Reading List For Early Speech And Language Development

By AASLJuly 31, 2019

Why reading is important

Sure, reading is a fun activity to do with your child, but it’s more than fun. Reading is important for building vocabulary and grammar from an early age. Toddlers and preschoolers have minds like sponges, developing quickly and soaking up everything they hear. The books you read to them will shape their development for years to come. Here’s why reading is so important.

1. Children need to hear a variety of words often.

By the time school starts, the average child has a vocabulary of 5000 words [1]. This means that by the time a child turns five, he or she is learning 3.5 words per day. To learn at this rate, your child needs a lot of exposure to language…and not just the same words you say around the house every day. Introducing your child to new vocabulary is key to speech development. That’s where books come in! [1].

Books that expose your child to new vocabulary are best when they not only use unfamiliar words, but also repeat the same words in different types of sentences throughout the book. A word appearing in different contexts helps kiddos develop a deeper understanding of a word. Repetition is key![1].

2. Reading gives you an opportunity to explain what words mean.  

Learning new words doesn’t help much when a child doesn’t understand what they mean. Books often provide enough context for children to get the gist of what each word means, but you’ll have to fill the gaps by explaining.

Reading time gives you the perfect opportunity to explain words to kids while they’re sitting down and you have their attention and interest. When you’re reading with your child, it’s important to explain what a word means, point to pictures, and use your voice and gestures to help explain the meaning of a word. For instance, the word “laugh,” can be easier for your child to understand if you laugh and then do something to make her laugh.

3. Books teach vocabulary and grammar together, and that’s best!

Vocabulary and grammar area learned together. Words are of limited use to a child who isn’t able to put a sentence together. This is why it’s important to expose your child to new vocabulary in grammatically correct sentences. Books have plenty of those!

Read these sentences aloud to your child. Even if he may only like to point to pictures and say words, which is fine…make sure that at least some of your reading time involves you actually reading full sentences. Also leave time for him to read the way he wants to read (be it pointing to pictures, saying words, etc.), so you don’t lose his interest.

This is all great information, but there are so many books out there! What books should you read with your little one?

Types of books to read with your littles:

Real-life Picture Books:

Realistic and eye-catching pictures capture toddlers’ attention and actually help them learn vocabulary. Children see a real-life picture and learn how to name it. The types of pictures in a book can make a difference to what a child learns…photographs are the most realistic and closely resemble the real items. It’s a great first place for learning. Additionally, books with only a few pictures per page helps reduce distractions so they can really focus on the vocab.

Lift the Flap Books:

Simple lift-the-flap books are great for targeting vocabulary including location words as well as early developing questions such as: yes/no? What is it? Where is it? Who is it?  We love to exaggerate and emphasize the word of focus in each simple question, such as “WHO is on the bed?” or “WHERE is Spot hiding?”  Keep your questions short and sweet so that your child can focus on the concepts you want them to learn. These books are interactive and keep a young child’s interests too!

Repetitive Books:

You might be wondering, what are repetitive books? These books are any books with predictable, rhythmic language that is repeated throughout the book. This repetition and rhythm helps a child to stay engaged and to learn the key words or phrases that are repeated often. You’ll find as you read that your own language takes on a particular beat…have fun with it, and your child most certainly will, too! Feel free to point out colors of the animals or the sounds they make, or ask your child to get involved and move their body parts along to the book.

Books with textures and lots of opportunities to describe:

We love these types of books including touch-and-feels because they help teach various descriptive words first-hand. Have your child see, touch, and feel the pages. You can point out items of interest or follow your child’s lead all while saying aloud the vocabulary words and concepts that stand out.  There are so many opportunities to talk about items in these books, not just naming the vocabulary, but asking simple questions to point out locations and colors, describing actions and what the animals and items are doing, as well as talking about how they look or feel to identify new description words (i.e. yellow, bumpy, soft, sticky, etc.) or even jump into early counting. These books are certainly a language-filled treat with so much to explore! Books with story lines that are simple and easy to understand will keep a toddler engaged, even with a short attention span.  “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle is a nice option for a toddler. If your child isn’t interested right away, you can start by talking about the pictures or simplifying the story first.

Books with familiar songs or nursery rhymes:

We love these classic books that bridge song to text for many familiar songs and nursery rhymes. When reading the words of these books, it naturally allows parents to read them in a “sing-song” way which is very engaging for children compared to straight forward reading. Keep it playful and fun, and don’t be afraid to change your volume during parts of reading or to exaggerate certain parts. It’s important to point to the pictures as you read, so your child can associate your spoken words with the various pictures on the page. The repetition in these songs also contains predictable language where you can pause to wait for kids to “fill in” the next parts of the book. Remember the classics of “Wheels on the Bus, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”, “Five Little Monkeys”, “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”, just to name a few. Books with story lines that are simple and easy to understand will keep a toddler engaged, even with a short attention span.  “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle is a nice option for a toddler. If your child isn’t interested right away, you can start by talking about the pictures or simplifying the story first.

Books with a simple plot:

Books that have a simple story line are great for bridging our early language learners to the longer format of narratives found in many children’s books. As with all books, you can use these simple storybooks to target early questions, to point out new vocabulary and concepts, and to discuss a sequence of events (i.e. first they went to the pond, next they went to the field, and last they went to the cave, etc.). These books have just the right amount of text where they are great for little learners and won’t be too overwhelming with language. They will help lay the foundation exposing our children to the exciting adventures that books can take us on when we read!

Photo albums & homemade books

Looking at pictures of family members, friends and important events in their lives (for example, a birthday party or photos of a new baby sibling), can help a child remember and put into context the people and event around her.

Homemade books are a great option too because you can create a book full of your kiddo’s favorite things and you can make him a main character in the story.

Books to avoid:

  • Long books with complicated storylines

Books that are long and complicated (including fairytales) often require an understanding of language that exceed what a toddler has. They also require a longer attention span, which we parents know that most toddlers don’t have. It’s important in the toddler age range to develop a love of books, so it’s best to choose books that will fit with your child’s interests, attention span, and language level.

  • Books with no pictures

Pictures are still important at this age because they help a child understand stories and words better. If your child doesn’t have images to help him understand a story, the words can easily become a jumble of sounds and his interest level can decrease. Save the books that have very few pictures or none at all for an older age, unless your child shows a keen interest in them and truly enjoys reading them.

  • Electronic books 

In this electronic age, paper still has a purpose! One study comparing an e-book and a paper book with the same story showed that children learned more from the paper book [2]. In the electronic book, the buttons, games and interactivity of the story distracted children from the actual story. Read more about this study.

Our tips for Book reading with your Littles:

One of the most important tips we can share is to feel free to break away from the text and follow your child’s lead. Simplify the words based on your child’s understanding or interest, or linger on a page to map on and point out new language.

  • Keep your child involved and let him/her help turn the pages.
  • Wait and see: let your child look at each page and have a chance to talk about what he/she sees. Then map on new language based on what they say.
  • Highlight important vocabulary or expand upon what your child sees and describes. Think about your use of single words, two-word combinations, or modeling simple 3 word phrases for your child to imitate based on what you see on the book pages.
  • Think beyond just nouns when you provide the names of new words. Remember to talk about action words (i.e. sit, jump, kiss) and other description words (i.e. big, little, fast, slow, soft, bumpy, etc.).
  • Ask different types of questions: the earliest developing questions are yes/no and “what, who, where” questions.
  • Engage your child. Ask him/her to “find the___”, “show me___”, “point to the ____” or even “rub/kiss/tap the ____”.
  • Change up the intonation of your voice…meaning emphasize the words you want to stand out, or vary your volume for various words as you read. This will keep your child on his/her toes to keep their interest but more importantly it will naturally help them focus on the concepts you’re identifying as most important.

Incorporate reading into your everyday routines. Keep it fun and a chance to connect during this shared experience with your child! Reading is the ultimate multipurpose fun activity. If you can make reading fun for your child, reading time can turn into fun time, learning time, and bonding time between you and your toddler or preschooler. If your child doesn’t have a natural affinity for reading, try making it enjoyable. You can call reading time “special time,” “mommy and Susie time,” or any name that will make your kiddo excited to read. Find a comfortable place that your child likes, bring his favorite blanket or stuffed animal, and give your child one-on-one time without interruptions. Fill reading time with plenty of praise when she says a word correctly or explains the meaning of a word or sentence. If you make reading time seem special, odds are, your child will feel that and look forward to it too. Have fun and read, read away!

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