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How to Read Books with Children with Language Delay

“Reading books with your child can provide experiences and vocabulary that he or she may not be exposed to on a daily basis. Experience allows children to gain understanding. When a child understands vocabulary and situations, he or she has the foundation to use these words in verbal language.

Always read with your child face to face with the book next to your face, not in front of your mouth. This will allow your child to see how you move your mouth when you say words, see your facial expressions and engage in eye contact. With a baby, you can create this opportunity while he or she is on the change table, floor, car seat, bouncy chair or on your thighs facing you.

Reading with your child everyday should start from birth. At this time, you can read anything to your son or daughter, even The New York Times. What matters is HOW you read it. Read with feeling, show emotion and pause to allow your baby to vocalize back to you.

Initially, choose books with a story and meaning. Vocabulary board books (e.g., books by Roger Priddy or select DK Publishing books) will be boring for you and not provide much benefit for your baby. Reading longer stories during the first months will help to build your child’s attention. Books like The Three Bears by Byron Barton, Summer by Alice Low and Chewy Louie by Howie Schneider will be fun for you and your baby.

If your toddler has trouble paying attention to a book, try reading when he or she is “trapped” (e.g., in the highchair eating, in the car seat while traveling, just waking up from a nap in the stroller). I once worked with a two year old boy who would only happily pay attention to an unfamiliar book while standing in his crib facing me. Once he became familiar with a book, we could read the book elsewhere.
Choosing the right books can help target speech and language skills you want to develop.

If your child is not talking, choose books that contain words that begin with bilabial sounds. These are sounds where your upper and lower lips come together (/m/, /b/ and /p/). Bilabial sounds are generally early sounds produced by children because they can see how an adult is moving their lips, which is helpful for imitation. Favorite books that include bilabial sounds are It’s Not Easy Being a Bunny (Marilyn Sadlow), The Berenstain’s B Book (Stanley and Jan Berenstain) and any book that contains animal sounds (moo, baa, maa). Overemphasize /m/, /b/ and /p/ and make eye contact with your child when saying bilabial sounds in any book.

Selecting books with repetitive phrases may allow your child to participate during story time. Great examples include: Dear Zoo (Rod Campbell), The Very Busy Spider (Eric Carle) and The Gingerbread Boy (Richard Egielski). Give your child the opportunity to complete the repetitive line, or if he or she is ready, the whole line. Hopefully, these words will carry over into daily vocabulary.

Rhyming books help children with word prediction, which is crucial for reading development. Once familiar with a rhyming book, have your child try to fill-in the rhyming word. Dr. Seuss’ The Foot Book begins: Left foot, Left foot, Right foot, Right – Feet in the morning, Feet at _____ (child should say “night”).

If your child’s speech therapist has determined that understanding and using prepositions is an important goal for your child, use books to reinforce what occurs in therapy. Trashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha, Up Above and Down Below by Sue Redding and Around the House the Fox Chased the Mouse by Rick Walton are all loaded with prepositions.

A child with more developed language who has difficulty providing details and descriptions may benefit from “reading” wordless picture books to you. Pictures in the story should be described so that the story makes sense. You can use picture books with text, as long as the pictures are detailed themselves. (You may cover the text with your hand if your child can read.) This works best with Caldecott Medal / Honor Books. Excellent examples include Knuffle Bunny books (Mo Willems), No, David! (David Shannon) and Where The Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak).

Other favorite wordless picture books include A Boy, a Dog and a Frog Series by Mercer Mayer, Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie DePaola and The Jack Series by Pat Schories. If you feel your child leaves out important information, ask an open-ended question (e.g., “Ooo – What’s happening over here?”). Provide a description if you feel this is too challenging. Perhaps this will increase your child’s awareness to be more specific and when you sit down to read the book again, the new information will be included.

Sometimes it is helpful if you “read” a wordless picture book to your child first. Describe what you see or make-up the story-line. For example, when David, the main character in the book No, David! is about to fall off the chair while reaching for a cookie, you can say: “Be careful David, you’re going to get hurt!” or “No cookies before dinner!!”


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