Books are a wonderful way to teach language. The colourful pictures can provide both knowledge and imaginative ideas. They are also a lovely way to interact and bond with your child. This is often referred to as “shared reading” which means exactly that, sharing your own joy for books and experiences with your child. Shared reading is a great way to begin early literacy skills as well as expanding vocabulary. So, how do you do this and what types of books should you choose?
For babies and toddler’s books with simple pictures of common objects are a great way to start. This is because children learn to name objects first (nouns). As your child starts to join words together they need more complex language e.g. location words (in, on, under), verbs (running, eating, chasing), adjectives (big/little, shapes, colours). To develop language further select books with more interesting pictures that tell a story. I find it helpful to look through the book and see if I can easily think of words to describe things in the pictures before reading it e.g. nouns (names of objects/animals), verbs (running, swimming, flying etc) or location words (in, on, under). For example, the picture below has some great examples of verbs e.g. riding, drinking, flying, fishing, eating, playing, digging, crying.
Avoid asking too many questions. If your child does not know the answer or understand the question it can stop the communication. Instead, follow your child’s lead when reading the book with them. By doing this you are more likely to hold their attention for longer and increase their enjoyment! For example, let him/her choose and open a book. Wait for him/her to point to something in the book or say something about the picture. That is your opportunity to say something!
Modelling is a frequently used and effective teaching strategy. When we ‘model’ language, we are saying a word or words, in the correct way, that we want our child to learn. Modelling doesn’t require a response from the child, however it is a bonus when we do get a response!. Try to model a word a few times so they are hearing the new word multiple times. In the example below the word is cow.
Child: [points and says] “Moo”
You: “Yes a cow says ‘moo’. It’s a brown cow. The cow is on the farm.”
So here “you” have waited for the child to show an interest and, in this case, they pointed to an object and said a word. “You” have then provided a new word and added some information. In fact “you” have said the word cow three times (a good job!).
Another example (using the above picture and teaching a location word ‘in’) could be:
You: “Yes the sheep is on the chair. Sitting on the chair. This sheep is on the chair too”.
Hopefully he/she will copy you as they did in this example. If not, that’s ok, continue as above in a conversational manner talking about things the child is interested in. If your child doesn’t point or say anything, you can start the conversation by pointing at something and making a comment e.g. “Look, a bike! The girl is riding the bike. It’s a red bike!”.
Modelling can be used for more complex language as well. However with an older child who is talking in sentences, your language can be more complex. For example you can compare objects by talking about how things are the same or different, add concepts such as opposites or describing words (tiny, enormous, fluffy, spiky). You can then add discussions about what has happened in the story and why or make up alternative ending to the story for example instead of Goldilocks running away, she could move in with the bears!
One last tip…try to be flexible and keep the tone conversational. While the authors should have their stories read and recognised, we don’t have be be rigid in the way we read books and their very imaginative nature helps our children to develop their own imaginations! How ever you go about it, there is no doubt that reading books with your child will provide long lasting memories for both of you.
Find out more about shared reading and early literacy development here http://www.fivefromfive.org.au/parent-resources/reading-with-children/