You don’t have to be a teacher to give your child a foundation in language and learning. In fact, you’ve already got an incredibly powerful tool to give your child valuable exposure to words and ideas: Story Time.

Children need to hear, understand and use as many words as possible to develop learning skills – even before they start school. The path to literacy and reading comprehension begins at home, and parents and caregivers play a huge role.

Reading with your child is one of the most effective ways to develop their language skills, and you can take any book to the next level with a few simple steps. The Rollins Center developed the READ strategy to help parents turn story time into an opportunity to build each child’s vocabulary.

Here’s how you can use the READ strategy to make the most of story time in your home:

R – Repeat the Book

Read the same book with your child multiple times in the course of one week to help them understand the story and gain new vocabulary.

Focus on different aspects of the book each time you read together. For example, during the first read focus on the key events, or what is happening in the story, on subsequent reads focus on how the main characters feel throughout the story.

With some books (e.g., a board book about shapes), there might not be plot or character components to discuss. That’s okay! During repeated reads, you can home in on specific elements of the book. For example: in a picture book with farm animals, you can talk about the noises the animals make, where the animals live and what they eat, or even share your own experience with certain animals.

E – Engage and Enjoy

We know that story time can be tough at the end of a long day, but it should also be fun for you and your child. Try the PAT technique:

P – Point to the picture as you say the word
A – Act out the word, then encourage your child to act it out too
T – Tell a child-friendly definition of the word

The PAT technique helps children understand the meaning of new vocabulary. You can also try using different voices for characters to make the story really come to life.

A – Ask Questions

story – ask how the characters feel about certain events or what the character learned. Try to strike a balance between closed (e.g., “What color is the barn?”) and open-ended (e.g., “Why do you think the boy is sad?”) questions. Closed questions are the “what” and “who” types of questions that typically require a 1-2 word response, whereas open-ended questions are more often the “how” and “why” questions that encourage longer, language-rich responses.

As appropriate, model responses to open-ended questions for children with less expressive language.

We ask questions to encourage children to think and talk about the book, not to give us a “correct” answer.

D – Do More                         

Learning the meaning of words takes more than just listening – it requires action! You can go beyond the books to help your child use the words she learned in the real world. Children can embrace new words by using them in their own adventures. Think of simple ways you can use the vocabulary from the story throughout your day and week. It takes multiple exposures of a word, across different contexts for children to understand the meaning and make the word their own.

How to READ with Your Child

What to look for in books for your 0-2 year-old:

  • Bright, colorful illustrations that depict scenes or objects that interest the child
  • Books/pages the child can touch and hold (age-appropriateness)
  • Books with familiar objects, items, or actions that child and caregiver can relate to and discuss
  • Books about counting, the alphabet, shapes, or sizes that allow for caregiver to make connections to similar items/concepts in the child’s world

What to look for in books for your 3-5 year-old:

  • Topics or themes that interest the child
  • A range of both fiction and non-fiction selections
  • Engaging pictures that support the text and allow opportunities to discuss relevant vocabulary
  • Books that allow children to think about the experiences of others—their feelings, thoughts, and beliefs
  • Sophisticated story books that encourage readers to infer the problem in the story. These books often include more complex plots, settings, and characters that allow children to begin to understand these important components of story comprehension

Choosing inclusive story books:
Books and stories are always a great way to showcase diversity and create culturally responsive experiences that are relatable for younger kids. Books can help you talk about difficult topics – when you don’t have the right words, find an author that does! Here are some suggestions:

  • An ABC of Equality by Chana Ginelle Ewing
  • A Family Is a Family Is a Family by Sarah O’Leary
  • Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
  • Dream Big, Little One by by Vashti Harrison
  • Dreaming Up by Christy Hale
  • Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard
  • I Am Perfectly Designed by Karamo Brown, with Jason Rachel Brown
  • Island Born by Junot Diaz
  • Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
  • Meet ClaraBelle Blue by Adiba Nelson
  • Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
  • My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis
  • Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
  • The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko
  • When Charley Met Emma by Amy Webb
  • Who? A Celebration of Babies by Robie H. Harris

You can also check out Maya’s Book Nook, promoting language and literacy skills through diverse children’s literature!