Monday 16 October 2017

‘The more that you read, the more things you will know’- How picture books help children to learn language- by Lucy Rowland

 (Illustration by Oliver Jeffers)
Back in April I wrote a blog post for Picture Book Den called ‘The Power of Again’ which looked at the importance of repetition in picture books and, more specifically, at repetition as a way of supporting children to learn language.

As I’ve previously mentioned, as well as being a picture book author, I am also a Children’s Speech and Language Therapist.  Fortunately, I feel these two professions go together quite well. We know there is a huge amount of research showing the positive link between early reading, language development and later academic success.  Book Trust has undertaken many research projects and case studies into the wide-ranging benefits of reading, not only academic but also those related to encouraging families' enjoyment of book sharing.  Book Trust has written about their research here

But in summary... reading is important….Roald Dahl knew it….

And so, too, did Dr Suess….

But what is it exactly that makes picture books the perfect tool to support language learning?  I’m currently working with my Speech and Language Therapy colleagues to produce some training on this very subject and we found a great article by Lauren Lowry (a Speech and Language Therapist) on the Hanen Centre Website.  The article explains that children learn new words best...

·         When they hear words often (The power of Again!)  Picture books frequently use repetition and repeated refrains and are generally read over and over again!
·         When they are interested.
When adults respond to them-  ‘It is easy to join focus during a picture book and to notice what the child is looking at and talking about.  Sometimes it’s best to abandon the story for a little while and follow the child’s lead to talk about the things that interest him or her.'

·         When the meaning is clear (e.g. an adult reading ‘She whispered…..’ in a whispered voice).  Parents can use the beautiful illustrations in picture books to help children learn new words.  We know that using pictures and talking about things in the ‘here and now’ is extremely helpful when children are learning language.  Children learn words best when they can see, hear or experience them.
·         When vocabulary and grammar are learned together in sentences.
·         And crucially, Lowry also stresses how children learn language best when they are having fun!

Picture books allow for all these elements!

A proud moment for me, after the release of my first picture book ‘Gecko’s Echo’ (with illustrator, Natasha Rimmington), was when a Speech and Language Therapy friend told me that her 2 –year-old son had learnt the word ‘Gecko’.  (‘Gecko’ is not a word that many 3-5 year olds in this country are familiar with. When I read this book at events, children’s guesses about what the animal on the cover might be, range from ‘frog’ to ‘crocodile’ to ‘dinosaur’! ) My friend told me that, together, she and her son will shout out ‘GECKO’ as they walk through the tunnel near their house, just to hear the gecko’s echo come back.

As authors and illustrators, we often use the funny things that children say to spark ideas for stories. Lauren Child is particularly good at using a very child-like voice in her wonderful Charlie and Lola series.
‘I will not ever, never eat a Tomato!’ 

But what about using picture books to teach specific language concepts or themes? While ALL picture books are useful in supporting children’s language development, I came across a great website site called  It is run by Cecile Ferreira (an Australian Speech and Language Therapist).  This site helps people to choose picture books that target specific language concepts, themes, plots and even grammatical structures and speech sounds.  Whilst, these last areas may be a bit ‘Speech and Language Therapy- specific’, I was wondering whether anyone has used picture books to teach language in a deliberate way?  A specific concept perhaps? By reading early concept board books? Have you used a picture book to link with new topics that your children are learning about at school? Or, alternatively, have you ever used something funny that a child has said to spark a whole new story of your own?  

 My latest picture book with illustrator, Mark Chambers, is 'Jake Bakes a Monster Cake.'  It teaches children extremely useful vocabulary (such as 'bogey-green slime!) and comes with additional 'scratch and sniff' stickers!  


Unknown said...

Enjoyed this post! I found books including emotions really useful, e.g. Happy Dog Sad Dog, and Goldilocks in German triggered off new breakfast words and talking German at breakfast.

Paeony Lewis said...

Thanks for your useful blog post, Lucy. I've been looking up the links and websites.

Lucy Rowland said...

Thanks Jane! Is your family bilingual then? I'd love to speak another language fluently. I don't know the German word for porridge but 'Fruhstuck' is 'breakfast' right?!

Lucy Rowland said...

You're welcome Paeony. I really like Cecile Ferreira's website.

Enid Richemont said...

Great post and great links, Lucy. I currently have a new illustrated Early Reader book with Franklin Watts, publication date not yet established, and the same comments still apply.

Unknown said...

Yes, my daughter has grown up with French and German as well as English. She’s 13 now but I still have all the lovely picture books we used to read again and again! Such great memories.

Lynne Garner said...

Really useful post, thank you. I teach parents with young children and I'll add the link to this post to my handouts.

Lucy Rowland said...

Oh great! Congratulations! I'm just starting to explore the world of early readers- it feels completely different to picture books. I don't quite know where to start!

Lucy Rowland said...

Oh wow! Trilingual! That's such a fantastic skill. I would love to be able to speak another language fluently- one of my picture books, with illustrator Ben Mantle, is coming out in French as well as a few other languages- it's called 'Little Red Reading Hood'. I'm going to see if I can dust off my A-level French skills and try and give it a read! It's so lovely that you kept all the books.

Lucy Rowland said...

Thanks Lynne, I hope they find it useful too :)