Monday 5 November 2012

6 ways to use Dear Zoo to develop speech and language skills

You may remember in the summer we attended the 30th birthday party of the book Dear Zoo.  It's a book I love and use frequently in my job as a speech and language therapist. So I thought I'd share how I use it to develop speech, language and communication skills. If you don't already have a copy of Dear Zoo and want to buy one you can find it on Amazon by clicking on this link Dear Zoo (this is an affiliate link which means I get a small commission if you end up buying the book at no extra cost to you).

1) Reading reading reading...
Loads of research points towards how important reading books is - it's never to early (or too late) to start to share books with your child. You don't need to do anything special, just to read. 

Loads of libraries have free activities for kids (ours even has coffee for the parents too - total bonus!) so you can borrow books and have an afternoons entertainment thrown in (and they don't mind if your child uses the books as a teething toy).

2) Reading the book 'where the child is at'. 
Don't get me wrong, I love the words in their original format (especially as they include a repeated phrase- great for developing language).  However some children benefit from a 'less is more' approach when learning to talk. Cutting extra words helps them focus on learning new vocabulary. When reading I try and match my language level to theirs.

For children who are just starting out with words I tend to use just the animal names as I read... 'elephant...giraffe etc.'

For children at the combining words stage I model at their level, sometimes adding an extra word e.g.

'bye bye elephant...too heavy...what's next?...hello giraffe... too tall... bye giraffe... what's next?...'

3) To develop listening and attention skills.
This game is great for engaging children with shorter attention spans. Give each child a toy animal that features in the book (e.g. one an elephant, one a giraffe etc). They have to listen carefully for their animal and hold it up when they hear it's name being read out.

4) To develop phonological awareness skills.
For older kids I like to develop speech sound awareness (phonological awareness) by playing games with the names of the animals. I have all the animals in a bag or box and they take turns to take one. Depending on what skill we are working on we work out 'How many bits (syllables) has it got' or 'What sound does it start with?' As an extension activity we sometimes see if we can think of anything else that starts with that sound.

4) To develop reasoning skills.
Again for older children I like to ask (after reading the book) 'Which is their favourite animal and why?', 'Do they think it would make a good pet?' I also like to ask 'What was their best present and who sent it?'. As 'wh' questions are abstract they can be harder to learn and can benefit from more practice.

6) To develop categorisation skills.
Having good categorisation skills helps you to remember and retrieve new vocabulary. The animals in Dear Zoo are all Zoo animals (apart from the puppy of course). The book provides a good basis for talking about different types of animals - wild/ pet/farm, animals that live on land/ water, animals that live in hot countries /cold countries. This activity works well if you have two defined areas (e.g. hoops or circles made form wool) and talk through the two groups first  and then give the children turns to select and animal and say where it belongs. For older children you can use a world map and get them to place the animals where they live.


  1. What a great post. Thanks for linking up to The Children's Bookshelf. I'm pinning this to TCB's Pinterest board.

  2. These are some fabulous tips. We are at the syllable stage with both my kids and I love the wh questions. It's fun to hear what they have to say

  3. What wonderful ways to explore a book! I love reading a book where your child is at. I hope you will link this post to Read.Explore.Learn. on Friday.

  4. Wonderful post. What a great way to make more use of a simple (and wonderful) book.

  5. I think these are brilliant suggestions. I particularly love the way you use tangible objects when reading the book with children. Thanks for sharing on The children's Bookshelf.

  6. My baby (13 months old) absolutely loves this book (and lifting the flaps). His 3-year-old sisters are rediscovering all the picture books that I'm bring out for the baby, and this post is giving me ideas for usin these books to work with them at their own level.

  7. Love the category activity. I would love for you to add this and any other of your posts to my weekly Mom's Library Link-Up.

    Thanks and Be Blessed,

  8. We love this book so much. Thanks for sharing.

  9. i like the categorisation idea!


Thanks for stopping by and visiting my blog. I'd love to hear your thoughts or comments and will try to reply to any questions you have.