Don’t stop reading aloud to your kids—even when they’re in their teens. It sounds weird and funny, but speech language therapist Anthony D. Koutsoftas, PhD., one of the speakers at “Beyond Borders,” the first convention by the Philippine Association of Speech Pathologists (PASP), insists it is one of the best ways to improve your child’s reading and language abilities.
Of course, you’re not reading them Winnie the Pooh at 13 years old, but Koutsoftas’ point is a child needs to hear “complex sentences” if he is expected to read them. When he's at toddler and preschool age, reading aloud lets him become aware of sounds he hears in words, and it’s a good start in building his vocabulary and developing his listening skills.
Koutsoftas, who has over 12 years of clinical experience that includes child language and literacy, sat down for a quick interview (condensed and edited below) with SmartParenting.com.ph to talk about how you can help your kids learn language and the one mistake parents make when they read to their kids.
So you’re not a fan of baby talk? What I will say is don’t be afraid to use words that you think your child will not understand. Obviously, you can’t talk to a 2-year-old with a 15-word complex sentence. But you can definitely talk to him in a 3- or 4-word complex sentence. I think there’s a statistic out there that says a 4-year-old learns 10 words a day without even trying.
When a 4-year-old asked me about why this person couldn’t eat a particular food, I answered because he gets a rash. And the child replied, ‘Oh, like an allergy?’ He knew the word already. The way toddlers quickly learn how to use the phone or play with it shows you how ready they are to learn. If they can learn [how to work an electronic gadget], they can learn about words like allergy.
Do you believe that electronic devices have a negative effect on a child’s reading and writing skills? I don’t know about the negative effects. But when we lets our kids use electronic devices in the car or in the bus, [we miss out on] really good opportunities to talk to our children. You can be talking about what you’re seeing and what your day was, and that language exposure is important to your child. So I think parents need to find a balance for screen time.
Are you okay with educational apps? I think the best way to learn is [for parent and child] to talk to each other. The phone and tablet will never be able to teach the child as much as his mom or dad can--even if he or she is not an educated parent. Parents can teach them more. I think human interaction is really key for learning language especially for younger kids.
In your talk, you gave this great advice--put books, crayons and paper on the floor to encourage preschool kids to read and write. It was for the speech therapists, but it can serve parents well. The reason why it’s on the floor is because you need to see what your child sees. That means you have to get on your hands and knees and walk around. Experience learning from their vantage point.
On the topic of bedtime reading, what mistake do you think parents make? When kids interrupt bedtime reading to ask questions or want to touch the book, and then the parent says let’s get back to reading, I think that’s a mistake. I think it’s important to let kids have a dialogue with you even if it doesn’t seem to be about the book. When the kid points to a book and says, ‘Oh, that red ballon looks like my red truck,’ they are connecting it to what they know. They are learning how to be inquisitive when they ask questions.