Give the gift of speech and language development

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Researchers from the Kids Talk Lab at the University of Sydney are encouraging parents to give children books as gifts this Christmas to help develop vital speech, language and communication skills.


Speech pathologist Dr Elise Baker said many parents worry about their children’s speech, but reading together is an easy and effective way to focus on improving speech and language skills.

“Reading together gives children the opportunity to hear speech sounds in words, to talk about new words and meanings and to have conversations about ideas, feelings and events – all of which are critical to communication development,” said Dr Baker.

Dr Baker and Dr Natalie Munro from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Health Sciences studied book reading interactions between parents and children and found the way parents read with their children was the most important factor influencing the development of speech and language skills.

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“It’s not about the quantity of books read, but about the quality of the interaction,” said Dr Munro.

“It’s the conversation that happens between the pages of the book that turns book reading into a real learning experience.”

Expert tips on using story time to develop your child’s speech and language skills:

1.Spend quality time reading with your children
It takes time to read with your kids. Parents shouldn’t rush through the book from front to back, you need to give children the chance to make comments about what they see and think.

2.Encourage interaction
If your child points to the text, read the word aloud and talk about the letter sounds that make up the word.

3.Stop and summarise
Define any new words that your child may be unfamiliar with and check in to see how much your child understands.

4.Ask good questions
Open-ended questions are a great way to actively engage children. Begin with simple questions like “what’s happening here?” or “what can you see?” and then move onto more challenging ones like “what do you think will happen next?”.

5.Choose books that focus on your kids’ problem areas
If your child is having difficulty pronouncing the “k” sound and says “tar” or “dar” for the word “car,” read loads of books about cars, cows, castles, kings or kangaroos.

“With so many children’s books on the market it can be hard to know what to choose, but the best book is the one that is read together,” said Dr Baker.