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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reading to Young Children: Tips from a Speech Pathologist

As a speech-language pathologist, I read a lot of books to children.  As a former homeschooling parent, I know that reading with little learners is one of the best tools we have.  Books are the gateway to literacy; it's never too early to start, and there are some ways that reading aloud can be used to maximize learning opportunities.

It's important to focus on more than just ABCs.  As parents, we tend to focus on ABCs to foster reading.  But the truth is, children need to be immersed in many different aspects of language to foster speech and reading development.

The evening hour, G. Hardy, 1877
Artwork: {{PD-1923}}-published before 1923 and therefore public domain in the US 

Here are some suggestions for reading to your young children:

1.   Learning To Predict: "What do you think the story will be about?"
Before you start reading, look at the cover of the book with your child.  Talk with your child about the picture and ask her to predict what will happen in the story.

For example, while reading The Foot Book , say:
"Look, I see a funny animal pointing to his foot!  What do you think the story will be about?"  Help you child develop reasoning skills for analyzing the picture.  Then say, "Let's find out if we're right!"

2.  Read rhyming books and pause to let your child fill in the missing word.
Rhyming is an essential component of phonemic awareness, which supports reading development.

For example, while reading Time for Bed, say:
"It's time for bed little cat, little cat, so snuggle in tight, that's right, like...(pause for your child to fill in "that")."

Pause just long enough to see if your child can provide the word.  If not, go ahead and say it.  Keep your reading natural and fun.

3.  Teach location words:  "Can you find the mouse?  Where is he?"
We tend to focus on teaching nouns with little ones.  However, learning other types of words, like location, descriptive, and action words, is important too.

For example, in Goodnight Moon, the mouse is present in all pictures of the room. Find the mouse on each page and talk about where it is.  Use words like "under", "beside", and "in".

4.  Teach descriptive words: "This bug is long...that bug is..."
Children need to learn adjectives to prepare them for later reading and writing. Talking about how objects in the story look, sound, smell, and feel is a great way to teach these descriptive words.

For example, while reading Miss Spider's Tea Party, talk about all the different bugs. Use words like "fuzzy", "shiny", "winged", "long", "short", and of course, colors. Encourage your child to join in with the description fun.

5.  Emphasize action words (verbs):  "Can you strut like that duck?"
Verbs are the next essential vocabulary component.  Your child will need to recognize them to develop reading skills, and will need a good selection of them to write good sentences and stories.

To help add action words to your child's vocabulary, while reading Barnyard Dance!, you could say:
"Bounce with bunny, strut with the duck....What is the bunny doing?  What is the duck doing?  Can you bounce like the bunny? Show me!  Can you strut like the duck? Show me!  Let's do it together!"

4.  Use reading, to teach speech sounds:  "Is that a "T"?  No!  It's a..."key"
Drilling a child on correct speech production is not always effective.  It can frustrate a child.  Modeling of correct speech can be done in fun ways.

For example, if your child leaves the "s" out of "s" blends when he talks try this approach:
While reading Wild About Books , say:
"Molly opened the door and she let down the dare....Is that a dare?  No!  That's a...s-s-s-stair!"

Most of all, your reading time should be fun!  Adding these valuable techniques into your reading time will be great for fostering speech, language, and literacy development...but....getting too hung up on "doing it right" will interfere with the process.  Relax and enjoy this time with your children.  You are building skills for a lifetime and fun is much, much more important than perfect.

Happy Reading!
~Michelle,  M.S., CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist (My least important job...when I'm not mothering, being a wife, homekeeping, or blogging Jesus.)

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  1. Wow what great tips!! I love how easy and practical they are, and the examples that you gave from real books! Thanks for this post, and thanks for linking up to NOBH!

  2. As a reading specialist I wholeheartedly agree with your steps. I do these very steps with my little ones as we read at night.


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