Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How to Make the Most of Book-Reading

In last week’s blog, I talked about how signing spurs language development by increasing a baby’s enjoyment of books. Part of the explanation that I gave for this positive relationship between books and language development involved something researchers call “Dialogic Reading” Quite simply, this term means engaging your child in a conversation about what’s on the page rather than just reading the text and moving on. What I want to do today is provide some specific tips for how to get such conversations going.

• Instead of only asking for labels (like “What’s that?”), ask questions that require some thought to answer (“Where do you think Goldilocks is running to?”) In general, good openers include “Why….?” “How….?” “Where…?” You’ll find you naturally expand on whatever answer your child provides, thus providing more words for your baby to ponder—and learn (e.g., “Too big? Yes, Goldilocks was too big. She was just too heavy for that little bitty chair.”).

• Ask about things that are more abstract, like feelings or predictions about the future. “How do you think Goldilocks felt when…?” “What do you think Goldilocks told her mommy when she got home?” Parents really underestimate children’s ability to think about such things. What’s more, helping your child identify a character’s feelings will indirectly help her identify her own.

• Ask questions that relate the book’s events to your child’s own life. “Have you ever seen a bear?” “What would you do if you woke up and saw three bears?” Like the rest of the human race, babies are more interested in things that have direct relevance to their own lives.

• Relax, laugh a lot, and “go with the flow.” Don’t worry if your child gives the wrong answer—or no answer at all! The point is to make talking fun. A child who genuinely enjoys such give and take will be motivated to get better at participating. A child who doesn’t, who feels “interrogated” and put on the spot, will emotionally withdraw and see book-reading as aversive. In other words, “Dialogic Reading” is not—I repeat—is not an IQ test! It’s just a simple way to enrich the experience of cuddling up with Mom or Dad and a good book.

Happy Signing (and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook)!


Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, the Baby Signs® Program

Professor Emeritus, UC Davis
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