How to Use Books to Improve Language

speech therapy and reading

I love walking around a bookstore. If you’ve wandered to the children’s book section, you know there is an amazing amount of options for children’s books. I talked about how to pick the best book for your child in this post here.

Now that you have your book, you might not know exactly how to use reading together to improve your child’s language skills. Taking a moment to think about the benefits of reading can help you figure out how adjust little parts of you reading routine

What are some benefits of reading to your child?

  1. Strengthens the bond between parent/child
  2. Promotes a positive attitude around reading
  3. Increases vocabulary and language skills of the child
  4. Improves attention and behavior
  5. Activates your child’s imagination

This list is just scratching the surface of the benefits of reading to your child daily. Check out these articles here and here for more information regarding the benefits from daily reading to your child. The one that we will focus on in this post is the promoting vocabulary and language development.

Vocabulary Development

Books are a wonderful way to introduce new vocabulary words to your child. You can do this by picking books that are about something new to your child (i.e., new topic, new experience, new place, etc.). Just reading the book to your child will introduce the new vocabulary word to them. Here are a few more strategies that may help.

  • Repeat, repeat, repeat! Children often want to read favorite stories over and over again. This is great because the child benefits from repetition when learning a new vocabulary word. Also feel free to repeat your new word often when looking at the pictures. “Look he’s brushing his teeth. Brush teeth. Look here are my teeth. Show me your teeth. Brush teeth.” Can you guess what my new vocabulary word is?
  • Show it to me! Point out new vocabulary words in the pictures. In addition to hearing the word, the child will also see the word. In the example above, you can point to the picture of your word or point to it if it’s in your environment. “Touch his teeth. Touch your teeth! Look here are my teeth.”
  • Follow Up in Real Life! Always follow-up with a real life experience when possible. If your new vocabulary word is “teeth” in a book about brushing teeth, you can easily follow up when you are brushing your teeth before bedtime.

Expanding Language Skills

As a general rule, a child has two words in their sentences by 2 years of age, three words in a sentence by 3 years of age, and four words in their sentences by 4 years of age… and so on. This is call mean length of utterance, and you can find more specific information about this here.

I love using books to help children lengthen their sentences. The easiest way to do this is to look at what level your child is general at, and then go one step above. For example, if your child is only using one word at a time, you are going to want to model two word sentences as much as possible. This gives your child an example to imitate that they can almost do.

When reading a book this way, you won’t be reading the words that are written. You will be making up your own story based on what the child can see in the pictures. Let’s try it with the picture below of Derby as a puppy and look at examples of two word phrases that would help a child at the one word level.

talk with derby

When looking at a picture like this, you can say the following possible “stories”:

“Look puppy! Awww puppy. Cute puppy. Puppy sleeping. Night puppy. Good puppy. Be quiet. Shhhh!”

“Look toys! Puppy toys. Wake up! Morning puppy. Play toys. Play puppy! Get out. Open eyes. My eyes. Your eyes.”

You might feel strange or silly talking in two or three word phrases! It does take some time to get used to. You don’t have to ALWAYS talk like this to your child. It’s just a good strategy to use when reading to your child when the goal is increasing the length of your child’s typical sentences.

Don’t Read the Written Word!

As I said above, making up your own is a great strategy. Don’t feel tied to the words on the page. When the child is young, feel free to make up your own stories based on the pictures you see. This can help a child with delay language skills that make not be able to understand long sentences. It can also help a child with a short attention-span. They may only be able to sit for one word per page! So have fun and enjoy time with your child while reading together.

My personal favorite book is Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” Do you have a favorite book?

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