There’s no greater gift you can give a child than the love of reading. The benefits of reading are near limitless: books stimulate the imagination, expand children’s vocabulary, develop their listening and comprehension skills, and help them succeed in the classroom.
Reading is also critically important in a child’s speech and language development. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), children with communication problems are more likely to struggle with reading and writing skills. This affects how well they perform in school, their social development, and their ability to express themselves. One study from Ohio State University found that if parents or caregivers read just one book a day, their child will hear about 290,000 more words by the time they reach kindergarten. That’s quite a head start!
Children take their first critical steps toward learning to read and write very early in life. That’s why it’s important for parents to begin reading to their children in infancy, building good habits that will benefit them for a lifetime. When children love to read, they choose to read, and ultimately become better readers.
Below we’ve included the top ten tips and strategies parents can use to make reading more fun and enjoyable for their child, and ultimately expand their speech and language skills.
- Make Reading a Routine: Set aside a regular time each day to read with your child, or make a habit of reading every night before bedtime. Of course this can be easier said than done. Between work, school, errands, and everyday life, fitting reading into our schedules can be a challenge. So if you have to skip a day, don’t be discouraged. Just read to your child as often as you can.
- Pick the Right Books: I don’t know about you, but if a book isn’t grabbing my attention by the first few pages, I’m more likely to zone out or put the book aside. Children are no different. If books aren’t captivating their attention, they’ll be less engaged. Next time you go to the bookstore, encourage your child to browse the bookshelves themselves. Or if you know your child is particularly interested in zebras, find a book about zebras.
- Ask Engaging Questions: Asking questions not only stimulates your child’s critical thinking abilities, but also increases their comprehension. For younger children, you can ask yes/no questions. For older questions, try to ask more thought-provoking questions on a variety of topics. For example, as your child first becomes aware of letter sounds, points to a picture of a dog and ask: “What sound does the dog make?” As your child develops, ask more complex questions: “What sound does ‘dog’ start with?”
Asking different types of questions also helps children practice different skills:
- What is happening right now? (comprehension)
- Why do you think that? (inferring)
- What do you think will happen next? (predicting)
- Why? (vocabulary and oral language)
- Read Slowly: While reading slowly, and ensuring each word is clearly pronounced, doesn’t always feel natural or intuitive, it’s hugely beneficial for your child. It allows them to hear and process each word, which can help with their comprehension.
- Positive Reinforcement: If your child provides an incorrect answer to one of your questions, or labels a picture as a dog instead of a horse for example, try not to tell them “no.” Instead, point to the picture and say “horse.” Also make sure to congratulate them when they are correct. This prevents children from getting their feelings hurt and reinforces the right answer.
- Choose Books with Rhymes or Songs: By choosing books with rhymes or songs, you can keep them engaged during the entire reading experience. Clap along to the rhythm and encourage your child to clap along too. Or sing a song and ask your child to fill in the missing words (“I spy an itty bitty _____”).
- Reread the Same Books: You know how you always pick up new things when you rewatch a movie for the second time? This same principle applies when you read a book for the second, or third, or what feels like the thousandth time. Yes, it can be a little… mind-numbing. But children learn new words and ideas when their favorites books are read repeatedly.
- Be Dramatic: The more fun we make reading, the more likely children will be excited to read. So loosen up! Make facial expressions or mimic a character’s voice or emotion. Change the tone or volume of your voice when a character celebrates or cries or laughs or sings. You don’t have to put on a broadway performance, but you’ll be surprised just how fun both of you can have.
- Explain New Words: For older children, take the opportunity to insert explanations for a few words they may not have heard before. If you do this with every unfamiliar word, you may never finish a book, so choose a handful each time you read or reread a book.
- Have a Discussion: Once you’ve finished a book, take a few minutes with your child to reflect on and think about what you’ve just read. Ask them their favorite parts and why, discuss the setting of the story, the characters, the main problem and how it was solved. And finally, try to make connections between what happened in the book and your child’s own life.