World Book Day provides us with a great excuse to spend a day celebrating and having fun with books. However, sharing books, each and every day, is one of the most important things you can do with a child.
Reading stories and looking at picture books, with one child or a small group, is one of the best ways in which you can support children’s spoken language and literacy development. Children can learn new words, about new environments and experiences and new ideas.
Interactive shared reading, an approach that attempts to engage the child in the reading experience, is more effective than a non-interactive approach. The adult needs to plan in advance the best ways to engage the child, such as choosing specific words and skills to focus upon, pointing to elements of print, and including opportunities to check for listening comprehension.
An example of a highly effective interactive approach is called dialogic reading. Adults encourage the child to participate in a conversation about a book by asking questions, thinking about the child’s response, and providing feedback that promotes and adapts to the child’s learning.
Let the child lead
Start by making yourselves comfortable. Ideally face to face, at the same level as the child and where you can both see the book. Children feel more involved if they can hold, or help to hold the book.
Let a child turn the pages, encourage them to be gentle and if necessary start with board or material books that are harder to pull apart. If the child turns over several pages at once it doesn’t matter, you can always go back later or at another time.
When a child looks at a picture or points at something they want to know what it is called. Rather than asking them “What’s that?” name it for them. This will help them to learn the meaning of new words. Don’t put any pressure on a child to name pictures but praise and encourage when they do and say the words again for them.
Stories with rhyme and alliteration help children to develop their phonological awareness. This is an understanding of the structure of words – syllables, rhyme and individual sounds (at the beginning, end and in the middle of words).
Children love sound play – it’s fun! As they engage in sound play they will learn how to identify individual sounds. Speech sound awareness and then matching the individual sounds to letters are key skills for reading and spelling.
The awareness of words, syllables and individual sounds combined with alphabet knowledge helps children crack the code of how letters and sounds go together.
Again, again and again!
Children love to hear their favourite stories again, again and again.
As they become familiar with each story they will interact more confidently and discover new things with each reading. Repeated readings of stories supports the learning of both receptive vocabulary (the words children understand) and expressive vocabulary (the words they use). Repetition within stories also helps children to understand and remember words.
Repeated reading of the same stories helps them to predict what comes next in the story and to confidently join in when they hear the story again. Once they are familiar with a story, especially if it is full of repetition and highly predictable text, pause before a final word at the end of a sentence or on the page and see if the child wants to fill in the gap – allow plenty of time (count to 10) for them to do this. Encourage, and praise when they try, but do not pressure them to do this.
Fun with puppets
Puppets can help maintain children’s attention. Introducing the puppets and using a range of voices for the characters can add to the fun. Use a range of voices for the characters – children love this, it helps to maintain their attention and encourages listening.
After you have read a book together you can encourage the children to role play and create their own stories with the help of the puppets.
Top tips for sharing stories
- Let the child choose the book
- Follow the child’s lead – it doesn’t matter if you don’t read the book from beginning to end
- Name the pictures and once children are familiar with a story allow time for them to join in
- Enjoy sound play as you read – pointing out rhyme and the sounds at the beginning and ends of words
- Introduce puppets to bring stories to life and support children to retell or role play familiar stories
Above all every shared reading experience should be fun. It’s also one that provides children with a variety of meaningful opportunities to develop many essential language and literacy skills.
Anne Ayre is a speech and language therapist. She has over 20 years of experience as a lecturer, researcher, author and consultant. Her role in national projects for the Department of Education and The Communication Trust highlighted the need for additional evidence based resources that practitioners and parents can use with confidence, to support the speech and language development of all children.
Anne works closely with parents, practitioners - and children too! She is passionate about creating books and resources that are above all fun, yet expertly crafted to support the development of all children’s speech, language and early literacy skills.