By Tracy Buckler
According to Mem Fox, author of Reading Magic, "If parents understood the huge educational benefit and intense happiness brought about by reading aloud to their children, and if every parent—and every adult caring for a child—read aloud a minimum of three stories a day to the children in their lives, we could probably wipe out illiteracy within one generation." This is a pretty bold statement, but one that many Early Childhood professionals firmly believe in. Reading to a child can and should begin as soon after birth as possible, as it will help with brain development, speech skills, as well as simply bonding with the child, which will help in other developmental areas as well.
It may seem to some that infants will not benefit from being read aloud to, but many experts on the subject disagree. Most people don’t realize that when a child is born, only twenty-five percent of the brain in developed, and the rest develops within the first year of life. This is an extremely crucial time in a child’s life where reading aloud and simply talking to the child will help tremendously with brain development along with their speaking skills. "The sense of dislocation and confusion that occurs when kids and parents don’t connect disturbs children long after childhood is over," (Reading Magic pg. 21).
In his book The Read-Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease gives several examples to emphasis the belief that there is a literacy problem in the United States. One such example follows:
"Every workday afternoon a courier shows up at the door of the fifth largest insurance company in America, New York Life. There his is handed a satchel of insurance claims, which he drives to JFK Airport. The satchel is then loaded aboard an Aer Lingus jet and flown to Dublin, Ireland, where American insurance claims will be processed by another people in another county. Why? Because New York Life cannot find enough young people in the metropolitan area, between the ages of twenty and thirty, who know how to read, write, and think clearly and critically enough to process insurance claims. Ireland has them."
There is a simple solution to this problem, read aloud to your children every day, even when they are old enough to read to themselves. "The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it." (The Read Aloud Handbook, pg. 4). Reading aloud should be fun, exciting and pleasurable for both the person reading and the child being read to, if it’s not, the child will not want to be read to and consequently not like to read later in life.
There are several do’s and don’ts one could follow when reading aloud to children. The most important thing to do is to begin reading to infants, as soon as they are born!! Use rhyming book, such as Mother Goose rhymes and songs to help with language development. "Rhymers will be readers." (Reading Magic, pg. 85) There are many more do’s about reading to children than don’ts, as it’s simply most important to just read!
A few don’ts to follow when reading to your children include, don’t read books you don’t enjoy yourself. Have fun reading and make it a special time for both of you. Use books that are age appropriate for the child and make sure you have read the book prior to reading it aloud to be sure of it’s contents. Using books that the child doesn’t understand can turn them off of books for good.
Most parents being working with their children by teaching them their letters first, then they move onto words and then the stories. According to Mem Fox this is exactly opposite of they way it should be done. If a parent reads aloud to their child early and often then the letters and words will naturally come into the child’s world.
One very important aspect of reading aloud to children is to discuss what’s being read to them. This helps the child to not only learn to read the words on the page, but to understand what they are reading, or being read to. A child can learn the words and read them from a book, but if they don’t understand what they are reading, then they are not reading.
According to Mem Fox there are three secrets of reading: being able to make the print mean something; understanding the language; and our knowledge. The more a person knows about life, the easier it will be to learn to read. One thing to keep in mind when working with older children; if the child is having trouble pronouncing a word, don’t have them try to sound it out, just tell them what it is and move on with the story. If the child worries too much about what certain words are they will forget about what they are reading, that in turn means they really are not reading, if they are not comprehending the story.
Also, if an older child is having trouble reading a particular book, it may be that it’s just too difficult for them. Suggesting nicely that maybe you could read some of it aloud to them might be a good idea. If the child is struggling with reading a book that is a bit out of their reading level, it very well might turn them off of reading forever. That is not what we want to happen!
Some simple things that parents can do to ensure their children become readers are to first and foremost, read to them. Second have books readily available around the house and take them to the library as often as possible. Make reading fun and make sure it’s done often. "Whatever happens in the world of school, continuing to read aloud to our children at home should solve most reading problems and will always be a lifeline to their happiness, their literacy, and their future." (Reading Magic, pg. 152).
Fox, Mem. Reading Magic. New York, San Diego, London: Harcourt, Inc., 2001.
Trelease, Jim. The Read-Aloud Handbook, Fourth Edition. New York: Penguin Groups, 1995.
Sullivan, Ed.D., Joanna. The Children’s Literature Lover’s Book of Lists. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004.
Butler, Shelley. Helping Young Listeners Become Successful Readers: Babies & Toddlers. 2003, Earlychildhood.com. 12 February 2005
Koralek, Derry. Reading Aloud With Children of All Ages. Reading is Fundamental, Inc. Reprinted with permission from www.rif.org. 12 February 2005.