Guest Blog: So Much More Than Words on a Page

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By: Shareka Bentham, SLT copyright 2011. Shareka Bentham, SLT

This blog post has been reprinted with express permission of the author as it appeared on her blog Easy Speech and Language Ideas

The More that you read, the more things you will know.
The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go -
-Dr. Seuss

“Come let me take you on a journey; to teach you, to fascinate you, to engage you. To keep you wanting more of the knowledge within, the new experiences, surprises, fun, laughter. Come read with me. “

This is the message that we should be relaying to a child every time we open a book.*

As a therapist I have always valued books as essential components in not only literacy development, but in language building, vocabulary enhancement, increasing moments of engagement, building social interaction skills, and many other areas of a child’s development. I try to encourage all of my parents to read to their children and, most importantly, make it an interactive experience. I am sometimes amazed at the responses I get to this request:

“He’s too young to read”

“She’s not going to sit still to look at a book”

“He doesn’t like books/ He’s just not interested”

“I really don’t have the time to read to her”
….and the list goes on

After hearing these responses I have made it a personal goal to ensure that all parents who receive services from my practice are reading with their children, and reading effectively. I have started coaching and providing feedback for parents on how to make it an interactive experience, and want to also share this with my readers.

Reading is so much more than words on a page. You can go through a book from cover to cover and have a great experience, without even looking at any words. Want to see this in action? Ask a 3 year old to read a book to you. They will use picture cues, imagination, everything to tell you their interpretation of the story.

It’s all about the experience with your child as you go through the book, look at pictures, talk about what you are both seeing and experiencing, and open up a new world for him/her.

How do I make it interesting?

  • First by not making it seem like a punishment. Many parents tend to use a book as a ‘quiet period’ if a child seems too active. A book may seem like an easy escape to some peace and quiet in the house. However, to a child “Stop running around, come get a book” may cause the book to be perceived as something negative which they get when they have to stop an enjoyable activity. Incorporate book time into your daily routine as a fun, comfortable moment of interaction, with no negative connotations. Some parents note that the ‘bath-book-bed’ sequence usually works well to provide a good time for the ‘book experience.’
  • By making the book come alive. In therapy I show parents how to make a book seem like the most interesting thing in the world. With my little ones I like to peek inside, give a very dramatic gasp with a very excited expression, then close it again. I do this a couple times until interest is piqued then I encourage them to open and see what I’ve found. I also do this when it’s time to turn the page, or if there’s something hiding under the flap (Lift-the-flap books are actually my favourite kinds). The key here is to have no fear of being silly. Children love it when therapists are silly, and they will love it just as much when their parents are. Giving voices to the characters, making sound effects, using exaggerated facial expressions, making the book move like the events of the book all help to grasp children’s attention and keep them engaged. Turning the book into a cause and effect activity where you make a noise whenever he/she touches the page also helps hold interest and adds to the fun.

With older children I tend to use books geared towards their interests and give an interesting promo for it. “I’ve got the coolest, most super book about Thomas the Train and his friends and you wouldn’t believe what happened…. Let’s look and find out!” If there is some hesitation or frustration around reading it’s good to provide lots of encouragement and ease pressures around this area ” It’s okay, I can help you if you get stuck,” or ” You don’t have to read the words, you can be Thomas and I’ll tell you what to say.” Remember that older ones still like it when parents are silly and provide sound effects, just as much as the little ones.

How do I use it for language development?
The shared experience of books is great for language development in children of all ages. For babies it is a good method to help with localisation to sound, listen to changes in intonation patterns and provide exposure to the sounds of their native language. Babies are also great observers, and they take in everything from the world around them, so introducing them to pictures and early words and concepts from a very young age is a nice early addition to their language development.

Reading also promotes the development of preverbal communication skills such as attention to objects, particularly shared attention. This is a key element in language development where the parent and child are looking at the same thing at the same time while the parent provides language around it. It can also encourage imitation skills, where the parent touches a picture or makes a noise around the picture and encourages the child to do the same.

Also important in preverbal communication are turntaking skills, which move from taking turns in an activity to taking turns in verbal interaction. Parents may need to pause and wait a little longer than might feel comfortable for a child to take his/her turn in the interaction.

In terms of direct language building there are so many ways to use the book experience to promote the development of content, structure and use of language. There is constant exposure to new vocabulary, parents should use this to their advantage, especially when it comes to building a first word lexicon. My favourite article is http://www.speechpathology.com/articles/…cle_id=374 which has a comprehensive but not exhaustive list of first words, and books which can be used to encourage these.

Parents can build auditory comprehension for pictures by playing the ‘touch the…’ game, where they encourage children to touch the picture for the word presented, followed by lots of praise.
They can talk about what they see on the page, but can then take it a step up (according to the child’s language capabilities) and go beyond the page. They can:

  • Group them into categories: ” Look here’s a cow, and a sheep, these are animals, can you find some more animals?”
  • Relate them to events that happened in the past “Remember we saw a big balloon at Jane’s party?”
  • Talk about early concepts “This is a blue ball, where’s the red ball?”, “The dog is under the table,” “This car is big and this is little.”
  • Ask ‘wh’ questions “What is that?” “What is he doing?” “Where is the truck?” “When do you see the moon?” “Why is he going in there” “What do you think is going to happen next?” (Again depending on the child’s language level).
  • Encourage story retells. Narrative development is an essential component of language development and a good precursor to literacy development. Encourage children to tell the story or retell one that has just been read.

The focus here is more on language development than literacy development, but I still want to stress the importance of shared reading in the development of phonological awareness skills such as rhyming, syllable and sound identification and syllable and sound blending and segmentation.

Where do I start?
With a fun, colourful, interesting looking book that you think your child might be interested in. Try different books to find your child’s likes and dislikes. Choose a quiet time in a comfortable place. Be open and welcoming and give lots of praise. Get ready to give lots of language input, but more importantly to have fun. Don’t forget to put your silly cap on and be ready to introduce your child to the wonderful world of books.

* I use the term ‘book’ loosely, as with new advances in technology this can refer to any type of media.

Featured Author: Shareka Bentham, SLT

From her blog: My name is Shareka Bentham, I’m a Speech and Language therapist (also known as a Speech Pathologist in some countries), working in private practice. I earned my Masters in New Zealand and returned to Barbados to practice. I’m quite a newbie in the field, as this is my first year practising, but I’ve learnt a lot thus far. There aren’t many speech therapists in my country, one working in government, and the remaining 4 or so in private practice catering to a population of approximately 275,000. Needless to say I have a pretty hectic caseload with a range of communicative needs. I work with both paediatric and adult populations with speech, language, social communication voice, fluency, and feeding disorders and my settings range from clinic, hospitals, and house/school visits. I’m also the in-house therapist at one primary school, so yes it gets quite busy.

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One Response to Guest Blog: So Much More Than Words on a Page

  1. You are right on track with using reading as a therapy tool. I have 41 years of experience and have found reading to be one of the most powerful tools I have for improving phonological awareness/phonemic awareness, auditory and visual closure, visual processing, language, speech, and social interaction. It is especially helpful for children with apraxia.