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Teaching Emotions & Empathy Through Stories

Talking explicitly about emotions and the situations surrounding them can help children learn the nuances of feelings and can also develop skills for:

  • empathy

  • self-awareness

  • managing their own emotions

  • building relationships

  • maintaining relationships

  • having deeper understanding of stories


Instead of just reading a story, stop to talk about the pictures...

  • talk about the context of the situation. What happened to make the character feel that way? Are there clues in the picture or story?

  • talk about facial expressions and body language that show how the character feels. Eyebrows and mouths are very expressive. There's also body posture, tension, how far away from someone we stand, what our hands are doing, and much more.

  • talk about the reactions... what did the characters do with their feelings?

  • talk about the consequences how did their reaction go - did it help the situation, or did it make it worse? Did it make them feel better? It is empowering for children to learn what they can and can't control in situations.

  • make guesses and inferences - this is such an important thing to model for children. Not just the guesses themselves, but why - "she keeps looking out the window at the driveway. I wonder if she's expecting someone?"

  • make real life connections - This can be during the reading, or after. "You seem really mad, that makes me think of the little monkey...'

Print Motivation (Pre-literacy Skill)

Pre-literacy skills develop before a child learns to read, and are associated with successful reading development. They include a variety of skills and behaviors (such as rhyming, letter awareness, knowing how to hold a book, and being able to manipulate sounds in words).

One pre-literacy skill that you can work on at any age is PRINT MOTIVATION - This simply means that a child is interested in and enjoys books. This often develops naturally when a child is read to regularly. You can make reading a special, fun, & positive activity. You can also encourage children to explore books on their own by creating a low bookshelf & reading area where they can access books independently. Fill it up with books they love!

3 Great Preschool Songs for Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is directly correlated to reading success, but it can be practiced in many ways. For preschoolers, music is an excellent choice. Here are three songs that are great for developing phonemic awareness skills (note, there are other versions, these artists are the ones that I am familiar with):⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

1: Apples and Bananas by Raffi

This song begins with a normal pronunciation of "I like to eat apples and bananas. Then it is repeated with manipulated vowel sounds for AEIO and U. For example, I like to ate ay-pples and ba-nay-nays. I like to eat ee-ples and ba-nee-nees.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

2. Hickory, Dickory, Dock by Hap Palmer. This song goes through the normal ryhme, and then repeats numerous times using a different animal and alliterating (is that a word? It should be) the rhyme each time. For example: rickory rickory rock, the rat ran up the clock ... crickory crickory crock, the cricket ran up the clock.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

3. Willaby Wallaby Woo, also by Raffi (though there are different versions). This rhyme is "Willaby wallaby woo, an elephant sat on you". Each time it repeats, "woo" is replaced with a nonsense word that rhymes with a name. For example: Willaby Wallaby Wustin, and elephant sat on Justin.

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3 Ways To Support Phonemic Awareness For Toddlers

Pre-literacy skills develop before a child learns to read, and are associated with successful reading development. They include a variety of skills and behaviors (such as rhyming, letter awareness, knowing how to hold a book, and being able to manipulate sounds in words). Here are three things that you can do to help support reading well before a child learns how to decode.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

PRINT REFERENCING - By pointing to or talking about the text, you can help the child begin to distinguish the words form the pictures. This can be as simple as moving your finger along with the words as you read, or pointing out letters or names that the child is familiar with. You can also point out words as you see them in every day life, such as street signs or labels in the grocery store.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

PRINT MOTIVATION - This simply means that a child is interested in and enjoys books. This often develops naturally when a child is read to regularly. You can make reading a special, fun, & positive activity. Bonus: create a low bookshelf & reading area where the child can access books independently.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

PLAY WITH PHONEMES - Phonemes are the sounds in words. For example, "sh" has two letters, but only one sound. When a child is very familiar with a book, you can swap out a phoneme in one of the main or recurring words to see if the child notices. "chicka chicka room room". If they notice, laugh with them and correct it. Maybe use a different switch the next time (chicka chicka koom koom, bim bim, boop boop). If they don't notice you can playfully point it out to them - "Wait a minute, it's not chicka chicka room room, it's chicka chicka BOOM BOOM"

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Reading With Toddlers

Here are a few ideas for helping young children develop their language skills while you read to them. These have more to do with thinking about the story than the actual words or grammar. Practicing these skills can help kids understand the content, engage more deeply with the story, and see the big picture.

Try This!

Here are a few language strategies SLPs use that are also great for when you are reading or looking at a book with your toddler!

Focus on what children can do, not what they can’t. Children who are difficult to understand are often frustrated (understandably). Instead of repeatedly asking them to say it again or telling them you don’t understand, see if they can help you figure it out. Maybe they can show you the picture... It might take some practice but it can be empowering.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Modeling and recasting: instead of correcting children, you can just model what they were trying to say. Say it slowly and emphasize the words they didn’t get right. I’ll often give them 1-2 examples.

Child: “and she runned!”

Adult: “oh wow, she RAN?” “I’ll bet she RAN really fast”⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

For concepts that a child is learning, you can prompt them to think about the words and repair their own errors. For example, "oh, is it small, or is it big?" If they stick to their original word, you can offer more information and then revisit it next time. "hmmm, I think of an ant as small - this is bigger than my hand!"... Like recasting, this is a way to help children learn language while avoiding making them feel unsuccessful.

3 reasons to read to babies

Babies are remarkable. They are doing so much more than we realize! Here are 3 great reasons to read to your newborns and infants:

1. They love to hear your voice - your voice is comforting and one of the few familiar things in their life.

2. Not only do they love to listen to you, they are actually learning the patterns of their language and culture. For example:

  • speech sounds

  • word boundaries

  • cadence and intonation

  • words that occur frequently

  • syllable patterns

3. It encourages a positive relationship with books. Some children struggle when learning how to read. Before they even get to that point, you can help them establish a robust foundation of positive experiences with books by reading to them early and often.

Bringing books to life

A great way to help make words (and sentences) meaningful for young children is to pair books with related activities in real life.

But how? This can happen a lot of different ways. My go-to formula is: book + song + play activity. Since pictures in the book are limited, you can take the words, events, and problems from the story and help act them out in play. Try to keep it light and fun - you are showing them, not drilling them. You don't even have to ask children to talk, just model. As you do this over and over and children grow more familiar with the language, you can go a step further by helping them learn how to apply it in real life.

3 Great Preschool Songs For Phonemic Awareness