Reading To Your child Can Have Positive Impacts on Their Speech Development

Tips and tricks to help you support your child's speech

January 2021
By: Emily Shaw 

Family Literacy Day is an annual event that’s celebrated every January 27th. It was started in 1999 to raise awareness about the importance of reading together as a family, encouraging speech-language skills in children from a young age. This year’s theme is Travel the World Together.

KidsAbility talks with Norma Williams, a Speech-Language Pathologist, on how she found herself working in her field, helping children say their first words, and tips on how to encourage reading in your home

There are many benefits of reading to your child early on in their life. Williams suggests incorporating books and reading activities from a young age, even reading books with your infant is important.

“It’s such a critical thing. Number one, it’s bonding time. It’s a time where children have undivided attention from their parents. They’re sitting together, it’s quiet time, they’re sharing enjoyment in that activity, and there are lots of things children are learning. They learn how to listen, how to predict, storytelling skills develop, problem-solving skills develop. We always encourage parents to go off-script with the book. It’s not always about reading the words that are on the page, but more about turning it into an activity and conversation. It builds imagination, creative thinking, and offers a glimpse into things that aren’t apart of a child’s everyday life,” she explains.

Williams mentions how children most likely won’t have seen a zebra or an elephant in real life unless they’ve gone to a zoo, so reading books that involve experiences that a child doesn’t see in their everyday life is important for building a whole new set of vocabulary. It encourages children and parents to connect by being curious about what’s going on in the book together.

“Books match spoken language with written words, so it really starts to cue kids into how words look and that words have meaning. Many children’s books are very repetitive so children learn how to formulate simple sentences, show prediction, and build grammar,” she said.

Williams suggests six tips and tricks to help reinforce literacy skills with children.

  1. Have a variety of books available.
  2. Have books that might pique the child’s interests.
  3. Have flap books and books with texture
  4. Set aside time to read each day, possibly in a bed-time routine
  5. Visit the library when possible
  6. Point out logos and signs when you’re out and about
A book Williams recommends that promotes literacy and speech skills is 'Brown Bear Brown Bear.'

“It’s lots of repetition, its predictable, it’s simple phrasing, it works on colour concepts, it’s fun. Also, a lot of the ‘Where’s Spot’ books, the lift the flap books.”

Williams mentions a video she saw on YouTube of a Scottish grandmother with her grandchild, reading a book called ‘Wonky Donkey’. “She is hysterically reading this book! You can see the connection and it’s just awesome to see.”

Speech-development goals are all individualized based on what the child needs, but in total Williams aims for the children to be successful communicators.

One massive goal that was achieved that Williams remembers is when a little boy with Down syndrome was getting help learning sign language. She remembers when he made his first sign intentionally.

“His mom was in tears, I was almost in tears. It was the first time he had really be able to communicate something with a sign, so that was huge. When a child says ‘mom’ for the first time, or ‘I love you’, it’s so meaningful for the family and the parents. It just feels good to be apart of that.”

Norma Williams, a KidsAbility Speech-Language Pathologist, sits cross legged on the floor in a KidsAbility therapy room. Behind her on the wall are symbols to help encourage speech and she is pictured showing a young client a book.

Norma Williams, a KidsAbility Speech-Language Pathologist,
sits cross-legged on the floor in a KidsAbility therapy room.
Behind her on the wall are symbols to help encourage speech
and she is pictured showing a young client a book.

Norma Williams started her career in Speech-Language Pathology back when she was in university. She came across someone who was training to be a Speech-Language Pathologist and thought it sounded interesting, so she went after it.

“It was just right time, right place to learn about speech-pathology as a profession,” she said.

Before KidsAbility, she was working as a travelling Speech-Language Pathologist in Manitoba. She wanted to do more direct work with families, so she knew KidsAbility would be a good match. The job posting was for a children’s treatment centre with pre-school children, so when she saw the posting, she thought, ‘yep, that’s for me,’ and moved to Waterloo. She’s now been with KidsAbility for over 33 years.

“It just felt [this job] would be a good match when it came up. Children actually come into a centre and you can work with other people and other disciplines, like occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and social workers. So it just sounded appealing, and here I am 33 years later,” she said.

William’s favourite part about her job is the kids. She loves finding the bond with the kids and the families. She smiles while talking about when the kids are laughing and having fun while communicating and succeeding.

“When it all comes together, it’s so gratifying. Just hearing them laugh and having fun in the midst of therapy, which we try not to make work, but it is work. We’re putting different expectations and demands on kids, but they’re all having fun. That’s the best part of it,” she said.

Now with the pandemic and lockdowns being put in place, it’s harder to have moments like that in person. As of March, everything went virtual. Williams and her team had to learn how to work with families virtually, having to come up with ways to communicate with children on a computer.

“We had to come up with games and activities that would engage them. We have to make it fun. On a screen, it’s so much different. We had to develop therapy materials and strategies and tools that would help us keep in touch, and make it fun and effective with kids,” she said.

Williams has adjusted to working from home, knowing that for a lot of families, virtual therapy is more accessible. “I think it’s only going to get better.”

Join in on Family Literacy Day today by reading with your family, discovering new ways to enjoy reading, and storytelling together.


 Photo of Emily Shaw a journalism student at Conestoga College who is completing her co-op placement at KidsAbility

Emily Shaw is a journalism student at Conestoga College.

As a volunteer with KidsAbility, choosing an organization that she was passionate about to complete her co-op placement made it a natural fit.