Raising Remote Readers: Talk About It

Language & Literacy

Marie M. Clay (2016) explains that learning to read is making connections with visible print to the invisible knowledge one has of oral language. Many families who have a young readers learning at home this year, or who have spent significant amounts of time learning from home, are worried about sufficient reading development. Oral language development is essential to literacy development. If your young reader is learning from home this year, there are a few things you can do to help by supporting your child’s language development.


When it comes to hearing language, the more the better, so talk about anything and everything! Did you notice a bird chirping outside? Talk about it. Has the peanut butter run out? Talk about it. If you aren’t sure what to say, start by explaining what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Adding “because” to what you say will make not only increases how much you are saying, but it also provides context for your child to better understand.

Books are full of rich, complex language structures. The more often children hear complex sentence structures, the more likely they will be to anticipate them when they read. So, fill any down time by reading a book or two to your child, and never underestimate the bedtime story!


As important as it is for your child to hear language, it is equally important for your child to have a go at using language. To encourage your child to talk, use open ended questions, the kind that require more than a word or two to answer. Using questions such as, “What do you think about…?” or “Why do you think…?” lets your child know that their thoughts are valuable and nothing is more engaging than feeling like what you say is important!

In order for your child to try out for themselves all of the language that you have been modeling, allow equal talk time between you and your child. After saying something, simply pause. You may need to pause for a long time to give your child space to initiate their own thoughts. If your child still needs a little encouragement, use an open ended question to help get them started.

Model & Expand

Now that you have your child talking, it’s time to show them how to make their language more complex. Inevitably, your child will try out a new language pattern and it won’t quite come out right. A typical example is when a young learner uses “goed” instead of “went.” These not-quite-perfect attempts are approximations, and they are a sign of learning. Honor your child’s approximations by delighting in their attempt and gently model back to them how it should sound, for example:

Child: The bird goed in the tree. 

Adult: Oh, really? The bird went in the tree, did it? 

You can also expand your child’s language by using their statement and making it more complex, for example:

Child: I saw a car.  

Adult: What color car was it? 

Child: Blue. 

Adult: Oh! You saw a blue car on the road! 

When children feel that their attempts at language are valued, and corrections are modeled lovingly without necessitating immediate accuracy, it makes it more likely that they will be willing to continue experimenting with new language patterns.

A Language-Rich Environment

Many families of young children who found themselves learning from home this year are concerned about literacy development. If this concern resonates with you, then you can rest assured that creating and supporting a language-rich environment through talk and conversation will considerably assist your child’s reading development.

To read more about raising remote readers, click here. 

Clay, M.M. (2016). Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals. Auckland, NZ: Scholastic.

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