Grow a Reader: Talking

By Shelley Lantz

Talking with young children is so important! When you talk with your baby, your baby is hearing the sounds of the languages you speak and learning what words mean as you point to and label things. When you add new words and information to conversations with your children, you are developing their vocabularies and knowledge of their world.

There tend to be two kinds of “talk”—“business talk”  and “play talk.” Business talk is directive, short, and to the point. Play talk, on the other hand, is responsive to the child, imaginative and often silly, while being open-ended and encouraging. It also offers choices and asks questions. Research has shown that the amount of "play talk" that children receive prior to 3 years of age predicts their intellectual accomplishments at age 9 and beyond. Amazing!

More than any other factor, including economic considerations, research has found that the amount of play talk children are exposed to has the most impact on their language and intellectual development. Here are some ideas of how you can encourage play talk with your child:

  • Read a book together, asking open-ended questions about the pictures. Ex. Look at the pretty, bluebird. Where do you think he is flying?
  • For babies, imitate your baby’s babbling and enjoy her reaction. You could even record the baby’s babbles and play them back for her to hear.
  • Sing favorite songs frequently, and encourage your children to join in. Pause before a keyword in a song or rhyme to give a toddler a chance to fill it in all by herself. It can take young children up to 5 seconds to put their comments or responses into words or meaningful gestures, so give them plenty of time to reply.
  • Provide toddlers opportunities to practice using words they know.  Find a magazine or catalog with pictures of familiar items that they can name with the words they know.
  • For preschoolers, include fiction and nonfiction picture books about animals in your book time together—and learn together. Plan a trip to the zoo to see the animals.

Here are four great book lists to help encourage talk between you and your children. Read your favorite books together, over and over, and have fun!  And, remember to encourage your children to talk when you read together. Look at and talk about the story and the pictures. Ask questions that allow your children to explain what they are thinking and feeling. The books included in these lists are age-appropriate and are fun to share:

CRRL Grow a Reader: Talk With Your Infant

A great book to introduce new vocabulary to your baby! Example: while pointing to the pictures, talk about what the babies are doing. "B--bouncing. Let's bounce like the baby." Gently bounce your baby on your lap.

Babies find faces interesting, and research has shown that an infant pays attention to human faces longer than anything else. Talk about the faces. Example: "See her nose? Here is your nose!" Touch your baby's nose.

Clap Hands shows babies from a variety of racial and ethnic groups interacting with each other in positive, fun ways. Help your baby clap along with the babies in the pictures and talk about the fun they are having.

To build positive senses of self, children need to see themselves, their families, and their cultural traditions in the books we share with them. This book is a great choice for Hispanic families to share. Talk about what you see in the pictures and how they are familiar to your family gatherings. "See la abuela? She looks like your la abuela!"

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CRRL Grow A Reader: Talk With Your Young Toddler

Encourage your child to guess which animal will be behind the flap. Talk about mommy animals and what their babies are called. Have fun, and it's okay to be silly!

If your toddler is toddling, there are probably boo-boos. Tips for reading and sharing: as you read, point to the different boo-boos Name the parts of the body where there are boo-boos Remind your toddler of past boo-boos, talking about how quickly they heal.

A little bunny bids goodnight to all the objects in his room before falling asleep. Reading stories about bedtime routines are familiar and comforting to young children and will help them to associate pleasant feelings with reading. Talk about your family's bedtime routine as you read about the bunny family.

This book uses playful language which encourages young listeners to play with the sounds of language, too. This play supports language development and phonological awareness. Sound out the rhyming words so that your toddler can hear the smaller sounds in the words.

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CRRL Grow A Reader: Talk With Your Older Toddler

Children love to learn through repetition. This book encourages them to interact with the story by repeating the lyrical phrase, "Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?" Older toddlers will be "reading" and telling the story quickly and building their narrative skills. Encourage your child to help you read the story!

This book uses rhyming text to sound out the names of familiar bugs. It also works on vocabulary by expanding children's knowledge of bugs and their characteristics.

This book has beautiful, colorful illustrations. Talk about the toys in the pictures. Does your child have a train? A teddy bear? Toy people? Encourage him to tell you about the pictures and think where the train will go next.

Does your family ever go to Grandma's for dinner? Or, maybe a close, older family member? What do you call her? Grannie, Gran, Grandma, Nana? What food do you all have? What does it smell like? What do you like best about visiting? This book is great for remembering and talking about family get-togethers.

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CRRL Grow A Reader: Talk With Your Preschooler

As you read, talk about the sizes of the animals and which ones are larger. Which ones are smaller? What does it mean when we use "er" and "est" on the end of a word?

Children love the catchy rhythm of the words in this book. You and your child can repeat the phrase, "Cha Cha Cha," together as you read. You can also make shakers from dried beans and paper towel rolls by filling the empty rolls and sealing off the ends with tape--adult supervision required. Use your shakers to "Cha Cha Cha!" Talk about rhythm, musical instruments, and dance. This helps your children learn more about their world.

This is a fun and humorous book. Children will love predicting what will happen next. As you read, let your child guess what the Rooster will say next before you turn the pages. Laugh along with your child, and enjoy the silliness.

In this colorful story of a sloppy dog, you can count on a happy ending. As you read, talk about the colorful spots that Dog is accumulating on his fur. You could also draw a dog on a piece of paper and have your child color the spots on as you read. Talk about where the spots came from. Example: "What made the pink spot on Dog's fur? . . . That's right, the pink ice cream did. What flavor do you think it was?”

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For more information about the current research on play vs. business talk, check out Talk to Me, Baby! by Betty Bardige.

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