Read Alouds: From Birth Until Forever

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A few weeks after my son was born, my mom traveled up for a visit with a surprise in tow.  She brought a bin of my old bedtime stories; books that I hadn’t seen in years.  As a teacher and childcare provider before that, I’ve gotten to know children’s books; but these…THESE books were particular to my childhood, read while cuddled next to my mom, feeling secure and safe and happy.

Creating a positive association with books and reading should be the number one goal with the littles.  Before sight words, flash cards, and word games, kids should know the joy that comes from sitting and listening to a good story.  Unfortunately, learning to read can become something of a competitive sport.  Pressure is put on teachers to push their students to perform in ways that, in some cases, their brains just aren’t developmentally ready for.  That stress is trickling down to parents who understandably begin to wonder if they should replace reading aloud with having their child practice reading aloud to them.

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Don’t do it.  Reading aloud is the single best thing you can do for your child’s reading development.  Why?  According to this handy-dandy fact sheet by Jim Trelease:

We read aloud to children for the same reasons we talk with them: to reassure; entertain; bond; inform; arouse curiosity; and inspire. But reading aloud goes further than conversation when it:

• Conditions the child to associate reading with pleasure;

• Creates background knowledge;

• Builds “book” vocabulary;

• Provides a reading role model.

But what if a child has a learning disability or some other challenge that is hindering her reading growth?  I would argue that it’s even more important for that child’s parents to prioritize a positive association through read aloud while reaching out to professionals (teachers, coaches, tutors) for support.  Having a parent and child struggle through books on a regular basis can be damaging to the reading relationship and the parent-child relationship.

Isn’t reading stories out loud just for little kids?  No!  One of the coolest things about reading aloud is that kids are able to understand and listen at a higher level than they can read.  So while a child may not be able to independently read a book with complex character development, listening to that same story could grow his comprehension in myriad ways.  So if your child can “sound out” most words and seems to be reading well independently, resist the urge to leave him to read alone forever after.

Now, obviously if your child wants to read aloud to you, let him; but it should not entirely replace listening to a more experienced reader on a regular basis.  I think this is true from birth through adulthood.  Just listen to Ian McKellen for a minute and tell me you didn’t just become a more expressive reader.

So snuggle up with your baby, preschooler, or middle schooler, and enjoy!

Want to read some more on the topic?  Check out these links:

http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/read-aloud-to-children/

http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/rah-ch4.html

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