A list of good books that will help promote reading as well as encourage speech and language development for the young toddler or preschooler.
Babies learn to understand language by listening to the voices around them. Singing to babies and toddlers and encouraging them to sing along as they are able develops language. So does reading aloud. Poetry is good to read because, like songs, poems have patterns and repeated phrases that help young ones pick up the patterns of the English language. Nursery rhymes are a good place to start. A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson is one poetry book that should be in every parent’s library.
Reading time should also include picture books. My own children all enjoyed the Richard Scarry books, with their fun animal characters beautifully illustrated alongside the words of the stories. One excellent title from Scarry’s collection is What Do People Do All Day?? The animal characters are dressed as people dress for a variety of jobs, so you can discuss with your child what your family and neighbors do. Another good one is Richard Scarry’s Please and Thank You Book which is a read-aloud that can help teach social graces as well as language skills.
While reading any book aloud, allow pauses for the child to ask questions and look at pictures more closely. If you point to words as you read them, the child will realize there is a connection between the words on the pages and the words you are speaking. Asking the child open-ended questions can also encourage speech skills as well as thinking skills. Avoid yes or no questions. Instead, ask “What do you think will happen next?” or “What did you like about the book?”
There is no reason to push a toddler to learn to read. If, however, you have an eager child who is already learning words and trying to read it will do no harm to begin teaching them. The first resource I read before teaching my own children to read was Ruth Beechick’s The Three R’s. This book is a compilation of three booklets she published originally as: A Home Start in Reading, A Strong Start in Language, and An Easy Start in Arithmetic. This one inexpensive book is all you need to gently begin some activities with your child. No expensive curriculum is required.
Let the young child progress at his or her own pace, though. Some educators caution against rushing young children. Most notable in this camp are Raymond and Dorothy Moore, authors of Better Late than Early. It is more important for young children to develop an appreciation of books, stories, and intelligent conversation than to try to get them reading independently before they are ready. Most children will let you know when they are ready, as they start to try on their own.
The Late Talker
Some children are later talkers than others. The toddler who really makes no effort to speak can cause parents to worry. Discuss with your doctor whether your child may need a hearing test. If it is obvious the child hears and understands speech, but simply doesn’t talk, give the child a little time. If shyness is the issue, encouragement through reading aloud and asking questions may help. For more information about late-talking children, the economist Thomas Sowell has written some helpful books in particular The Einstein Syndrome about late talking children. Dr. Sowell had a son who was late to talk and found other parents who had highly intelligent, analytical kids who just talked later than other children.
Books About Animals
Most children love to learn about animals, both wild animals and household pets. While the children’s section of any bookstore has many animal books, one of my favorites is Sammy: The Classroom Guinea Pig by Alix Berenzy. The story involves a classroom pet and his strange behavior. The children are led by their teacher to think about why Sammy is upset and to test their ideas, e.g. is he sick or hurt or afraid? The book has exquisite watercolor illustrations that look almost real. It also includes important facts about guinea pigs and their proper care and feeding.
Another good children book is Stellaluna by Janell Cannon which is a story about a young fruit bat that gets separated from her family. She is adopted by a family of birds who have pity on her. As the birds teach her to be a good little bird, however, her differences are glaringly apparent. There are some amusing situations as well as a happy reunion at the end. Children will enjoy the great illustrations in this story book as well.
The Complete Adventures of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter is another fine example of children’s literature that should be in every family library. Children will enjoy learning that the stories they are hearing were also enjoyed by their grandparents and great-grandparents.
As children get past the toddler years, try reading chapter books. Children can develop memory skills and learn delayed gratification as you read them just a chapter or two each day from a longer book. One book I like to start with is Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Because this book was written by a woman who grew up just after the Civil War, the stories offer a chance to discuss how homes, transportation, and work were different in the past. Wilder’s descriptions are vivid, enabling the reader (or child listener) to form a clear mental picture of the stories as they unfold.
Other ways to enrich the language environment for a toddler or preschooler include letter blocks, audio books and flash cards. Letter blocks are a good way for the kinesthetic (hands-on) learner to build short words and read them. Audio books can enable a child to hear a story in a different voice or to listen to a story while a parent is driving. Flash cards with pictures and words can help toddlers make connections between everyday objects and words.
The most important speech and language development resource for any young child is verbal interaction with a caring adult. Use books as tools to facilitate your conversations with children. Vocabulary and other skills naturally develop as you interact with children in age-appropriate settings.
Moms, what has been your experience in improving your child’s speech and language skills? What other books or titles can you share?