What is communication?

Communication is the act of sending and receiving a message from someone through verbal or non-verbal means. We do this all the time using our faces, body language, gestures, words, tone of voice; even writing down what we want to say counts as communication! 

Children start communicating from the day they are born. Newborns cry to tell us they are hungry. Toddlers move their head away or shake their head when they don’t want to eat a certain food. Children join a string of sounds together to tell their parents about their day. Adults send emails about important tasks at work.

Developing a child’s communication skills not only allows them to express who they are to the world and share their unique thoughts, but it also reflects overall cognitive development. Language development goes hand in hand with so many other skills, like fine motor skills, emotional regulation and importantly, it forms the foundation of reading and writing skills! 

Building a child’s communication skills through reading is one of the most effective ways to develop language skills. This is because reading is one (very important) aspect of our overall language processing system. This means that reading and communication have a reciprocal relationship, improving one skill improves the other and vice versa. One of the best ways to get your child ready to read is by giving them a solid foundation through their communication skills. 

With that in mind, here are some simple tips to build communication skills through reading with your children this summer. 

For babies and toddlers:

  • Let your child choose the book. Give them plenty of options with bright colours and pictures. Books with predictable, rhythmic language that repeats throughout the book are perfect for this age e.g. ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see?’ by Bill Martin Jr.
  • Sit face to face whilst reading together rather than with the child on your lap or next to you. This way you can see what they are interested in and they are getting more visual cues for the words from seeing your mouth and face. 
  • You have permission to mix it up! Some children will want to look at every page and others will turn the pages rapidly or not follow the order. This is fine! The goal is for them to interact and enjoy the experience of reading with you. Reading every page doesn’t matter. 
  • You also have permission to keep it the same! Repetition is a great way for kids to learn vocabulary and gain a deeper understanding of the concept of the story. Once you know they are familiar with the book, add in a pause and look at them expectantly to finish your sentence e.g. ‘5 little monkeys jumping on the ____’. Wait and silently count to 5! If they don’t finish the sentence that time, that’s okay, you finish it off and try again next time. 
  • Talk about what you can see. Use your finger to point to pictures or make comments about what you can see on each page e.g. ‘Wow, look! A tractor!’ Commenting on what’s happening in the book is a great way to introduce new words. You can also ask questions to encourage turn taking, but try to only ask 1 question for every 5 comments. Too many questions can put pressure on the child to speak and result in less communication.
  • Interact with the story! Pretend to eat the honey on the page, make animal noises, act out what the characters are doing. Show them that reading isn’t just about the words but about using their imagination and creativity too. 

For pre-schoolers:

  • Use different types of words. It’s often tempting to label lots of things you can see in books, but then we end up only exposing our children to nouns (names of things). Nouns are important, but to form a full sentence we need other word types too. Try:
    • describing what you can see (adjectives) e.g. ‘brr he looks cold!’ ‘Wow that tree is so tall!’
    • new verbs (action words) e.g. ‘push’ ‘throw’
    • words about time e.g. ‘now’, ‘later’
    • words to do with feelings e.g. ‘tired’ ‘surprised’
    • location words e.g. ‘up’, ‘between’
  • Focus on their understanding. Build their understanding of what they have read by demonstrating how it connects with the real world. For example, if you’ve read about going on vacation, talk about your own family trips, pull out photographs, talk about your journey, remember how it felt etc. This is a great way to draw deeper connections. 
  • Extend your child’s message. When your child tells you something about the book, you can respond by lengthening and elaborating on what they have said. For example, if they said “baby cat” whilst looking at a picture of a kitten in a box, you can respond ‘The kitten is in the brown box’. Building on your child’s ideas models new, more complex sentence structures and vocabulary.   
  • Talk about the component parts that create words. 
    • Break down longer words into syllables and high five/clap each time there is a ‘chunk’ in the word e.g. ‘Oc/ta/pus’ = 3 claps.
    • Break a word down into individual sounds (phonemes) e.g. ‘d-o-g’ and practicing finding each sounds in a words
    • Pick a sound of the day and practice finding it in books that you are reading together. Talk about where it appears in the word (at the beginning, middle or end)
    • Read rhyming books or thing of rhyming words and practice finding the part of the word that rhymes and the part that does not e.g. ‘kite’ and ‘light’ have different first sounds.

Being able to identify the sound structure in a word (phonological awareness) is a key building block for developing early reading skills for both pre-schoolers and early elementary children. 

For elementary kids:

  • Make use of screen time. Limiting screen time and making it productive is one of the biggest challenges of being a 21st Century parent. Online global libraries like Simbi are a perfect way to work on reading and communication skills to make the most of the time that your child spends online. Research shows that children that read for 20 minutes per day (let’s be honest, they are on screens for longer than that) are significantly more likely to be above grade level in reading. Because of how closely linked reading and language development are, improving reading also improves language skills (and vice versa)! 
  • Don’t just explain new vocabulary. It is helpful to explain new vocabulary as it comes up, but first see if they can work it out using the words around it on the page or by thinking of similar words. For example, take ‘unkind’. They might know the word ‘kind’ and recognise the prefix ‘un’ from the word ‘unhappy’. You can prompt them to think about what unhappy means vs. happy. You can then help them connect that with the word they are figuring out. The new word is much more likely to stick if they have gone through a discovery process. 
  • Keep a notebook with new words in. Write down new words and come back to them later. Can you find a way to help them use that new word? Encourage them to draw a picture with it in, or use it in a sentence. These are great ways to lock in new vocabulary.  
  • Make use of a dictionary. Giving your child a way to independently look up new words is a great strategy to get your child using. If your child is reading a physical book you can do this with a physical dictionary, equally if they are using an online library like Simbi, you can install the Grammarly extension to your Google Chrome browser and simply click on any new word and a dictionary definition will pop up! 
  • Talk about a book when it’s finished. Retelling the story together, talking about your favourite parts or things that the characters remind you both of are great ways of making deeper connections to the book. Not only do they work on verbal reasoning skills and learning to convey more complex ideas, they are also gaining a deeper understanding of the text and how this relates to the world around them.
  • Read widely. Being motivated to read is one of the biggest predictors of reading success. Allowing children to choose books based on their interests, and providing a wide variety of non-fiction and fiction texts is extremely motivating. This can be paired with other motivations such as reading competitions and rewards systems which can be tailored to your child. A global library such as Simbi does this really well! 

If you are looking for fun and motivating ways to keep your child reading this summer, why not register your child for the Simbi Summer Reading Club? Your child will join hundreds of children from around the world to read from thousands of engaging books all summer long! 

About the Author Helena Thornley

Helena Thornley, Speech and Language Pathologist, offers some tips to support communication development through reading.

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