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Te reo pānui me te reo ā-waha

Reading and oral language

A benefit of book reading is that it exposes tamariki to words and phrasing that they may not normally hear or use in everyday talk.

Reading together and storytelling are valuable interactions for fostering children's oral language, social and emotional development, self-concept, and sense of belonging.

Poetry, story books, pūrākau, pakiwaitara, fiction, and non-fiction offer opportunities for tamariki to enjoy and experience different narrative structures (the elements in a narrative and how they are organised), for example, a poem about rain, te maramataka poster (Māori lunar calendar), and an illustrated, non-fiction book about water.

Book reading is also a way for tamariki to build vocabulary in te reo Māori and a range of languages.


“The way we read, with emphasis, expression, and drama, makes words clearer. It helps children discriminate between sounds and helps them retain the rhythm and playing out of language and sound.” 1


A kaiako and infant reading a book in te reo Māori.

The best books for developing oral language are those that the child likes and that kaiako and children can have a conversation about – either in small groups or one-on-one.

  • Include books set in New Zealand and around the world.
  • Include picture books that are visually and verbally reflective of the language, culture, and identity of tamariki.
  • Having books available in home languages in your service demonstrates that you value children's cultural heritage and provides them with opportunities to talk about familiar contexts.

For promoting conversation, print books are better than e-books. Print books with less text or even wordless picture books are best.

At any age, book reading is a great way to practise serve and return exchanges.


  • Board books that they can touch roughly (even chew) are best, with simple pictures and only a few words per page.
  • At this age, you’re trying to set up a positive routine with books.
  • Don’t worry if infants only want to look at one or two pages of a book together.
  • The interaction with the infant and the cuddle time are most important.


  • Picture books are all about learning new words for toddlers – object words, action words, or feeling words.
  • While they’re in the naming explosion period,2 be sure to include some books with realistic drawings or photographs.
  • Their attention spans are still short, so a five-minute conversation about a few pages of a book is better than simply reading the text to try to race through the whole book. They will learn to finish books later on.

Young children

  • Broaden their choices to include books with a storyline and books about facts, for example, rhyming and non-rhyming.
  • Try to have a deeper conversation about new words, cause and effect, and feelings – linking the story to children’s own lives.
  • Introduce basic literacy concepts such as the front and back, author and illustrator, and text versus pictures.
  • Point out the conventions of print by sometimes pointing to words as you read them and to the pictures as you talk.

Revisiting children's documentation

Revisiting and reading documentation – photos, videos, and narrative assessments such as learning stories – is a particularly effective way to encourage conversation. This is because tamariki themselves are usually centre stage in these resources, giving them added confidence and motivation to talk. When kaiako use learning stories as a way to talk about a shared memory (a rich reminiscing approach), it creates engaging conversations where tamariki extend on their storytelling capabilities.3

Whether in book or electronic form, documentation needs to be accessible to tamariki for it to be effective in fostering oral language.

  • Keep profile books in a central area and eportfolios easily accessible on mobile devices.
  • Where possible, add new stories with tamariki – because toddlers and young children like to discuss recent, past events.
  • Kaiako who were not involved in recording documentation can express genuine surprise, "Oh my goodness, what were you doing there?"
  • Let tamariki choose how to tell the story. For example, "Lily, you tell me the story. What’s happening here?" Then use echo and add techniques to keep the conversation going.
  • Let tamariki take a series of photographs of an event, for example, cooking. Recount the story as you record it digitally or on paper. Practices like this give kaiako and whānau a way to see how tamariki storytelling skills are progressing over time.

Child looking at their learning story book.

Story of practice: Singing, reading, and drawing

During a busy morning in an a‘oga amata, the faia‘oga/kaiako sat down to read a favourite story, O le isumu ma le fe‘e. She followed a well-established ritual of singing to welcome those who wanted to come to the whāriki. After repeating the song twice, the children were ready to look and listen.

The faia‘oga held up the book and started to read the cover page. Pointing to the title, the author, and the illustrator, she explained what these meant. Her pace was intentionally slow and predictable, allowing time for spontaneous interactions. After reading the printed words on each page, she sometimes encouraged children to look closely at the pictures. In this way, the text was enhanced by rich, descriptive language that connected the storyline to the illustrations. Her tone of voice clearly differentiated between reading the text and the responsive conversations about the story.

When the book was finished, the faia’oga suggested the children illustrate their own version of this story. The session ended as it began, with a song.

Further strategies

For further strategies see: