You’ve just brought home a new book from the library (or during times of COVID perhaps you’ve purchased it online from your local bookstore). These tips are especially useful if you’re trying to be more intentional about using your heritage language with your child or if your child is having some challenges with her language development.
1. Focus on her interests in the book. See what interests your child in the book and make comments on that as you go through the book. The goal of book reading is a rich language experience and snuggling up and being close. You can still try to get through the whole story but your child will view storytime as something fun and positive if we focus on what interests her.
2. Be aware of your child’s attention span. Realize that your child might not have the attention span to get through the entire book and that’s alright. You don’t need to read the book word for word and if the book is written in two languages, you certainly don’t need to read both langauges in one setting. For me, I feel more focused when I decide I’m going to read in one language and stay with that language throughout the book. Your child might comment in both languages and that’s expected. I typically reinfroce the comment in the langauge I’ve chosen to read in. For example, if the child says, “El gato big!” I’ll respond back in a complete sentence by saying, “El gato es grande!”
2. No need to translate back and forth. Let’s say you choose to read in Spanish because you really want to reinforce Spanish in the home, but your child doesn’t understand the words red and ball in Spanish. She understands those words in English but not in Spanish. When those words come up during the story, teach your child what they mean by showing her. Point out the red (rojo) around you. Grab a ball (pelota) and show her the ball or show her what a ball looks like with your hands. Yes, switching back to English is a bit faster, but is the goal to get through the story quickly or expand her language? I’m not discouraging you from mixing two languages, and it’s normal and natural in bilingual households. What I’m saying is that if you want to be intentional about your child learning your heritage langauge, story time is a great time to really focus on providing a lot of rich language.
3. Do a picture walk! There’s no need to read a new book word for word especially when the book is brand new. To do a picture walk, open the book and look at the pictures that you see on each page with your child. Wait to see what images your child finds interesting and then comment on those. It’s alright to abandon a book halfway through if your child loses interest. The most important thing is enjoying a moment together and making book time a positive experience.
4. Read with passion. I hear that you might be tired, very tired at the end of the day. I can only imagine. Sometimes I catch myself just trudging along during speech therapy. I’ve let the session get boring. The child is bored. I’m bored. But, when I catch myself in a lull, I really try to find some playfulness somewhere inside of me. Maybe I try harder to make silly voices or silly faces, maybe I get up and dance! We need to dig deep inside to remember how much we loved silliness as a child and bring that to our story time, especially for younger children. Grab whatever is in reach and use it as a prop as you tell your story. Just remember, fun always wins!
With each book you read, you’re building your child’s language that they will use to learn, teach, help and heal this world! This is amazing work you’re doing!