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  • Writer's pictureAmba Brown

Shared Reading and its importance for children of all ages

What’s the best thing parents can do?

As parents, we are always wanting to know what we can do to help our child be more successful.  Whether we have typical children or not, the answer is the same. But parents of children with disabilities are often so caught up in the day to day demands of the “disability” itself that we forget to do the “normal” things.

Shared reading is a great way to build language skills and build engagement with your child.

Building interactions around books also can encourage children to want to read more, to learn to read, to find enjoyment in reading.  Shared reading has been demonstrated to be one of the best influences on later vocabulary and reading skills.  

Having interactive conversations with kids around the book being read generates vocabulary knowledge, inferencing and predicting skills, and develops higher-order thinking when the right types of questions are asked.  While reading, the parent pauses for predictions, to ask questions, make explanations. The reading is interactive.  One purpose is to expose children to stories they may not be able to read themselves; providing experience with richer vocabulary and syntax.  Another purpose is to provide those structured interactive experiences with specific questions and prompts that enable the children to build language - and reading - skills.

The National Reading Council recommends a minimum of 15 minutes of reading time each and every day.  I know my children, when young, always managed to wheedle much more than that from me, but it was done with joy. Because I know how valuable that storytime can be.

Shared reading time is an interactive reading experience shared between a child and adult, where the adult models reading strategies. Interactions are maximized so that we guide the children through what we want them to learn from the book. 

Shared reading provides children with the confidence to go out and read on their own, by giving them the experience of success first in supported contexts.  The goal is to give children the experience of enjoying books. 

But we can also include another goal - that of building language skills.  Next to phonics and phonological awareness skills, the biggest cause of reading failure is a lack of vocabulary knowledge.  When we emphasize vocabulary awareness and understanding while we read with children we are giving them the tools for success.

Research has shown that children understand more of what they read when they have background knowledge of the topic. By reading with children consistently before they even arrive at school, we give them that knowledge and allow them to be engaged in what is being read in school.

We also want to help children question what they read, analyze the organization and structure of the story, visualize what is happening in the story, and summarize it.

The last is crucial.  Children often have favorite books. The ones they ask you to read over and over again. Parents may get tired of these books, but children love the predictability that allows them to really know the story. Parents will observe children “reading” the book to their dolls and stuffed animals or younger siblings once they are so familiar with it that they can repeat it almost word for word.

If you have a child with a language or communication disorder this piece may be missing.  The child may be unable to recall the language, may be unable to speak to tell the story, or may be unable to formulate the story concepts in any cohesive fashion.

For these children shared reading can help boost their skills by providing the support they need, by setting the purpose for reading and focusing on that single purpose for each reading.

Shared reading allows children to experience texts they could not read themselves, exposes them to a wider variety of topics and types of text, provides them with successful interactions with stories, helps them build connections with concepts and ideas and encourages making predictions.

Top 5 Tips for Shared Reading:

1. First of all, READ.  Good books. All kinds of books. Fiction and nonfiction. Funny books and meaningful books.  Enrichment books, which have interesting text which is supported by illustrations, provide children with experiences they might not otherwise have, can offer them characters they can relate to and places that feel familiar. They can also provide a window to activities the child might not be able to do himself.

2. Storybooks can be relatable because of their characters, setting, or problem with which the child may be familiar.  They teach the child about the relationship between characters and settings, the steps to solving a problem, and the story elements of plot sequences.

3. Nonfiction books can provide valuable information, teach concepts, and give access to topics the child might not be able to see, touch, or feel otherwise. Informational texts introduce children to things in the world around them.

4. Talk about the book while you’re reading.  Point out illustration details.  Ask questions about key concepts or story details. Talk about vocabulary. Describe characters and settings.  Predict solutions.

5. Retell the story.  Practice this retelling with the child.  Use visuals or the illustrations to support the retelling.  Extend the story by having the child “write” or co-create his own stories that use the same basic story structure as a book he likes, but with the personal connection of himself as the character or his environment as the setting, or his experiences as plot lines.  Children love books about themselves, so create their own personal bookshelf of familiar stories.  Experiences with which he is familiar become easy-to-tell stories.

About the author: Susan Berkowitz has been a speech-language pathologist for more than 40 years, working with individuals from toddlers to seniors, focused primarily on school-aged children.  She is an advocate for language and literacy skills in individuals with all levels of disability.

You can find her at and She has written a book for parents of children who are nonverbal, called, “Make the Connection!”


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