I once went to a home where there were two preschool children. I was there to work with the two year old who was not speaking yet. The baby would later need services, but I was initially there to help the older boy. It was at this home that I got a true understanding of the fact that some people are simply not aware of what should be done with children to ensure that they reach developmental milestones of speaking, language, motor skills, feeding etc. While chatting with the parent and giving ideas of how she can use books with the child in ways other than just reading the stories, she said "We don't have any books for the kids." I asked if that was because of how expensive they were, because I would be glad to leave some with her. She answered, "No, we didn't get them any because they can't read yet." This was a very eye opening moment for me. After this, I knew I would always be sure families of infants and toddlers had books and knew ways to use the books to encourage many skills to develop.

The following is just a short list of things that can be learned through books before children learn to actually read the books. Some of them are learned even before they are able to speak:

1. Visually attending to 2 dimensional pictures as opposed to 3 dimensional objects.

2. Isolated pointing with a finger as they touch pictures that are interesting to them or that are named.

3. Social time with parent as they spend time with a book.

4. Increasing length of attention to an activity.

5. Learning labels for pictures which increases receptive vocabulary.

6. Learning about things that they can not experience and gaining vocabulary.

7. Fine motor skills of opening flaps or turning pages.

8. Cognitive skill development as concepts are labeled. For example: "Big dog."

9. Develops book orientation, learning how pictures should face and left to right page turning.

10. Increased listening skills.

11. Ability to make noises and words that correspond with pictures.

12. Imitates actions seen in pictures.

13. Labels pictures or retells words heard in story.

14. Begins to pretend to read orally.

15. Begins to anticipate pages or parts of stories.

16. Following directions such as "Turn the page." of "Point to ___."

This list of benefits is based on the fact that a parent is using the books with the child. If the books are available to the children, but not used with them, they will not get any of these same benefits. There needs to be someone modeling the words or proper book use. Babies will not naturally learn what to do with a book without the added interaction of an adult. They will likely look at them on their own as well, but it can't be stressed enough, how important it is to make it an activity that is also together.

Using books with a child does not mean the same thing a reading stories to them. All children are at different levels of understanding and with different attention spans. The youngest children will do well with the sturdy cardboard books with bright pictures. A few large pictures per page make it interesting for them to look at, easy for you to label for them and easy for them to know what you are referring to. Say "Apple" as you point to the apple. The babies will soon start imitating the pointing. Later, you can ask questions such as "Where's the apple?" and they will point.

As children get older, use books with one sentence per page that refers to the picture. You can use the sentences and then add to it yourself by looking at the pictures and talking about them in more detail. For example, if the short poem "Twinkle, twinkle, little star" is on one page, you can read the poem, and then talk about the picture. Say things like "I see 5 stars...1-2-3-4-5." "Stars are up in the sky."

Read with your child every day. Show excitement for reading. Be enthusiastic and very animated with reading. Be a great storyteller and it will keep your child's attention. Make it part of the naptime and bedtime routine. Other times of the day are great too as long as it is a relaxed atmosphere. Let the child choose the books, let them help hold the book and turn the pages. Let your child point to pictures and talk about things. Let you child fill in the last word of a sentence in a familiar story. There are many ways to use books, be creative.

Never worry about the fact that you didn't "Read" the story to them. It is not the completion of the written words on the pages that matters. It is the time with you and the time with books that will make the difference.

Books are expensive, but I encourage everyone to purchase a few. In addition, I think it is extremely important to introduce young children to the public libraries. Depending on your area, libraries are now offering many activities for infants and toddlers. It becomes a nice routine to go once each week to read books there and to bring new ones home. Attend any story time activities that are offered. This prepares children for the large group setting of a classroom to listen to stories and enjoy books/stories told by others.

It is also good also for your children to see you reading. Reading the newspaper, magazines and your own books will show children that reading is fun and since they like to copy their parents, they will probably go and get one of their books when they see you reading! Read with your older children as well. When they begin to read chapter books on their own, take turns reading the chapters. At night, even older children enjoy the time you will spend with them reading to them. They will always remember this time with you too. Have fun and read every day with your child!

I have been a licensed speech-language pathologist for 25 years. I have specialized in early intervention speech and language therapy for much of my career. My goal is to help parents with their concerns about their child's speech and language development by providing resources and information. I currently have a blog with other topics in the areas of speech and language development. Check out these topics at: