Monday, February 22, 2016

The Case for Reading Aloud to Kids – Of All Ages

Most of us know by now that reading aloud to young children is critical. Listening to stories helps children build familiarity with the way books work, increases receptive language and critical thinking skills, and establishes positive feelings about reading. But Rebecca Bellingham, an instructor in the Literacy Specialist Program at Columbia University’s Teachers College, believes that reading aloud shouldn’t stop once children are able to read for themselves.

In a recent TED Talk, Bellingham explains that adults are simply more proficient at reading than children. This means that grown-ups can demonstrate the kind of prosody that good readers use: emphasizing certain words, slowing down during important parts and speeding up during suspenseful parts, and pausing to wonder in appropriate places. A truly skilled reader will ask questions of the text, too, which is something easily demonstrated by an adult reader. Modeling all of these good practices gives the young people listening implicit instruction about what they should be doing in their own minds as they work through a text. 

Bellingham advocates reading aloud at home for other reasons, too. Both kids and adults may spend time within the same four walls, but she worries that, more and more, individuals are interacting with their own screens and not each other. Parents who read to children can use the book as conduit for connecting with their kids. Simply sharing the journey of a good story can be a bonding experience, and books can spark important and interesting family conversations.

Here are some recommendations for reading to young people, especially at home:
  • Allow your audience to have a say in the books you choose. Remember that chapter books are excellent read-aloud candidates; even though reading aloud is appropriate for all ages, it will be difficult to get a twelve-year-old excited about listening to The Cat in the Hat. 
  • If possible, preview the text ahead of time. A quick skim will help you plan how you might want to use your voice to make the story come alive.
  • Ask what happened during last night’s reading before you begin a new section. Reviewing text that’s already been read is a great habit for any reader of any kind of text.
  • Model the way the story affects you. Pause after the author says something profound to show that it was worth thinking about. Allow joy or sadness to creep into your voice in appropriate places. Make comments and ask unobtrusive questions aloud (e.g. “I wonder why she did that;” “Who is this guy?”) but then keep right on reading. We don’t’ recommend asking your kids to answer comprehension questions about reading at home; the primary goal of leisure reading is to be pleasurable, and you don’t want anyone to be put on the spot and start to shut down. They’ll get plenty of comprehension questions in school. 
  • Many children won’t want to sit still while listening, and that’s OK. Drawing or coloring or building with Legos can be a great way to keep kids' hands occupied while their minds are focused on the story. We know one family in which the children used evening storytime to pair clean socks that had just come from the dryer while their mother read to them!

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