“It stands to reason that if we’re able to raise happier, brighter children by reading aloud to them, the well-being of the entire country will ramp up a notch. Children who realize in their first few weeks and months of life that listening to stories is the purest heaven; who understand that books are filled with delights, facts, fun, and food for thought; who fall in love with their parents, and their parents with them, while stories are being shared; and who are read aloud to for ten minutes a day in their first five years, usually learn to read quickly, happily, and easily. And a whole lot of goodness follows for the entire community. Great news, isn’t it?”
Mem Fox, author, professor of literacy education in Australia, and respected literacy expert
Reading aloud to children before they start school is a win/win situation for all concerned. The research is in. There are huge gains to be made – for children and adults alike. I’ll spend the next few minutes hopefully inspiring you to read, read, read aloud to the young children in your life and, as Mem says, “change the world one page at a time.”
As we share words and pictures, ideas, rhythms and rhymes, and life issues that we encounter together in the pages of a book, we connect with our children through our minds and hearts. Questions, thoughtful conversation, silliness, laughter, closeness – it is such fun to truly enjoy a story together and to share the warm feelings that accompany the experience. And, if we, the reader, are throughly enjoying, you can be sure our listener is as well!
The emotional sparks between a child, a book, and the person reading light the fire of literacy. It isn’t achieved by the book alone, nor by the child alone, nor by the adult who’s reading aloud – it is the relationship of the three coming together for the pure enjoyment of it all.
As well, recent brain research has revealed that the early years of life are more critical to a child’s development than we ever realized.
By the age of one, children will have learned all the sounds that make up the native languages they will speak. The foundations of learning to read are set down from the moment a child first hears the sounds of people talking, the tunes of songs, and the rhythms and repetitions of rhymes and stories.
Reading aloud to children early in life rapidly develops their speaking skills. They don’t learn to talk unless they’re spoken to – which is why psychologists and speech pathologists tell us we need to have loving, laughing, deep-and-meaningful conversations with our children long before they turn three.
Read-aloud sessions are perfect times for engaging in these sorts of conversations because the reader and listener can chat endlessly about the story, the pictures, the words, the ideas. Reading aloud and talking about what we’re reading sharpens children’s brains. It helps develop their ability to concentrate at length and to express themselves more easily and clearly. The stories they hear provide them with witty phrases, new sentences, and new words to try out.
Before long children begin to understand the look of the print and the way words work in sentences, why this happens and that happens, and, how it all comes together to mean something. In other words, they learn to read.
Experts tell us that children need to hear a thousand stories read aloud before they learn to read for themselves. It sounds a daunting task! But, it’s not so bad when you do the math – three stories a day will get you to one thousand in a year – so, this is easily do-able before kindergarten!
The ideal three stories a day are one favorite, one familiar, and one new – but the point is to read aloud the three stories! If your child chooses the same story three times, so be it! The end result is the same. Win/win.
Read-aloud sessions can happen at anytime – whenever and wherever. As long as you have a few books with you, you’re ready to go when the moment presents itself. One read-aloud session, however, must happen every night, in the same place, at the same time, with the same cushions or pillows, the same stuffed animals, and the same books. The comforting rituals and regular routines before bed provide security to the child – and that cannot be underestimated.
It’s also beneficial to continue to read aloud to children for as long as they’ll let us – even after they can finally read themselves. I remember several of my teachers reading to us in elementary school – we could put our heads on our desks and simply listen and imagine! These are still some of my best memories.
Of course, reading aloud is not quite enough – as teachers, we need to read aloud well.
There’s no one exact right way of reading aloud, other than try to be as expressive as possible. Be aware of our body position, our eyes and their expression, our eye contact with the child, our vocal variety, and our general facial animation. Each of us will have our own special way of doing it.
The way we speak the first line should be sensational. The aim is to grab our audience immediately and never let them go. And, if anything could be more important than the first line of a story, it’s the last line. It should be s-l-o-w-l-y delivered and drawn out – it is, as Mem Fox calls this final line of the story, “an absolutely delicious experience” of completed-ness.
The bottom line is to thoroughly enjoy this read-aloud time with the children. The rest will magically happen.
Some books that naturally and successfully lend themselves to being read aloud:
- Are You My Mother? (P.D. Eastman)
- Green Eggs and Ham (Dr. Seuss)
- Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak)
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Bill Martin)
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle)
- Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Judith Viorst)
- We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Michael Rosen)
- Madeline (Ludwig Bemelmans)
- Rascal the Dragon (Paul Jennings)
Yes, there are thousands more! But, if you begin here, you can’t go wrong!
For more information about the benefits of reading aloud to children, or about the other books written by Mem Fox, please visit her website: www.MemFox.net.