This blog post is for parents who are looking to expand their child’s language development in an easy, efficient and effective way. I will explain ways to enhance language skills just by reading a book to your child and using various techniques.
Before I jumped into the world of speech therapy and working with children everyday, I would typically read a book to a child front to back, word for word, while adding a few questions such as “what’s that!” or “what do you see!?”. When you’re all said and done, the child listened to the book, your child is probably falling asleep, great job…right? Well, not so much. Yes, any reading is better than none at all and research shows that reading a book just 15 minutes a day to a child exposes that child to one million words in just one year! That's huge, I can't stress the importance of reading to your child enough! However, reading through a book and only asking questions is essentially just quizzing your child, not promoting conversation or developing further language skills. There are many more opportunities that you can provide to your child when reading that will expand their language skills helping them increase skills such as their vocabulary repertoire, critical thinking skills, imagination, inferencing, story telling and more! One important point is that questions asked and comments made during a book reading should be equal.
I am going to use the book Welcome by Barroux to explain the various techniques. I found this to be a great book to use for a variety of options. It is a cute story with engaging, colorful illustrations that draw children’s attention and uses a variety of describing words, action words, spatial concepts, time concepts and more to enhance your child’s language skills!
This story can also be used to discuss social situations that arise such as sharing, accepting, being nice to those around us, welcoming others into our group, making friends and not giving up hope. If you wanted to delve even deeper into the concept of global warming, that is also an option or discussing immigrants/refugees and accepting those who are different.
The book is about 3 polar bears who are in need of new home since an iceberg broke off of their glacier they were living on. They are seeking new land, however no one is welcoming them on to their land. The polar bears eventually find a deserted island, and immediately 3 monkeys come along and ask if they can reside on the new land as well. The polar bears open their arms and say you’re welcome and they all live on the island together. Remember, your child learns from you, they learn from you speaking to them. I am going to go through this book and show you how to balance both asking questions and making comments while using a variety of techniques to increase language development.
Technique 1: Have your child point to pictures.
Read the page, then ask a question and have your child point. For this page you could ask "Which polar bear has his feet in the water?" This is a good technique to use with children who are not talking a lot yet. Often children's receptive language skills are higher than their expressive language. Just because they are not saying a word, doesn't mean they don't know it. By having them point, it gives them an opportunity to participate while working on auditory processing and comprehension. You can make the question as easy or difficult as you'd like.
Technique 2: Ask Open-Ended Questions
Open-ended questions promote critical thinking skills, inferencing and require more than one word to answer. It encourages your child to start a discussion and use their imagination. For this page you could ask "oh no! what is happening?" Other open-ended question examples: What do you think is going to happen? Why do you think he/she did that? What would you do in this situation? How are they going to do that? How do you think they are feeling?
Technique 3: Make a comment with a describing word (adjective). Example: "The poor polar bears!"
Technique 4: Add noise effects - use exaggerated effects, pitch and intonation - children are naturally drawn to this. For this page you say "WHOA! there's a big wave coming! Whooshhhh!" Using music or making songs is also a great idea to enhance language development.
Technique 5: Auditory Closure Tasks
This involves leaving the last word or a portion of the sentence out and letting your child fill in the blank. For this page you could start counting the cows, "1, 2, _" or you could say I see three ___" This is great with predictable books or books that repeat the same phrase a lot as well. This targets auditory discrimination and association as well as word retrieval.
Technique 6: Don't read word for word
You don't always have to read the book word for word. Pretend there are no words and just look at the pictures, come up with your own words for that page or have your child do this.
Technique 7: Sandwich information - Say a word, give a short definition-say the word again. When you come across a word/object you think your child may not know. Say the word "Panda bear!", give a definition "Panda bears are black and white", then say the word again "I see the panda bear!" The more exposure to a word the better. Like anyone, children are more likely to remember an object/word when provided with a definition.
Technique 8: Follow your child's lead!
If you come across a page and your child starts talking about something on that page, don't just ignore it and move on to the next page. That is a perfect opportunity to have a back and forth conversation and promote turn taking.
Technique 9: Present choices
If you child does not always respond to your questions, present choices to them! For this page, you could ask.."Do you think they will find a new home!? Yes or No?" or "How do you think the polar bears are feeling?" Happy or Sad?
Technique 10: Make a comment using action words
They found a home! They looked and looked and finally found a home! Comment on any actions you see on the page. Example of actions words: walking, run, jump, sit, hugging, making, climbing, swim, drink, eat, etc.
Technique 11: Imitate and expand what your child says!
Speak right above your child’s level. If they typically use one word at a time (“monkey”), you should use two words such as “three monkeys!”. If they typically speak using two word utterances (“brown monkeys”), you can use three words to expand that such as “Three brown monkeys!”
Technique 12: Have your child retell the story in their own words! Something else I really liked about this story is that there is a clear problem and solution. When having your child retell the story make sure to discuss the characters, setting, problem, character’s emotions, events in the story (steps 1,2,3, etc), conclusion/end of the story.
All of these techniques can naturally be implemented during story time. Even if your child is not participating in the questions you ask, they are listening to you and absorbing the new vocabulary, grammar, concepts that they are hearing. Remember you can adapt these techniques to any book out there!
VOCABULARY WORDS IN THIS BOOK:
Animals - Polar bear, cow, giraffe, panda, monkey
Basic concepts – empty, scared, small, big, dark, quiet, little, new (you can discuss the opposite of these words too)
Adjectives (describing words) – furry, bear-ish, big, blue, quiet, peaceful, tall
Verbs (actions words) – break, crack, cry, drift, play, spy, float, find, grow, live, hear, look
Prepositions (spatial concepts)– in, on, near, middle, away, off