Parents, did you realize that children develop essential skills that help them learn how to read long before formal reading instruction begins? These are called early literacy skills, and they include vocabulary, print motivation, phonological awareness, print awareness, letter knowledge, and narrative skills.
How do children gain these skills, exactly? The answer is simple. Through everyday nurturing interactions with you! When you talk, read, sing, and play with your children, you are helping them build these foundational skills, and you’re strengthening your bond with your child in the process. Win, win!
This is the second in a series of columns about using the early literacy practices (talk, read, sing, play) to foster your child’s development. This entry focuses on the practice of reading.
In “Becoming a Nation of Readers,” a landmark 1985 report, experts declared that “the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” The positive effects of regularly reading aloud to your children are numerous and include the following:
- builds connections in their brain
- develops their language and vocabulary skills
- supports their social/emotional development
- strengthens their relationship with you
- teaches them about themselves and the world in which they live
There is simply no denying the incredible and dynamic power of reading aloud to your children.
But with so many books and so little time, where does a parent begin? A great answer to this question is only three words long: your public library. Library staff is knowledgeable about the collections and eager to help your kiddos find books that match their interests and abilities.
OK, you’ve got some great books. Now what? The greatest benefits from reading aloud can be achieved when you and your child are engaged in the reading experience. Enhance your child’s engagement and your own enjoyment by utilizing these tips:
1. Read with expression! This may take some practice, but your kids will love it – 100% money back guarantee! Here are some vocal contrasts to add expressive flair:
Play with your pitch. Experiment with using a high voice and low voice to add depth to a character.
Adjust your volume. Perhaps you’ve reached a suspenseful part of the story and want to speak quietly for dramatic effect. Perhaps a character is surprised and speaks at an elevated volume.
Consider your speed. Avoid rushing. Relish each word. Make use of pauses and silence. Read quickly only when the action of the story calls for it. In general, a slower rate of speed gives your child more time to process what they are hearing and seeing on the page.
Experiment with your tone. Play around with the quality of sounds your voice can make. Gravelly, airy, nasal, etc.
2. Be interactive! Invite your child to actively participate in the read aloud experience by doing the following:
Discuss the cover art and illustrations. Remember, while you focus on the text, your child is “reading” and deriving meaning from the illustrations. Talk with your child about the art and how it relates to the story.
Ask open-ended questions. These enable a child to demonstrate their understanding and practice their narrative skills. Here are some examples:
- What do you notice? They may observe something you haven’t yet noticed.
- Why do you think he feels sad? This can help build emotional intelligence.
- What do you think is going to happen? This is an opportunity to use critical thinking skills.
Include your children by inviting them to:
- Do the actions. Many picture books include bold actions. Don’t just read it, do it!
- “Read” the repeated phrases. Your child will quickly learn any repeated refrains in a story. After two or three times, start the phrase and let your child finish it.
- Finish the sentence in a familiar text. Likewise, your child’s favorite books will soon be memorized. Invite them to finish the sentence or even “read” the book to you.
Complete the rhyme. Rhyming books are great for developing phonological awareness – an early literacy skill. Start the rhyme, but pause at the end to see if your child can finish it.
Discuss the book afterward. What did your child like? Dislike? What was their favorite part? What do they think the characters will do next?
Reading aloud with your children every day is beneficial for their development and can be both joyful and rewarding for you and your child.
Jerissa Koenig is the early literacy outreach librarian for the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library’s Youth Services division. She holds degrees in both child psychology and library and information studies. You can read more from Jerissa and her fellow librarians at www.ecpubliclibrary.info/kids.