I was cleaning up my enormous pile of journals this week found some wonderful articles that have useful information. One was an article Reading Aloud At Home by Ellie White and Jenna Voss published in the Volta Review in September of 2017. A lot of the information in this blog comes from that article.
We have heard lots and lots about the value of reading to children. The research indicates that it is important for parents to read to children at home. And starting early. When I buy a baby present I always send books. And I include a note to the baby telling the babies that they should tell their parents to read at least 10 books a day to them. So why?
Benefits of Reading Aloud
Reading aloud to children even after they have the ability to read to themselves is critical. We can read books to children at levels they cannot read for themselves. It helps them develop vocabulary by exposing them to new and interesting words. The more words a child knows, the better.
Written language is different than spoken language. It is often more complex. Exposing children to written language will build their communication skills and will, likely build, their writing skills also.
Books expose children to things that are not in their daily lives. They provide new information and help them grow. It may be a minor thing like teaching children who live in warm climates about snow storms, of mountain climbing, or, learning about Madame Curie’s inventions, or maybe more adventuresome activities like flying to the moon. Talking about what read helps expand knowledge.
Talking about books helps children develop episodic memory. They learn that things happen in a sequence and can use that skill to report on incidents in their life and to write about them.
Reading aloud helps develop a child’s Theory of Mind – the understanding that other people have thoughts, feelings, intentions etc. Until children develop theory of mind they do not understand that others may have feelings different from their own.
Reading aloud helps a child develop an understanding of decontextualized language. This means that they use the words in the stories to understand by using their experiences, and the stories pictures. Eventually they learn by using their experiences without pictures.
Many books provide wonderful associations for the children because the stories are interesting, and open them up to wonderful new ideas, feelings, and social situations. Children remember the experience of being read to and remember many of the stories. My children who are now adults, and I discuss the many stories we have read.
How to read to children
Some parents find it easy to read to children. Others have more difficulty. For parents who are not as comfortable reading, practice will help. It may seem a little silly to read to an infant but, in fact, it is the beginning of an interest and a long friendship with books.
Choose books that are of interest to the child.
For a child who is interested in trains, books about trains and other vehicles will be of interest. For a child interested in dogs, stories about dogs or other pets will be of interest. As children learn more their interests will expand. Read to children for as long as they will tolerate. Children with short attention spans may only be able to attend for a very short time. As they become older and more interested in books they will be able to attend for a longer time.
Have the child sit on your lap or next to you so that they can see the pictures which will help keep their interest. Point to pictures and talk about what they see. Ask questions about the photos and about what is happening in the story. Being enthusiastic when you read will make it more interesting. Have the child turn pages, or open flaps, to keep interest.
If a child is not interested in books, try using funny voices to increase interest. If the story is complicated, simplify it. Create pauses In the beginning children will be interested in short stories but as they get older, and as they become books become more familiar it will be possible to increase the amount of time spent with books.
Discuss what is happening in the book. Who lives in that house? Expand questions. Would you like to live in a house in a tree? Why do you think he did that? Is he happy or sad? Why do you think he is happy? What kind of soup are they making? Do you think you would like soup made from stones? Why are the pigs making soup in the fireplace? How do we make soup?
As children get older they will start reading to themselves. In the beginning they will need you to sit next to help them with words they don’t understand. You can help them understand what they book is about expand their thoughts by discussing what people in the book were thinking and discussing why they do the things they do.
It is important that we continue read to children even when they can read for themselves because we will always be able to read at a more difficult level than they can read to themselves and our reading will increase their language and their knowledge.
In summary, READ, READ, READ, READ and then READ.