The Art & Science of Reading Aloud to Children

The Art & Science of Reading Aloud to Children

Papa Green Bean’s above-linked blog post is the best compilation of the benefits of reading to infants and toddlers that I have seen in a long while.  As an early childhood development advocate, Papa Green Bean obviously knows that the terribly bland advice so often given to parents to “Read to your child daily” is not enough to build pre-literacy and school readiness skills.  He takes the time to list such less-often discussed benefits as “reading is equally important to building trustful and close relationships,” that “the intimacy of sharing books strengthens the emotional bonds between a parent and child,” and that, by three years old, a child “has acquired all the complexities of a language — the structure of grammar, sentences, and inflections (and that all that is left is to enlarge, enhance and refine).”  He also includes an encouraging video from Sixty Second Parent about the importance of reading to a child as a way to build oral communication skills for speaking and listening.  

What I really like about Papa Green’s post is that he takes the time to list “how” to read a book to a child, which goes back to my point of disliking the “terribly bland” advice given to parents to pick up a certain number of books each day to read to a child.  Reading two or three, or however many, books to a child every day is not like establishing other habits like brushing your teeth or making your bed every day.  It’s not just something someone does and then checks off the mental or paper to-do list.  Reading to a child must be done in a certain manner in order to build the language, social, emotional and sensory skills a child will need to be ready for school.  It cannot be overstated to parents and caregivers that simply reading a book, without pairing it with rich oral language, social-emotional, and sensory experiences, will not prepare a child for school.  Papa Green Bean lists the following excellent ideas for HOW to read to a child for future success in school and life:

  • It is up to the reader to bring the story to life
  • What’s important is the love of words, the cadence of  parents’ speech, the enthusiasm conveyed
  • Read with expression, breathe life into the simplest of stories, weave emotion in and out of the printed words 
  • Exaggerate tones – whisper – use accents – vary the pace (even pause for silence sometimes)
  • Let your voice take on the quality of the word (especially verbs) – “the sssnake sssslides ssssloooooowlyyyyyy through the grrrassss….”

(There are so many I would add to this list, but I will save that for a later blog post on Baby and Toddler Land.)

I leave us all with a quote that Papa Green Bean gives us from Mem Fox, bestselling children’s author and internationally respected literacy expert, which emphasizes the “why” of reading to infants and toddlers:

The connections in a child’s brain that will determine how creative, imaginative and clever the child will become, have mostly (80 – 90%) been “wired” by the time a child is three years old. The greater the number of words children hear before age three, the higher their IQ and the better they do in school.”

So many of us already know it.  I know it.  Mem Fox knows it.  Papa Green Bean knows it.  Hart and Risley knew it following their landmark study in 1995.  Organizations like ZERO TO THREE and Save the Children know it.  Even some government officials and government-sponsored programs, such as Early Head Start, know some of what it takes to get children ready for school by the age of 3.  Now, it’s a matter of putting the knowledge we all have into action to best serve our earliest learners.

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