At the top of the image is a child sat on the floor looking at a book. Only the bottom half of their body is visible. The text reads "5 tips for reading book with young children".

5 Tips for Reading Books with Young Children

Children’s literacy development begins in early childhood, and encouraging young children to read and play with books from an early age helps to lay positive foundations for later language and literacy skills. Here are 5 tips for reading books with young children that you can share with caregivers today.

As Speech and Language Therapists, we know that reading books with young children has a huge range of benefits. Not only does it support their literacy development, but it has a positive impact on their language skills, listening and attention skills, and more.

Parents and caregivers often want to read books with their children at home, but can experience frustration when their child won’t sit still, or may lack confidence in their own reading ability. So in this post you’ll learn 5 tips for reading books with young children that you can share with parents and caregivers in your Early Intervention coaching sessions.

Tip #1- Vary how your voice sounds

When reading books with young children, vary how your voice sounds. This helps to keep them interested in the story, and helps to emphasise the key words in the story. Give characters different voices, vary the volume to match how the characters are talking, show emotions in your voice that match those the character is feeling, etc. Have fun and be silly with it!

Tip #2- Pause when reading books with young children

Black text on a white background reads "Pause at the end of predictable phrases. This gives the child an opportunity to join in and "fill in the blank"." On the right is a picture of a white mother and her daughter reading a book together.

When the child is familiar with the story, pause at the end of predictable phrases so they can fill in the blank. This gives the child an opportunity to join in with the story, and keeps them engaged and interested. If they don’t fill in the blank, you can say the word they need and continue reading.
For example, “we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it…” “oh no!” “we’ve got to go…” “through it!”.
Repetitive books and rhyming books work best for this, but you can make it work for any books that the child loves reading.

Tip #3- Reduce distractions when reading with young children

When reading with young children, you want them to focus on the book and what you’re saying. So encourage caregivers to turn off background noises, put screens (phones, tablets, etc.) and distracting toys out of view, so you can focus on reading the book together.
Sit with the child while reading- sitting face-to-face is the most ideal, as then they can easily see your mouth and facial expressions while you’re reading. But sitting next to each other is great too. This helps them focus on you while you’re reading together.

One thing to keep in mind when reading with young children is that although there may not be other distractions, they may still be distracted. Reading should be fun for both of you, so if the child is distracted/appears disinterested, don’t force them to sit and read with you. Follow their lead and do something else. You can always return to the book later when they’re showing more interest.

Tip #4- Repetition is beneficial!

Although as adults we can get bored of reading the same book regularly, it is actually a good thing if a child wants to read the same book over and over again. It helps to develop a range of skills, including listening skills, language, and attention skills.
So read and re-read the same books regularly. As well as boosting various skills, repetition helps a child become more familiar with the book. As they become more familiar with the book, they’ll be able to finish predictable phrases more easily, will be able to answer some simple questions about the story, and may begin to “read” the story to you.

Tip #5- Don’t worry about reading all the words in the book

Black text on a white background reads "You don't need to read every word. Talking about the pictures is just as beneficial". On the left is a picture of a white mother looking at a book with her daughter. The daughter (toddler) is pointing to a picture.

Some children can struggle to sit and listen to a full story, but are interested in looking at the pictures. So take this opportunity to talk about what you can see in the pictures instead of reading the book word-for-word.
Be animated and silly while reading and talking about the pictures too. Use gestures and actions to support the words you are saying. Use fun play sounds or sound effects that support what is happening in the text and pictures. E.g., “moo” when you see a cow, “uh oh” when something happens, etc.

All of this helps to support a child’s language and literacy skills. Reading a book together should be fun and doesn’t have to involve you reading from cover-to-cover every time.

Handouts and resources to use in your therapy sessions

It is beneficial to coach parents and caregivers to use strategies and support their child’s speech and language development when reading books.
These tips are included in a set of caregiver-friendly handouts for frequently asked questions. There’s a handout all about reading books with young children, and a handout with 8 tips for reading books with young children. Plus a range of other handouts covering various other topics and FAQs. Check out the caregiver-friendly resource here (also available in Spanish, and in a money-saving English + Spanish bundle).

If you like using books in your therapy sessions, there’s a handout in my Play Based Early Language Handouts that explains how to use different language faciliation strategies when reading books. These are great for using for your own reference or for sharing with families in your coaching sessions.

The Early Intervention Handbook includes a section all about reading with young children. It covers some evidence-based approaches, tips and strategies you can coach caregivers to use at home. Perfect for helping you plan and deliver effective book-based coaching sessions.

Book recommendations from a Speech and Language Therapist

Image of a selection of 'That's Not My' books arranged in rainbow colour order on a white bookshelf.

If you love using books in your therapy sessions, are looking for books for a certain skill/theme, or are looking for more books to read with your own child, check out these book round-up blog posts with my favourite books for a range of themes.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful! Do you have any other tips for reading books that you share with caregivers? Let me know in the comments below!