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Sharing books - how language supports literacy and literacy develops language skills

We know that good language and communication skills are vital for children as the building blocks to develop literacy. This report gives a good overview of the role that early language development plays in supporting literacy and how vital early years practitioners are to supporting these skills. 

We know that children need to:

  • Develop their vocabulary so that they understand and use different words. This helps them to read for meaning later on and understand what is being written about.
  • Know how words work - e.g. that words rhyme by changing the start of the word. And to know about rhythm. 
  • Be able to follow and share stories - whether it's about their day or imaginary worlds inspired by play.

As adults our role is vital in supporting them to develop these skills and sharing this information with parents. Here are the top tips from the campaign; it's worth reflecting on how you build these into your practice and how you share them with parents so they can help their children.

Sharing books can also help children to develop their language skills.

How can we use books to help children's language skills?

There are lots of ways that books can be used to develop children's talking and understanding as well as developing speech sounds.

Do you:

  • Use 'fun' words like 'wheeee' and 'boom' to help bring the story to life?
  • Make animal noises like ‘baa’ and ‘moo’ so that children can join in and copy you? Use props or real objects to accompany a story to make the pictures more real to children?
  • Watch how children react to a book. Which bit interests them? Are they trying to say some words? Are they pointing to pictures?
  • Let children take the lead and give them time? Sometimes children may want to spend time talking or looking at one particular page.
  • How do you respond when children are reading a familiar book? Try missing out the end of a sentence and pausing when the sentence is familiar and/or repetitive e.g. that's not my...(lion) or 'just like…(daddy). Children may then take the opportunity to fill in the word. 
  • Respond to what children are saying and/or pointing at? Try to avoid too many testing questions such as 'what's that', 'where's the dog' and so on. These can be useful sometimes but children benefit more from hearing you say the words and using strategies like pausing to see if they copy e.g. I can see a dog, you can see a (pause)...'

Find out more from I CAN's free factsheet on sharing books to support language. This gives information about the stages of early literacy skills and tips for supporting children who would rather be doing anything apart from looking at books.

You can find out more about helping children to develop the foundation language skills needed for reading from the Talking Point website and I CAN websites. You find out more about Read on. Get On. including top tips and opportunities to volunteer from the website.

We know that language and literacy are fundamental skills that improve young people's outcomes. We also know that if we can get this right, right from the start, this can support children's development. 

About the author

Amanda Baxter is a speech and language therapist who specialises in working with early years practitioners and families with young children. As a Communication Advisor for I CAN, she delivers training to early years professionals and supports them to develop their practice. She also works on I CAN’s Enquiry Service providing information, advice and support for practitioners and parents. Amanda has worked in children's centres and as a Local Authority Early Language Consultant.

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