4 Tactics for Effective Joint Book Reading

Joint book reading can be integrated into speech therapy goals but also used by parents at home. The only requirements are the child’s favorite book (or books) and a comfortable place to sit. A recent study from the University of Iowa found that reading promoted more speech-like sounds among babies than playing with toys.1 Here are four techniques to maximize the benefits of reading books with young children:

1.    Let the Child Take the Lead

Give your child several options of age-appropriate books and let them choose which they want to read. Let them turn the pages at their own rate. Don’t feel the need to read all the words on a page or read the entire book. Encourage your child to attend to the pictures and words, making allowances for their attention span. Over time, attention and participation will hopefully increase when this is perceived as a fun activity.

2.    Make It Interactive

Comment on what you see on a page, then pause to convey the expectation for your child to make their own comment. If your child responds, occasionally repeat what they said or expand on their comment. If your child doesn’t respond, don’t stop and require them to say something, just move on.

If your child points to a picture, make a statement that includes an attribute (e.g., “That’s a BROWN bear.”) or describes an action (e.g., “That boy is jumping!”). Try to make it feel like a conversation about what you are seeing together in the pictures, or about the depicted sequence of events.

3.    Relate It to Real-World Experiences

Remind your child about things they have seen that relate to what you are seeing in the book. For example, if you are looking at animals, talk about where your child saw those animals, such as at the zoo or on a farm. Maybe the house in the picture looks like a house in your neighborhood, or there is a picture of a beach that recalls memories of a family trip. “Does the cookie the mouse is eating in your story look like the kinds of cookies you have in your house?”

4.    Help Your Child Discover Print

Take a moment to point out where the words are on the page, and their orientation from left to right. See if your child notices familiar or repeated words as you go from page to page. If you are reading the book, occasionally follow the words with your finger so the child sees the print’s specific meaning.

There has been increasing emphasis on making books available to families, including programs that provide a book bag for babies going home from the hospital or at well-child visits. Reading books takes little time or effort, but produces lifelong benefits by facilitating the child-parent relationship and by building a foundation for speech, language, and academic development.

  1. Gros-Luis J, West MJ, King AP. (2015). The influence of interactive context on prelinguistic vocalizations and maternal response. Language Learning and Development, 12,280-294.
  2. Justice L, Kaderavek J. (2002). Using shared storybook reading to promote emergent literacy.  Teaching Exceptional Children; March/April;  8-12.
  3. Kaderavek JN, Sulzby E. (1998b). Parent-child book reading: An observational protocol for young children. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 7, 33-47.
  4. Whitehurst G, Zevenbergen A., (2003). Dialogic Reading: A Shared Picture Book Reading Intervention for Preschoolers