Most parents know the multiple benefits of reading regularly to their kids, one of which is to begin school ahead of the game. According to the landmark 1985 report Becoming a Nation of Readers, reading aloud is “the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading.” This all seems so straightforward until you actually have children. Trying to read a bedtime story with an exhausted toddler or wrestling the iPad away from your preschooler for story time can be much harder than you ever may have imagined before you had children. Here are a few tips to motivate you to overcome those challenges by engaging your kids in a well-read story.
Benefits of reading aloud
Reading books together is a great way to bond. Cradling a baby on your chest, or an older child on your lap, and cuddling happily to enjoy a book together shows your child how much he is loved. Being read to by a loved one is often one of the most comforting memories of childhood.
Regularly reading aloud together demonstrates that reading is fun and important. If you establish a daily routine of reading aloud, your children will come to enjoy story time and look forward to it every day. They will see reading as fun. Children who have been read to regularly are excited about learning to read.
The first three years of life are critically important for brain development. A long-term study detailed in the 1995 book Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children showed that the greater the number of words children heard before they were three, the higher their IQs and the better they did in school. If you read three books a day for the first five years, your child will have heard 5,475 books by the time she enters kindergarten. Being exposed to so many new words gives children larger vocabularies and a richer understanding of the world and their place in it—a distinct advantage over peers who have not been read to regularly.
In fact, every time you read aloud, you are reinforcing important literacy skills. Listening to the sounds of language and playing with rhymes is a natural form of phonic instruction. Every time you hold a book and turn the pages, your child learns how books work. He begins to understand that there are words printed on the page and these words represent ideas. If you glide your finger along the line of text as you read, your child will eventually learn that we read from left to right. It will be clear that books can tell a story, give information and entertain. Each story you read aloud shows your child that books have a beginning, middle, and end, and that books lead to learning. And if you regularly read to your child and talk about what you read, his reading comprehension grows and develops significantly.
Reading together also introduces general knowledge and understanding. When your child sees familiar objects and situations in the books, she begins to make important connections. Simply making statements such as, “This reminds me of…” will help your child begin to make connections between the book and her own life. When you read concept books and nonfiction, your child learns more about the world around her. When your child hears folklore, fairy tales, and other stories, she learns about kindness, compassion, humor, and many of the values we hold dear.
The golden rules of reading aloud
The key to reading aloud well is to match your vocal expression with what you are reading. In her bestselling book, Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives,, Mem Fox says, “You can do at least seven things with your voices to keep children engaged during read alouds. Six of these seven vocal gymnastics are contrasts: loud and soft, fast and slow, and high and low. And you can p-a-u-s-e. The words on the page will tell you which to choose. You don’t need speech training.”
For example, when reading Caps For Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina, you can use your voice to show the mounting frustration of the cap seller as he tries to rescue his caps from the mischievous monkeys. In Michael Rosen’s We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, speed up your reading pace to match the family’s frantic scramble home after they discover a bear inside the cave. Sandra Boynton books should be read with a fun, jaunty voice focusing on rhyme and rhythm with pauses as needed for giggling, while bedtime stories are generally best read with a calm, soothing voice. When we match our vocal expression to what is happening in the story, we also teach our children how to make sense of what they are reading.
Pre-reading allows you to become familiar with the story before it is shared, giving you time to decide the type of expression that will work with that particular book. It allows you to look at the pictures and be ready to point out new objects or examine details that might go by if your child is at the stage of rapid page-turning. You can think about some talking points and/or important ideas you want to discuss. Pre-reading also gives you a sense of how long it will take to read the book, and if the content is appropriate for your child.
Look for books with rhyme, and read so that the rhyme is obvious to your child. Kids are generally willing to spend a lot of time rhyming and playing with rhyme because it is so much fun. The bonus is that understanding rhyme is an incredibly important skill for beginning readers. Rhyme teaches children about the patterns and structures of language. It gets them in the habit of making predictions when they eventually learn to read. Once a child is familiar with a book such as Janet and Allen Ahlberg’s Each Peach Pear Plum and has heard it many times, he is frequently able to call out the final words of each page’s rhyming couplet.
Each peach pear plum
I spy Tom Thumb
Tom Thumb in the cupboard
I spy Mother Hubbard...
Consistency is important. If you read books in the same way each time, your child will begin to mimic what she hears. As you read Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site for the hundredth time, leave a pause before completing the final word in each rhyming couplet. This pause allows your child to supply the familiar word that completes the rhyme. After many, many readings, this game may become one of your child’s favorite ways of “helping” you read. Because she has heard you read it in the same way so many times, she will most likely say her line with a slow, sleepy voice just like yours. This type of shared reading also holds your child’s attention and makes read-aloud time even more enjoyable.
He tucks himself in nice and tight (sigh)
Then cuddles up and says… goodnight
Children love the predictability and comfort of hearing their favorite books read time and time again. The repetition of language (the same words, read in the same way each time) helps children memorize their favorite books. As they hear a favorite story, they often begin to think, “I know this part!” They start reading parts of the story from memory and take the first exciting steps towards becoming a reader.
Read aloud to your children for as long as possible. Beginning readers grow and learn when they hear stories read by more able readers. Your child still needs to hear you read because reading and talking about books together lays a foundation for discussing things that matter, such as feelings, friendship, etc. Young children are able to understand more sophisticated stories than they can read on their own and benefit from hearing and talking about these stories you share together. When you read together, you can share reflections, questions, predictions, and other thoughts that good readers naturally consider while reading.
In short, reading aloud is a great way to bond, enjoy meaningful time with your child, and help prepare him for school and a lifetime of reading. It is never too early or too late to read aloud. Visit GoReaderGo.com for our recommendations for the best read aloud books, cuddle up with a child or two, and share some great books today.