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Books, Books, Books - April 2009

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By: Teri Kaminski Peterson, M.S. CCC/SLP
Northern Speech Pathology, Inc.
Chatterbox Books, Inc

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS! What a universal gift and tool! Books are a big part of our professional and personal lives as speech pathologists every day. No matter where you look; on line, in trade journals, on tv, and even in newspapers and magazines, you will find information or a report about how important it is to read to our children. We are told we need to expose them to books at an early age AND on a daily basis. Books are everywhere and sometimes it feels like I am continually searching for the “perfect” book for the “little ones” on my caseload. Whether I am in a mall, or at the airport, or on vacation somewhere far away, I am typically searching for the next, new children’s book which will keep my kids interested and engaged.

Books are a part of almost EVERY therapy session I conduct and probably yours too! Parents regularly turn to us for suggestions about choosing books and using them with their infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. They often express frustration because their baby keeps turning the book upside down, or tends to chew on it, or just prefers to drop the book (ahhhh, that beautiful stage where they learn cause/effect and the attention getting power). Once they reach the toddler stage, the stories about the challenges of keeping the child seated and attentive for story time are countless!

Over the past 23 years as a pediatric speech pathologist, I have purchased hundreds of books if not more. I have this tendency to write my own text in the children’s books I use in therapy and then send the “revised” books home with the parents. I vigorously scribble out some of the text and replace it with the sounds and word approximations I want my parents to use as they point, pretend, and play during their “story time” at home (I have learned not to write in the books in front of the children as some become upset; they see that as a big no-no but then again they still try to imitate it!) Some of my favorite books have so many markings and scribbles they have found their way out of my library and into a “cut and paste” bin (throwing away a tattered book has always been a challenge for me-there are still great pictures we can do SOMETHING with). Adapting the text in books to match the developmental level of a child is kind of like speech therapy 101. We do what we have been taught (or what comes instinctively to some of us and some of the parents we work with). With active little ones we show parents how to forget about the text and just point to the pictures, label the objects, give a brief 2-3 word phrase about the objects’ function, and then move on. Following a therapy session in which I demonstrate this, parents frequently comment “I didn’t know you could do that, I thought you had to read the whole story” (hence the fact parents have been told for years to READ to their child from day one).

When it comes to reading with young children, I see it as though there are 2 groups of kids- there are the “easy” ones (which tend to escape my caseload) and then there are the dreaded “movers” and WOW, does this group challenge us all!!. The “easy ones” are the children who enjoy sitting for story time. They are the children who make therapy a breeze and unfortunately this group seems rare to me in my practice. The “easy ones” at 21 months will sit for an entire story (if not 3 or 4 in a row) and happily point to any picture the parent requests. This child’s strength may be her auditory skills. When you say something once she hears it, she can repeat it correctly (what a blessing), and she learns it! She sits the entire time interested in all the language her parents feed her as they read and talk about the book. This is quite a beautiful sight to see isn’t it! This time is enjoyable and precious for both parties. Then comes along the “mover”, our active little one who has no desire at 21 months to sit for story time at all! I talk to parents who are in tears over this because they feel as though they are failing at one of their most important duties as a parent – READING TO THEIR CHILD.

Yes, it is extremely challenging to get a motor driven 21 month old seated and attentive during “story time”. He is at an age where he needs to do something to learn it. He needs to feel things and experience them to be interested, not just look at pictures and listen. With this group of ‘active little ones”, It‘s important we help parents learn how to use books a “different” way, a way which allows the child to move around and “play” with the book. I teach parents how to act out the illustrations by using gestures and movements paired with fun sounds and simple words (this is the stuff/the prompts I write in the books I send home with my families). This kind of strategy allows the child to actively participate, and it also promotes a feeling of success for both the parent and the child. I remind parents to hold off on all the questions (i.e., what’s that?, where’s the ….?). When that pressure is removed, parents can relax and have fun as they model a variety of gestures, sounds, and words. I encourage parents to make the time entertaining; to use different voices and change their tone. I show them how to make sounds with varied length, how to stretch out the sounds to make them long – wwwoooooowwww, ooooooops, and other times how to use short, quick sounds “ick, ow, woah”. I reassure parents that children learn through repetition; they should use their favorite books over and over this way. In time, they will be able to watch their child progress from imitating them to eventually taking charge of the book (and we all know the importance of following the child’s lead). I want my parents to delight in the little successes they see along the way. It is a joy to see the child progress from imitating simple sounds to spontaneously using word approximations, and then simple phrases and sentences. I believe it is critical we teach our parents to praise their children even if their sounds, words, and phrases are inexact because effort matters! Remind your parents that using books this way is a wonderful way to support their child’s development even if they are not reading the whole story. This is what teaching is all about.
Remember, those first reading experiences can be frustrating and negative or they can be a fun, educational time. Make sure and support your parents by giving them the tools they need so they feel successful during story time with their children.

Working within the pediatric field is an ongoing learning experience, but most importantly a genuine joy!I commend you all for choosing such a demanding, challenging, yet rewarding career. After 23 years I still enjoy going to work every day and I hope you enjoy it too!!

This Month's Featured Organizations: Chatterbox Books Inc.

Special Thanks to Teri Peterson, M.S.CCC/SLP and for writing this month's article.
Teri Kaminski-Peterson, MS, CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist specializing in early intervention and pre-k. She is the author of The Big Book of Exclamations, an innovative new children’s book designed to promote speech sound development and imitation of gestures, sounds, and words. Unlike most books, it doesn’t have a story to read. Instead, along the bottom of each page, there are prompts which teach parents/caregivers how to act out the illustrations and interact with their child using gestures, sounds, and words. The book is also filled with information intended to help parents understand speech/language development and it lists resources for those seeking advice.

Please visit her website The Big Book of Exclamations to get a better feel for the book and you can also view several of the illustrations first hand. Teri can also be reached at

Tags: April 2009 Newsletter Literacy SLP Article