Reading To Children

Many experts agree that reading to children is the single most important thing parents can do to help nurture successful readers.

Reading aloud to your child helps to:

  • Expand his vocabulary.

  • Stimulate his imagination.

  • Enhance his listening and observation skills.

  • Improve his problem-solving skills.

  • Heighten his curiosity.

By reading aloud to your child you also develop a pleasure of reading in your child from an early age and this helps create a strong emotional bond between you both.

Reading to children

To maximise the role reading to children can play in developing preschool literacy skills, you should focus on making the reading sessions interactive. Encourage your child to ask you questions and stimulate him with questions of your own.

Here are some ideas for making the most out of this time together.

Read Regularly and Enthusiastically

Set aside a special time each day to share a book with your child. You will both enjoy the emotional and physical closeness that accompanies book reading. If you can, try reading to children for around 30 minutes a day, although not necessarily in one sitting.

Read aloud with animation and enjoyment. The more expressively you read, the more your child will be enthralled. Use contrasting styles of speech to complement the words you are reading. Read some parts loud and some parts soft. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Sometimes high and sometimes low. And don’t forget the power of just pausing and saying nothing at all.

If you read in this way you will give the words a musical quality which children love to listen to. Don’t forget that you have a captive audience who is sure to ask for as many encores as you are willing to give! So give them a performance to remember. You can find more great advice on reading aloud expressively from Mem Fox, the Australian picture-book author.

No doubt you will be asked to read the same book again and again. Try to oblige, even though you might be pulling your hair out after the twentieth reading! In a child’s unpredictable world he appreciates having something under control – even if it is the text of a book. He enjoys knowing what comes next and filling in the blanks. Your child also learns better with repeated readings. Misunderstandings can be sorted out and the storyline and new words are reinforced. New words have to be heard multiple times until they become embedded in a child's memory.

Make Reading Sessions Interactive

Encourage your child to take an active role during story time. Active learning is more effective than just listening. While reading to children:

  • Initially ask your child to point at particular pictures or to name objects. When he has some language ask him to talk about how the characters feel or other questions to stimulate comprehension (see next section).

  • Give your child feedback. Praise him and then expand on what he said so he has a chance to hear what he said again correctly.

  • Always look for ways to go beyond (by just a little) what your child can do on his own. When he knows the name of an object on the page, ask what it does or ask him to point out the object parts.

Stimulate Comprehension

To help stimulate your child's understanding of the book encourage him to ask you questions and ask your child questions too.

  • Use open ended questions which can't be answered by a simple 'yes' or 'no'. For example, 'What does this remind you of'? Why do you think he did that?'.

  • Make connections between the book and your child's own experiences.

  • Ask your child to summarise what you've read and predict what happens next, or invent a new ending.

Find out more about different reading comprehension strategies you can use while reading to children to help bring more meaning to what they are listening to.

Develop A Sense of Story Structure

To understand stories - first by listening and later by reading - children need to develop a sense of story structure. Use wordless picture books to encourage your child to make up stories that go with the pictures. Also try the following when reading a new book for the first time.

  • First read the title and look at the book cover or first picture and ask your child to predict the book's contents.

  • While you are reading the book occasionally ask questions about what characters might be feeling, or why they did something, or what might happen next.

  • When you have finished the book discuss it. What predictions came true? What problem did the people in the book have to solve? What did they find out in the end? What does the title mean to you now?

Develop Print Awareness

In order to become good readers children must learn about the concepts of print and how books work.

  • Track words as you read them. This helps your child understand the concept of a word.

  • Illustrate how we read pages top to bottom, lines left to right and books front to back.

  • Discuss the parts of the book (front, back, beginning, end).

  • Ask your child to show you the front of the book, top of the page, where to begin reading etc.

  • Make it clear that the story is explained in the text rather than the picture and does not vary from one reading to another.

Point Out Letter-Sound Connections

In the English language the connections between letters and sounds are not always easy. But they must be learned to become a fluent reader. There are 26 letters in the alphabet but more than 40 meaningful sounds associated with these letters. While reading to children you can start to help them understand the relationship between letters and the sounds they represent.

  • Use alphabet books to point out each letter and the sounds that they commonly represent.

  • Ask the child to think of other words which start with the same sound but are not illustrated.

  • Point to letters in the text of a book and ask your child what the letter is and to tell you a word that begins with the sound that letter can represent. Any word beginning with the appropriate sound (but not necessarily spelled with that letter) should be considered a correct answer.

  • For more ideas about playing with sounds in words try these phonics games.

Expand Vocabulary

When you encounter a new word while reading aloud explain what it means. Connect the meaning to a word your child already knows. Try to use the new word in other circumstances later.

Encourage Matching Speech to Print

Encourage your child to join in on parts of a familiar book which they remember (particularly with rhyming books).

Pause at the end of a sentence to allow the child to finish it. Point at the memorised words as the child recites them, encouraging the child to start to recognise them.

Listen to Audiobooks

Listening to a professional actor reading to children can make a nice change from listening to Mum or Dad, and actors are usually much better at mimicking different characters (certainly in the case of this Mum, anyway). Supplement your own read-aloud time with your children with sessions listening to audiobooks, particularly for situations when you are unable to read, for example while driving or making supper.

Read Aloud to Older Children Too

As your child's attention span increases you can start to read them longer and longer books. When you think they are ready, perhaps at around 5-years-old, try reading them chapter books or short novels. Here are some of my family's favourite read-aloud chapter books for reading to children of younger years.

Even when your child is a confident reader themselves, continue reading aloud to them for as long as they will let you! Children continue to benefit from listening to others read for a long time after they themselves have learned to read. Until the age of 13 or 14-years-old children listen on a higher level than they can read. So when you read aloud to children below this age you can read stories with more complex vocabulary and storylines than they would be able to read on their own.

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