We all want our children to become strong readers. So that just means focusing on learning letters and sounds for decoding words, right? Wrong! What’s equally important as being able to read words on a page is the ability to understand what the text is saying.

Making Sense of Language Comprehension

Language comprehension is the ability to understand and draw meaning from both spoken and written communication. Children are surrounded by language everyday: through conversations with family and friends, watching TV, and listening to bedtime stories. Children rely on complex language skills to be able to carry out directions we give, follow along with conversations, and make sense of their favorite cartoon show’s plot. These abilities are also required for later reading comprehension. They are made up of a diverse set of skills that must work together for understanding and learning.

Making Sense of Language Comprehension

These skills include:

  • Vocabulary Knowledge – understanding words and phrases (a typical 5 year old knows about 10,000 words)
  • Grammar Knowledge – understanding how words are organized to convey meaning
    (ex. Understanding the difference between Where did you put my shoes? and I know where you put my shoes.)
  • Morphological Knowledge – understanding the smallest units of language, including prefixes and suffixes (ex. Understanding that read is different from reread)
  • Background Knowledge – knowledge acquired through life experiences (ex. A child who plays sports will tap into that knowledge when reading a story about sports.)
  • Reasoning Skills – being able to think critically, combining background knowledge and context information with what is being said orally or in writing (ex. Let’s say a story describes a child rushing to get dressed, and the mother is calling for them to hurry up or they will miss the bus. The child can combine that information with what they know from life experiences to figure out that they may have woken up late and are about to miss their bus to school.)

Supporting Language Growth When Reading Together

At home, sharing books with our children is one of the best ways to support oral language development and growth. To get the most out of shared book reading, weave in opportunities for observation, questioning, predicting, and discussion.

At first glance, picture books may seem “childish,” but they actually contain more complex vocabulary and grammatical structures than adult-directed speech. Pick out a few interesting words to describe and discuss as you read aloud, and check in to see if your child can explain what is happening. Both fiction and nonfiction picture books can expose children to vast new concepts, events, places, and more. They build background knowledge that they can apply to future experiences.

Also, take opportunities to dive below the surface of books to nurture critical reasoning and problem solving skills. To get you started, here are some questions you could explore together with your child as you read.

  1. What problem does _____ have? How do you know?
  2. How is _____ feeling? What makes you think that?
  3. How could _____ solve the problem?
  4. What would you do if you were ______?
  5. What do you think they are doing? How do you know?
  6. What do you think will happen next? Why do you think that?

You may need to “think out loud” at first. This looks like explaining to your child how you use what the book says, what the illustrations show, and your past experiences, to figure out what is happening in the story.


Enjoy exploring these rich learning opportunities during your next family story time!

Interested in continuing to develop your child’s reading comprehension? Our new program, EarlyBird at Home, focuses on this and the other building blocks of literacy. The program combines a fun game-based skill development app with our award-winning EarlyBird Assessment, dedicated support from a Literacy Specialist, and additional resources to help parents support their children.

Dominic W. Massaro. (2017). Reading Aloud to Children: Benefits and Implications for Acquiring Literacy Before Schooling Begins. The American Journal of Psychology, 130(1), 63–72. https://doi.org/10.5406/amerjpsyc.130.1.0063

Lennon, S. (2013). Interactive Read-Alouds—An Avenue for Enhancing Children’s Language for Thinking and Understanding: A Review of Recent Research. Early Childhood Education Journal, 41, 381-389. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-013-0578-5

Get your child started on their reading journey with EarlyBird at Home