Reading books with your child may be part of your every day routine. If your child’s language is delayed, reading together the right way is critical. Optimizing the way you read to your typically developing child is important too.
The manner in which you read books with your child can help improve attention, vocabulary, conversation, grammar, critical thinking (inferencing, story structure, memory), knowledge of letters and sounds as well as phonological awareness skills. It is not a time for your child to sit on your lap and relax – it is the time for your child to think, discuss and engage!
Begin with a discussion about the cover of the book. Pose questions such as:
“Who do you think this story is about?”
“Where does this story takes place?”
“This looks like an exciting story, what do you think is going to happen?”
It’s a good habit to talk about the author and illustrator of the book, and what these jobs entail. When your child is read another book by the same author, a book to book connection may be made. After reading a second book by an author or illustrator, you can talk about similarities and differences between the stories.
Talk about the title of the book too.
While you read a book together, ask factual questions you feel your child can answer. For example in The Big Green Pocketbook by Candice Ransom, we can ask literal questions such as:
- Who is going to ride the bus?
- What color is Mama’s pocketbook?
- What is running next to the bus?
- When does this story start? When does it end?
- Where are some places the girl and her Mama visit?
- What is in the girl’s pocketbook?
- What did the dry cleaner give the girl?
Follow your child’s lead! If he makes a comment about a picture or something mentioned in the text, expand his thought.
Talk about vocabulary words as they come up in any book. Words in The Big Green Pocketbook may include:
- driveway (especially for city kids)
- flag (as in “flag the bus”)
- punched tickets
When your child is ready to make a jump to more involved questions, try:
- Setting: When and where the story takes place.
- Connections between the text and your child’s life. You can say: “Remember when you…” or “This reminds me of…”
- Discussion: Find meaningful details in the pictures, chat about favorite parts of the story, ask “What if?”
- Being confused: Why do you think…?
- Predictions: Can you make a prediction – what do you think will happen next?, What do you think will happen at the end?
- Inferencing: What clues do the pictures or words give us to figure out something the story doesn’t say? Or be more specific, for example, in The Birthday Fish by Dan Yaccarino: “How do we know Cynthia really cares about the goldfish?” or “Why does Cynthia name the goldfish Marigold?”
- Feelings: How do you think (the character) feels? Why?
- Main Idea: What was the most important point of this story? What was the problem in the story?
- Character: Who was your favorite character and why? What might the character do? (inference)
- Actions: What do the characters in the story do to solve the problem?
- Summary: Have your child give you a simple summary of the story with details. Is a resolution included?
- Sequence: When your child shares a summary, are the details in a reasonable order?
- Memory: In a book such as The Big Green Pocketbook, a child can try to recall all the items the girl placed into her pocketbook.
- If you feel like you’re asking too many questions, try thinking out loud: “I was wondering how the boy was going to let Jeremy know the pie he was about to eat could be dangerous.” or “I am trying to figure out why Cynthia is being so good to the goldfish.”
Below are my favorite books to use with children ages four and up for these types of involved questions / discussions. These same questions can be adapted to use with younger children.
Clever Jack Takes the Cake by Candace Fleming
Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
Stone Soup by Marcia Brown
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
The Gardener by Sarah Stewart
The Empty Pot by Demi
Chewy Louie by Howie Schneider
Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
Circus Family Dog by Andrew Clements
Enemy Pie by Derek Munson
How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman
Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann
Babushka’s Doll by Patricia Polacco
The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
The Birthday Fish by Dan Yaccarino
Tops and Bottoms adapted and illustrated by Janet Stevens
Fire Flies! by Julie Brinckloe
Doctor De Soto by William Steig
Sally and the Limpet by Simon James
Don’t forget to read non-fiction with your child. It is difficult to list non-fiction books, as topics should be chosen by your child. At New York Public Libraries, there is often a poster called “Look For Your Book – Some Subject Headings for Children’s Books.” Here you can easily find ~150 topics and corresponding call numbers. Look within the call numbers of the subjects of your child’s choice for the “just right” books to read with your child. First non-fiction books that have worked with children on my caseload (depending on their age, etc.) include:
- National Geographic Kids
- Scholastic Welcome Books
- Scholastic Rookie Read-About
- True Books
You may get so involved with language in the stories, that you’ll forget to focus on the print too. While reading with your child, take advantage of basic print concepts:
- Text directions – left to right, read from top to bottom
- Capital and lowercase letters / alphabet within the text
- Sounds / words you say match sounds and words on the page and words are put together to build sentences
- Point out capitals, punctuation, and spacing – all of which can be difficult for children to carryover when they start to write their own sentences in kindergarten and first grade
- Show your child words while you run errands: Gap, Fairway, Open, Bloomingdales, Zabar’s, Harry’s, One Way, etc.
- Encourage your child to fill in predictable or rhyming words
It’s best to read face to face with your child, but allow your child to see the pictures and the text. Be sure to preview books so you can have a better idea about the types of questions you can focus on, and you’ll have more flexibility participating in conversation with your child.
Enjoy story time!
Stephanie Sigal M.A. CCC-SLP is a speech therapist working with children on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side of Manhattan. She would be happy to speak with you about concerns you have for your child’s language and literacy development. You can reach Stephanie at firstname.lastname@example.org.