The Do's and Don'ts of Reading to Your (Language-Delayed) Child
Many parents of children with speech and language delays ask me how they can support their child’s communication skills at home. I always recommend reading books together, doing it every night, and doing it without any distractions. Shared book reading not only allows you to bond with your child, but it is one of the most effective ways to support their language, literacy, and social emotional development. Below are some tips and tricks for you to think about when you read with your child each night to make the most out of this very valuable time together:
Read the same book over and over: This may feel a little bit boring to you, but if your child loves a certain story, indulge their literary interests by reading the same story repeatedly when they request it. When they hear the same story repeatedly, they learn the structure of a narrative and they can start to understand the content in a deeper way. When they learn a story really well, you can start to ask them to make inferences about characters or predictions about what will come next.
Choose books with a clear storyline and repetitive phrases: Books with a narrative structure are much better for language development than vocabulary board books. They will be boring for your child, and you will end up asking redundant questions, such as “what’s this” or “what’s that” over and over. Books with repetitive phrases (e.g., No, David or Pete The Cat) will allow your child to practice using his words while you read together, because she will know what lines come next.
Read with emotion, emphasis, and lots of pauses: Use interesting intonation and facial expressions to engage your child as you read. This will keep your child interested and will teach them what parts of a narrative are most important. Don’t forget to pause after each page or question give your child a chance to verbalize while you read together.
Limit questions, and replace them with comments: Instead of asking questions with 1 word answers or questions that “test” your child (e.g., ‘what’s that?’... ‘a dog.’), ask questions that encourage your child to engage with you. The type of question you will ask will depend on your child’s level of language development. By most speech therapists encourage only a few questions per story. But be sure to respond to all your child’s questions or verbalizations - they can never ask too many.
Instead, make comments: A great way to support language development is to model language! Comments can expose your child to descriptive language and new words. For example, instead of asking, “What is that dog doing?” you could say, “That big red dog made a big mess in the house!”
Help them make connections to their own lives: Model comments or ask a few simple questions that help your child connect the story to their own lives.
Don’t think it’s ever too early to start reading together: You can start reading to your baby from birth. Reading to your baby stimulates their senses and exposes them to language. It is also a calming activity that can help them sleep, and creates routines that you will hopefully maintain throughout their childhood.
Don’t stop when they think they are getting ‘too old’: While the books you read together may change, the routine of reading can stay the same. Follow your child’s lead. Does he want to read comic books? Harry potter? Diary of a Wimpy Kid? Whatever he chooses, help him maintain his love for reading by continuing this hobby as long as you can.
Don’t overwhelm them with questions: Shared story reading is supposed to be a time when your child can curl up and bond with you, and learn to love reading. If you ask too many questions, they may start to feel pressured and will pull away from this activity. Instead, ask only one or two high-quality questions (described above), and narrate your thoughts, which models language for them.