Finding the Value of Experience Books

Lea Donovan Watson, MS, CCC-SLP, Certified AVT


An Experience Book is a language enriching idea for babies, preschoolers, and really, anyone who wants an extra boost in language development. Like a Scrap Book, this notebook can be full of all the interesting “stuff” of your life. Include concepts which might not yet be interesting for the child to learn and remember. These concepts will become meaningful to the child through the use of the Experience Book. Start with important people. Include Mom, Dad, grandparents, and siblings. Next, move to important toys, songs, places that the baby enjoys.  Get right on the baby’s language level. The key is to think, “What does this baby need to know now” and “How can I talk about what this baby need to hear at this point in development?”


In Auditory-verbal Therapy (AVT), children who are deaf and hard of hearing need to learn how to listen and then review what they heard.  Parents are the primary teachers for their children. These Scrap Books provide the avenue for this parent-child interchange to happen. Experience Books are part of each family’s plan here at the Auditory-Verbal Communication Center (AVCC) in Gloucester, MA.  We ask the parents, what do you want your child to know now? You have to think about what you want your baby to be aware of now.


Be thinking; “I need to help my baby hear. What is most important for the baby to hear? What do other babies hear now?” Capture the baby’s attention through listening. Be thinking; “I am patterning this little brain for sound. How do I trigger the baby’s attention with my voice? Sitting close to the baby’s hearing aid or cochlear implant microphone as you talk you are establishing a pattern, a reaction, a style without even thinking about it. Pay attention to sound and expect the baby to respond to what you say. ” By putting pictures of important concepts in a book, you are creating a way to repeat and review “all things auditory” in the baby’s life.


Auditor-Verbal Therapy advocates an individualized hierarchy of auditory skills for each child learning to listen. The idea is to help each family implement the Ten Principles of Auditory-Verbal Practice* into their life. In each therapy session, the Auditory-Verbal Therapist makes thoughtful suggestions to the parent regarding the listening and language needs of the child. The parents are encouraged to add drawings or pictures during the week. Sessions are once a week, so catching up on what the family talked about is easy using the book. Review of goals and objectives are right on the table as the baby and parent literally look at and talk about the story of their lives


AVT Pioneer Helen H. Beebe promoted the use of Experience Books at her A-V clinic starting in the 1950s. She hosted families from all over the world at her Pennsylvania family immersion center. The Experience Book provided a way for her to understand quickly what was important to each family as they arrived. As the family talked about the pictures in the book with her, she was able to get an idea of what needs the child had and more importantly what needs the parents had in order to help their child.


“Beebe”, as she was called by the children and parents she taught, demonstrated clearly the value of this medium. She expected that each child arrive for therapy with their Experience Book because each session started with a review of what they had done since their last time at the Beebe Center. In the AVCC office there is a keepsake treasure of Experience Books made by AVCC families and some from the Beebe Center. The variety of books, ways of depicting experiences, and drawing/photography abilities makes it clear that every family does the best they can. Each one is unique.


With the Experience Book, Beebe demonstrated the kind of language the child needed and the auditory potential the child had in a fun focused language dependent activity. She gave the parent the exact idea to replicate at home. Beebe used what the parent had created. The parent depicted language from situations in their own life. She validated the parent’s attempt and reinforced it by paying attention to it. She empowered the parent to do more. Beebe made the parents feel like they knew how to teach their own child even when the parents doubted this basic fact. The linguist, Roger Brown, stated that parents already know instinctively how to teach their children how to develop language. The therapist helps the parent develop their natural talent, gives them guidance, and shares their joy with the Experience Book.


As the immersion center therapist at the Beebe Centre in 1979, I had the privilege of observing Beebe everyday. What I learned there has been the core of my twenty-five year teaching career. The delight shared among the child, the parent, and Beebe as Beebe peeked inside the child’s book to see what important item she would expound on that morning, was precious.

“Daddy got a new pair of glasses!”; Beebe exclaimed as if he had just won the lottery.

“Daddy glasses”; the child volunteered and beamed with pride.

Beebe talked on about the color, size, shape of the glasses, whether or not the child had glasses, mom had glasses, she had glasses. The communication connection between the child and Beebe was charged with delight, magnetism, and auditory expectation. Beebe always talked with auditory information presented without lip-reading possible, sitting beside the child or with her mouth hidden either behind the book or with her hand. The idea was to get the auditory information to the brain first, to allow the hearing aids to work most effectively by making sure that was how the brain processed the incoming message. The parent radiated with joy to see their child who was deaf, listening to this lady tantalizing their child, expecting their child to listen and learn in this auditory-only way. The interaction was contagious because there were appropriate expectations made. The parents followed the example guided by Beebe.


As a young therapist, I was captivated by what Beebe accomplished using the Experience Book for the child, for the parent, and for the therapist herself to know what was needed. The Experience Book was the link that connected the therapist to the home. What the parent chose to put in the book was an important indicator of how the child and parent were progressing in the therapy process. If they were only putting in single pictures of things, labeling items and people that tells the therapist to help them realize the need for being more expansive with phrases, expressions and songs, encourage the parent to put pictures of what they do, not just the thing.

Choosing the type of book is an important first step. Sandy Yelen and Scott Wolpert liked the 3 X 5 wire bound index card size. They made their Experience Book into ‘flip  book’ for their 2 month old son, Adam. Sandy cut photos of family members and  close friends (including me). When people came to visit, they could read this book along with the other chunky board books one usually reads to infants. Adam heard “Bubbi” and “Zadie”, Noah, Daniel, and Hannah hundreds of times with their pictures, so when these people visited him he learned to identify these people by name more quickly. He responded to the auditory expectation of mom asking him the question “Where’s Noah?” by looking directly at Noah.


Early on in therapy, I ask people to choose five songs to focus on with their baby. Sandy gathered toys for Humpty Dumpty, How Much is That Doggie in the Window,X, X, and X. She put photos of these very toys into Adam’s Experience Book. She also put in pictures of what they liked to do. Right away Sandy and Scott saw the way the Experience Book helped them be sure their son was listening to them and learning all the important baby language. They also included pictures of animals, vehicles, seasonal concepts, that related to the Listen, Hear, Talk, and Sing* songs that are easy to sing to infants. Because both Sandy and Scott love scuba diving there was a picture of a scuba diver in Adam’s Experience Book. As parents dream about what their kid will do later in life, Sandy and Scott thought Adam needed to know about being a scuba diver. Among Adam’s first words was an approximation to ‘scuba’ because he heard it, had a reference for it, and reviewed it again and again.


Chunky Board type books or photo albums work best for the very young infant. Other parents choose spiral bound sketch books with blank pages, loose leaf notebooks so you can add material or take things out, artist “black books” work well, spiral bound notebooks, composition books also work for some families. I let the parents choose, but if they wait too long, I will start a book for them.


One family got going with a photo book but had trouble moving on to a book that included more auditory stimulating and language enriching concepts. I kept suggesting and encouraging, but finally had to introduce the blank notebook myself during one of our AVT sessions. I drew the pictures of the Ling Six Sound test that is so important for learning to listen. These sounds represent the frequencies needed to hear across the range of sound for speech to be accessible. It is very important that we know the baby can hear at these levels. We expect the baby who is deaf or hard of hearing to rely on their sense of hearing to process what we say.  They use hearing aids or cochlear implants to access sound, but they need to be expected, guided, and reinforced for using their hearing just as any baby is. On each page I used markers to sketch or trace the object representing the sounds ;

v     an airplane for ‘ah’

v     a top for the humming sound ‘mmm’

v     an owl for ‘ooo’

v     a boy who slides down a slide for ‘eee’

v     a fish for ‘sh’

v     a snake for ‘ss’

That got the parents going. They brought the cards their daughter had received for her first birthday. We found lots to talk about on those pretty cards, so they went in to the book to be talked about again and again.

 “See the  birds that go tweet tweet and there’s the duck that goes quack quack, oh, look at the kittycat, so cute, meow meow”.

 “Oh, smell the pretty flowers!”.

 “The teddy bear has a blue hat”.

“This card is from Nanna. See Nanna? That’s Nanna in the picture with you. Nanna loves you.”

These parents were able to enjoy their book and realize their daughter learned to increase her auditory attention span and heard the familiar language they wanted to teach her. We kept adding pictures in each session building the book together. These parents needed help with the book, but I saw the book as an integral part of the therapy process even if much of it was created together in our sessions. As the Auditory-Verbal Therapist, I needed to review what we had talked about last week and be sure these parents had the tool to practice what we would be talking about at the next session.


The goal is to make language a salient part of all experiences a child encounters and to record it in a visual log book. Feeding in language is so important in the early months of language learning. The Experience Book assists family members and others to make language meaningful and fun. All along the therapy process this is a tool for expanding language and refining listening skills while focusing on the child’s written goals and objectives such as:


v      Language levels (labeling, combining words, semantic relations, using phrases)

v      specific auditory skills; discrimination of animal sounds (great for vowel development); similar sounding words (elevator/alligator; scoop/soup)

v      enhancing language through concept development

v      emotions; someone crying and talk about why they are sad or mad or confused

v      vocabulary expansion (when the child uses a word think of another way to say it)

v     syntax (using complete sentences with words in correct order)

v     grammar (scene using he, she & they; past tense pictures or what will happen)

v     semantics (meaning of what you want to say)

v     speech sound development in natural context (a page of /p/ words)

v     real world connections; places, books, likes, dislikes, general knowledge


Heidi Schechter also started with a photo book for her four month old son, Ethan. When she and I felt he learned all the important people in his life, Heidi moved on to include what experiences in his day were most significant to him. In reference to using the Expereince Book, Heidi says; “It gears me up to think about more things to say to Ethan. It triggers language at the appropriate level. It helps me recognize that I need to make language a part of every activity.” I reminded Heidi that there is something about listening to your child at whatever stage they are at that helps you then think about how can you enjoy and enhance their language at this point. At the same time, you are thinking about how you can challenge them on to the next level. This helps you stay in tune with stimulating the progression of language as Ethan develops naturally. Depicting a concept or triggering practice in a language structure helps address the need of the child.


Heidi clarifies; “One thing I really learned using the experience Book was not to ask Ethan so many questions, just comment. Ethan likes to look out the window. He saw the moon at night and I drew that in the book. Looking at the picture later, I commented that we saw the moon in the sky out the window. Ethan said ‘moon sky’ and I followed his comment with; “Yes, you saw the moon in the sky. It was dark out.  We saw the big round moon way up, up, up,  high in the sky.”


After  years of ‘doing the Experience Book’ with Adam now age 7 and a daughter now age 3, Sandy Yelen commented; “We loved our Experience Books. My kids really like babies and we have a book that is all about them as babies. It’s a nice easy comfortable way for kids to learn. Adam said; “scuba!” at age 9 months. We were thrilled.  I don’t know too many 9 months old who can say that. I didn’t always like doing the experience book, but I am glad I was encouraged to make one.”


Heidi Schechter explained her view when Ethan was two; “Ethan enjoys it. His face always lights up when he sees it. He carries it around. He knows it is his book. He loves to look through it on his own. Maybe he is rehearsing the language, silent reading at age two! I will say I love it, but the hardest part of the experience book is time wise, I have so much to do.  It does take a lot of effort to get it done, but I think it is worth the time it took because Ethan liked it so much.”

Now that he is almost three Heidi says; ‘Well, we don’t make new Experience Books anymore, but I learned how to talk with Ethan by using the book. Now I just talk with him as if I am making a book. The book helped me orient to his interests and listen to him so I know how to help him build his language even without the book. He finds his old Experience Books around the house and loves to talk about all the things we did. That is really fun.”


Kerry Dowling and Dan Wilson used the Experience Book to help their daughter, Hadley, learn to listen and develop language as I guided them in Auditory-Verbal Therapy from when Hadley was 6 months old. Kerry’s story about how she got started and chronicled Hadley’s listening and language development using Experience Books follows. Kerry has many suggestions to help other parents and therapists make good use of the Experience Book. Experience Books can be an invaluable tool for teaching your child to listen and talk, but you have to start the book and find the value yourself.

Experience Books Are Worth Every Bit of Effort

By Kerry Dowling

We learned of Experience Books at our very first auditory-verbal therapy session.  Lea mentioned how important they are throughout these early years to encourage and sustain strong language development.  She told heart-warming stories about how children love to read about themselves, love to pore over old experience books, and even carted our her daughter’s first experience book from over 20 years ago.  I quickly put together a photo album of Hadley’s relatives, favorite activities, and prized toys.  Lea said it was fine, but when was I starting an experience book?  I made another album filled with regular daily occurrences, pictures of Hadley brushing her teeth and eating breakfast.  Lea sat me down and said, I need you to draw instead of take pictures.


I thought, what in the world is this woman talking about?


Hadley’s first experience book was started at age 13 months.  Most every day of her life has been chronociled in her experience books since then, now numbering 7 volumes.  Everything Lea first told me about Experience Books has come true.  Hadley loves to read and reread her books, taking great delight in discussing the pictures and reliving fun memories.  She has favorite pages that she returns to again and again.  I love to look through them to remember important milestones: when she began identifying shapes and colors, said her first sentence, or used the toilet for the first time.  We remember snippets of our lives: the night we watched the sky turn a brilliant purple while the sun set, the week in March when we could watch the sun rise over the trees, the excitement when Hadley held a baby in her arms all on her own.  Most importantly, these experience books have hammered language into Hadley’s being, helping words and ideas and thoughts gel in her brain and generate themselves into clear and concise language.  These experience books have become the most important tools we have used in two years of auditory-verbal therapy.


And I still dread doing it.


I am not an artist.  I am not a terribly creative person.  I procrastinate and habitually delay doing things until the very last minute.  I am unorganized and rarely know where my things are.  However, I recognize the importance of these experience books and value the impact they have had on Hadley’s life.  And, since I have yet to do anything with the box of pictures that will someday become her baby book, these books have become a wonderful collection of the big and small moments of Hadley’s first 2 ½ years.  So, I have compiled a list of things that have helped me continue to create this incredible tool and family tribute.


  1. Use quality materials.  I have used sketchbooks with heavy weight paper as well as scrapbooks.  I like bindings that allow the book to lie flat; it’s easier for a young child to read and for the artist (the parent!) to draw.
  2. Develop your books around themes.  Our earliest books just end whenever we ran out of pages and needed to start another book.  After a while, I opted to do a seasonal theme and have since created these books around Spring (March – May), Summer (June – August), Fall (September – November) and Winter (December – February).
  3. Find a separate special home for the Experience Books.  We have a basket where all the books are kept.  They are in a well-used room so there is no chance that they can be hidden away and forgotten.  We have them in a prominent place to encourage visitors to look at them and ask questions.
  4. Keep a list handy for ideas.  There are days when I will be at a loss about what to include in the day’s entry.  Some days, I have so many ideas that I can’t use them all.  I keep a list (actually, a few of them!) where I jot down ideas to remind myself: that Hadley discovered that some music is sung and some only has instruments; that she was a good friend to someone who was angry; that she told a joke.
  5. Save things!  Anything that is mailed to Hadley eventually finds its way into the book.  We include tickets, receipts, leaves, drawings, pictures, artwork—anything that Hadley finds interesting or important enough to comment on.  We spend a lot of money on double-sided tape.
  6. Involve the child.  Around 2, we began asking Hadley what she thought was the favorite part of her day.  On busy days, we’d ask her to be specific about the favorite part of a certain activity.  Usually, we can use her answer to create the day’s entry in the book.  She is now old enough to help out with the drawings or do them herself.  We have high hopes that someday this will become her special project and she will make it her own.
  7. Involve others.  Other children and even adults have been guest contributors to the experience book.  Often, the entry is a picture that someone has drawn (Hadley came to visit my house today, or Hadley and I had fun pretending to be giants).
  8. Share the responsibility.  The experience book should not be something that just one parent does.  Let’s face it: most of us don’t want to spend 10 minutes every night or 1 hour every week working on the book.  We have too much other stuff to do.  The experience book is such an important tool that you don’t want to risk it becoming a chore.  Share the wealth and find a way for both parents to contribute.
  9. Don’t gripe.  It’s taken me 18 months, but I am finally comfortable with skipping a day now and then.  Sometimes, there really isn’t anything to comment on.  Some weeks you need a little break.  My personal rule is to always have something for at least 5 days of the week—otherwise, you really start to skimp.
  10. Be the star of the day.  Lea suggested early on that we find one day and just take pictures all day long of all of our activities, and use those to create a photo book of a day in the life of our child.  As a joke, I chose May 5—Cinco de Mayo—when Hadley was 7 months old to do this book.  When Lea saw it she said it was great—and suggested we do it every single year.  So, we now do an annual Cinco de Mayo book each year.  It is a ton of work, but so much fun to review them. 
  11. Focus on AV goals.  While many of the entries are based on events in Hadley’s life, large and small, we also use some days to focus on a short-term goal, like the articulation of a certain sound or learning to categorize objects. 
  12. Focus on parenting goals.  Once I realized how important these books were to Hadley, I found ways to use them for my own purposes.  We have included entries on how to be a good friend, bad behavior, what to do when you have a cold, and how to wash your hands.  We’ve also highlighted good decisions and behavior: the day Hadley took her medicine all by herself or chose to speak calmly instead of screaming.  It still amazes me how reading about herself and talking about the entry helps promote the desired behavior.
  13. Don’t be afraid!  You do not need to be the world’s best artist.  You do not need to labor over each entry.  If your drawings are unidentifiable, just label underneath.  Your child will learn to distinguish one stick figure from another.
  14. Use colored pencils.  My early books were done in crayon, which quickly smeared and smudged.  Colored pencils have worked well, especially those that can be erased as well.  Markers sometimes bleed through the paper.
  15. Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Ultimately, these books are for your child.  Pages will rip; just tape them up.  Pictures may be scribbled upon; just talk about how once a picture is complete, we don’t add to them again.  A page may even be torn out.  It doesn’t matter.  Your child will still love to read the experience book.
  16. Record those heartbreaking moments.  My favorite entry is a drawing I did of a bright full moon rising over a pond, where the moon is just over the tops of tall pine trees.  Hadley noticed the moon on a drive home one night and we talked about it for 20 minutes.  It’s a moment that we may have otherwise forgotten, but now whenever she sees a full moon, Hadley reminds me of that one night.
  17. It’s all about talking.  It doesn’t matter what you say about each entry when reviewing them with your child for the umpteenth time.  Your child will learn about the nuances of language if you talk naturally about each one.  How boring if you always say the exact same thing on each page.  This isn’t a story!  Ask questions of your child.  Mention a memory you have of that same experience.  Use it as a way to launch into an activity.  Let them do the reminiscing.
  18. It’s all about reading.  The Experience Book is a great early reading tool.  Write clearly and carefully so your child isn’t trying to translate your scrawl.  When your child begins to sight read, use the known words in the experience book to reinforce the learning.
  19. Make it their own.  At some point, the child can assume the responsibility of the book.  This can be a fun activity, especially if the parents have modeled it as being something fun to do.  Let them take on the ownership; this might mean that the book looks very different or is made from different materials.  Let them run with it.  Some families have the Experience Book morph into a school book that is shared between family and teacher or a book that reinforces teaching themes presented in the classroom.
  20. Have fun!  If creating an Experience Book is becoming too burdensome, take a giant step back.  Find a way to make it manageable.  It is quite possible to have several children, a fulltime job, a calendar full of activities and still produce a great Experience Book. 


The Experience Book has been an integral part of Hadley’s development.  I really can’t think of another tool that we have used that has been more effective in developing and fine-tuning language themes for her.  I may still gripe about it, but it is worth every bit of effort that I expend.