What a joy, then, to be able to share with you the powerful role that books can play in growing your child's language. Not only does reading books with your young child create rich opportunities for vocabulary development, it also sets the stage for pre-literacy skills. Reading books with your toddler or preschooler is a great place to start her on the journey to all things language related. And whether or not your little one has a language delay, there are some specific ways that you can read with your child to enhance language development.
Many parents will choose to actually read the words of a book when sitting down to read with their children, and this can work well--sometimes, for some children. It works especially well with short, repetitive books such as the aforementioned Gooodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown , or Blue Hat Green Hat Sandra Boynton, or Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See? by Eric Carle. These books have a rhythm, a cadence, that draws young children in, much like singing does. As I explained in Sing, Dance and Be Merry, recurring and predictable language experiences like songs and repetitive board books are very powerful. Such experiences give young children the chance to develop anticipatory sets. Because the words are repeated over and over in the same enjoyable way, infants and toddlers learn to expect what comes next....and they often start filling those words in on their own. It's a trick that we speech therapists use frequently to entice young children to talk. And it works all the time. The key is to find a book the toddler likes, read it over and over and over, and then the 100th time you read the book (or so it seems), pause. Pause for moment and see what your toddler does. She may do nothing, and that's okay. Carry on. But she might just fill in the word and start reading that book right along with you.
Repetitive board books, then, can be wonderful. They don't always work, though-- young children have a notoriously short attention span and it can be hard to capture their attention long enough to get through a book. Some toddlers simply don't want to sit still for the time it takes their parents to actually read the words to a book, especially if if that particular book isn't short and snappy. Fear not! There's another highly effective way to use books to enhance language. It's almost deceivingly simple, but it's powerful nonetheless. Instead of reading the words to a book, just look through the book with your child and label the pictures you see. Let your child take the lead at times and point out things of interest-- and then say the names of whatever she points at. Then, if your child does use a word, put that same word into a short sentence for her as you respond to what she said. In speech therapy land, we call this interactive focused stimulation. You can just call it fun.
Despite my reluctance to appear on camera (seriously, what is with the eye blinking?), I captured Baby Girl and I reading a book using this method. We'd tried to read this book before, but she got bored quickly and wandered off. So I switched it up a bit. As you watch the video, notice a few things: 1. I'm following her lead. She points things out, and I label them. Simple, easy. 2. At first she just points. Then she starts using words and I respond by taking her words and putting them into short phrases for her, and 3. Toward the end, she takes one of the things I've been modeling for her ("quack quack") and uses it on her own, even though I didn't ask her to say anything at all. It's a great example of how indirect methods of working on speech and language can be very effective. (I pause here to note that it doesn't always work this well in the moment. Baby Girl is imitating a ton now. But that wasn't always the case! So don't be disappointed if your child doesn't immediately respond to your language models. You are laying the groundwork for future language. I promise).
Parents are sometimes reluctant to use "baby talk" or simplify their language when talking with their kids. It's important, however, to match what you say to your child's language level. If your child is pointing at something, label the item for him. If he uses one word to label or request something, come back at him with two. If he uses two, you pull out three. Research consistently indicates that this type of indirect language modeling and expansion can be a powerful way to increase your child's language. You don't need to talk in simplified language all the time, of course-- your child needs to hear you give him directions and speak in full sentences and conversation as well. Yet, it is very important to build some time into your day where you follow your child's interest and match your language to his. Books are a great time to do just that....and you'll be creating some beautiful memories along the way.
Looking for repetitive books to read with your toddler? Try...