2. Books are a great way to build vocabulary.  Books will use vocabulary that we don't use  as often in everyday speech.  While these words are not as frequently use as other words, they are important for children to be exposed to and to learn.  Typically children with large vocabularies do better in school than children with smaller vocabularies.

3. You can read books over and over again.  It is important to read books more than once.  Children will gain a better understanding of the story and learn new vocabulary terms. Children will often have a favourite story and beg you to read it over and over and over again. You will be bored of a book way before your child becomes bored.

4. Books can help with learning grammar.  You can find books that have a range of sentence lengths and are, with some exceptions, grammatically correct. Books that are repetitive such as "Dear Zoo" by Rod Campbell help strengthen weak grammar skills or can help introduce parts of grammar that the child is missing. Some books will intentionally use grammatically incorrect sentences such as "Me Hungry!" by Jeremy Tankard. I usually use these books very strategically.

5. Books can help with higher level language skills.  As children get older, the books they read become a little more sophisticated and you can start working on higher language skills such a predicting and problem solving.  Books by Leo Lionni are great for asking questions like, "What do think is going to happen?,""Why do you think he did that?" or What would you do if..?" These are skills that are needed to help with academic success.

Happy reading!