Lesson 1: The Importance of Reading Aloud
For many parents, watching a child transition from being a non-reader to one who can read independently is one of the milestones and miracles of life. Experts in the field have shown us that reading aloud is a scientifically proven method to increase student success in reading.
The simplest way to put this entire course in one sentence:
Parents/caregivers who read to their child and provide a literacy rich environment from birth will ensure that by the time their child reaches 3rd grade, they will be proficiently reading any text given to them in school.
Remember 3rd grade is when the focus shifts from “learning how to read” and start “reading to learn”. If the foundation has not been built by then, it becomes very difficult (although not impossible) to keep up.
Let’s give you further statistics, not to scare you, but to illustrate just how CRUCIAL it is to read and understand the connection between reading and all facets of a child’s life. If you read for 30 minutes every day to your child from birth to age 5, it totals 54,750 minutes (over 900 hours). If you read to your child once a week for 30 minutes, that number is 7,800. Now let’s translate that into results when a child does not read or does not read enough. (These results are based on American research studies).
- 1 in 4 children will grow up without being able to read.
- 50% of adults cannot read an 8th grade level book.
- 33% of adults will not read a book after high school graduation.
- 46% of adults cannot read the labels on their prescriptions.
Most people do not associate medical care costs with reading. Low literacy costs the healthcare industry 70 million dollars per year because people with limited literacy skills are far less likely to use services for preventive health care which results in much larger complications and hospitalizations.
Two-thirds of children who do not learn to read proficiently by 4th grade will end up in jail or welfare.
It is staggering to think that their future may be set by the time they are 10 years old. On the positive side, every year you spend 20-30 minutes a day reading with your child, you increase their lifetime earnings potential by $50,000 each year.
So if you begin reading aloud from birth until 5 years old, you are essentially giving them a $250,000 gift. Remind them of this gift regularly when they are 25 years old! :)
Key findings from a surveyed group of parents with children ages 0–17 shines a light on reading aloud at home. The research found:
- More than half of children ages 0–5 (54%) are read aloud to at home 5–7 days a week. This declines to only one in three kids ages 6–8 (34%) and to one in six kids ages 9–11 (17%).
- 4 out of 10 children ages 6–11 no longer read books aloud at home and (40%) say they wished their parents had continued reading aloud to them.
- Nearly three-quarters of parents with children ages 0–5 (73%) say they started reading aloud to their child before age one, but only 30% say they began before the age of three months.
- 6 out of 1o parents with children ages 0–5 (60%) have received advice that children should be read aloud to from birth; however, just under half of parents in the lowest-income households (47%) received this advice, versus 74% in the highest-income households.
- 70 % want books that make them laugh
- 54% want books that let them use their imagination
- 48% want books that tell a made-up story
- 43% want inspirational characters that teach a child to be strong, brave, or smart
- 43% want books that teach them something new
- 41% want books where there is a mystery to solve
- 73% of children say they would read more if they could find BOOKS THEY LOVE
Scholastic Corporation does a bi-annual national survey of children ages 6–17, and their parents exploring their attitudes and behaviors around reading books for fun.
Scholastic Corporation also found that three powerful predictors that children will be frequent readers:
- the child’s reading enjoyment
- parents who are frequent readers
- the child’s belief that reading for fun is important
The Reach Out and Read organization has outlined 5 reasons for reading aloud that are backed by science and research.
- Reading aloud is widely recognized as the single most important activity leading to language development. “Among other things, reading aloud builds word-sound awareness in children, a potent predictor of reading success.”
- "Children who fall seriously behind in the growth of critical early reading skills have fewer opportunities to practice reading. Evidence suggests that these lost practice opportunities make it extremely difficult for children who remain poor readers during the first three years of elementary school to ever acquire average levels of reading fluency." (Torgeson, J., Avoiding the Devastating Downward Spiral, American Educator)
- Reading aloud to young children is not only one of the best activities to stimulate language and cognitive skills; it also builds motivation, curiosity, and memory. (Bardige, B., Talk to Me, Baby!)
- Reading aloud stimulates language development even before a child can talk. (Bardige, B.,Talk to Me, Baby!)
- Research shows that the more words parents use when speaking to an 8-month-old infant, the greater the size of their child's vocabulary at age 3. The landmark Hart-Risley study on language development documented that children from low-income families hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers before the age of 4. (Hart, B. Risley, T. Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children)
With all of this research in mind; Rhymers are readers. Experts in child development and literacy have discovered that if your child knows 8 nursery rhymes by the time they are four years old; most of the time, they will be amongst the top readers by the time they are eight years old.
Self- Esteem and Confidence from Reading with a Parent/Caregiver
Adults regularly ask me about strategies for instilling confidence in their young children and an extremely effective way to have a deeper connection and bond with parents or adult figures is to read aloud together.
Having a child on your lap will undoubtedly increase the basic speech skills including pronunciation and enunciation.
It will also greatly aid in communicating needs without frustration as their vocabulary grows. Most importantly, the emotional security that comes from sitting on your lap and given your undivided attention is priceless. Parents and caregivers can build strong minds and strong relationships with children simply through reading.
American Academy of Pediatrics has finally weighed in after so many years about how the mental health of children in regards to reading. They note the critical factor as to how a student will learn to read “is not how aggressively,” the child is given instruction, but rather their “own enthusiasm for learning.”
They also state that many early learning programs “interfere with the child’s natural enthusiasm” by imposing on children to “concentrate on tasks” when they aren’t ready.
They are not recommending that you keep your child out of formal schooling early, but to be cognizant of how your child handles learning and to keep them enthusiastic.
I know many adults that use reading aloud to bond with children, but it is important to know what your child’s limits are. Reading the chosen book in its entirety is not in itself successful if your child is done half way through and you force the rest.
The enjoyment in a book could only be a few pages, and you as the expert of your particular child know when they have reached their limit of “enthusiasm”. The same goes when you introduce skills such as letter recognition, writing and drawing, and phonemic awareness (hear and identify letter sounds).
Sometimes you take what you can get, even if it is only 5 minutes. Do not compare yourself or your child when you see others able to read in longer durations. In the parenting war, you should not feel guilty if you are consistently doing your best when it comes to reading.
Parenting these days seems to be a constant feedback loop where we search the Internet or ask friends/family for feedback or confirmation on each decision you make. But no matter how “great” your child is doing, there will always be a child ahead of them, as well as behind them.
Do not be sucked into passing judgment or envying the higher spectrum. Start small and work your way up, but actually starting is key. It is best to read to your child early and often, but it is never too late to begin.
Men Need to Be Involved in Reading Aloud
Another issue that needs to be raised is the role men play in children learning to read. I am going to list a few statistics about a father’s role in reading aloud, but for a same sex family or single mother home, fill in the word “father” below to uncle, male teacher, grandfather, or family friend.
The goal is to have kids hear books from both genders. Women are far more apt to see the benefits of reading with children as an important bonding experience.
In a poll by Book Trust, only 19% of fathers read with their children. In their study by Harvard University, they found “Reading is seen as a female activity and kids seem to be more tuned in when their dad reads to them – it’s special.”
Harvard research concluded that when mothers read, they often focus on characters’ feelings. Dads more often will link the narrative to something more pertinent to the child.
The Fatherhood Institute also found that children whose dads and male caregivers read to them regularly displayed better behavior, concentration, and performed better in math.
Women reading this; your challenge today: you need to encourage and allow your child’s dad/male caregiver to read aloud to them at bedtime without you. Reading with fathers during meals, after school, and bath time are all wonderful.
However, bedtime is a key bonding time where you need to make yourself scarce. This doesn’t mean every night; start with 1-2 times a week. This may be difficult because you may think you are going to “miss out” or it is “your routine”.
Consider how advantageous it is going to be for your child to make a new routine. This includes allowing your child to have that special bonding time at bedtime solely with their dad every once in a while. I too have to resist the urge to go in and snuggle up while my husband reads with my daughter.
On the other hand, I have watched with my very own eyes as the benefits pay off in ways I could not have imagined. After a little practice, I happily let them read together anytime while I snuggle up with my own book.
Mothers and caregivers, find men to read to your child and watch their behavior, verbal, and academic skills improve tremendously.
How to Read Aloud
Our words have the power to inspire, encourage, and motivate our children just like they do our colleagues and friends. As I am currently downloading my experiences in teaching and parenting on paper, I find myself humbled at the power of words.
I love curling up with my daughter and a good picture book, but how do I turn reading into magic?
Stephen King and J.K. Rowling and so many other popular authors have quotes about how books are magical. They can transport us into another reality. We can travel to another country or continent through books.
But how do you make the actual experience of reading magical? How do you cultivate your child’s curiosity and have them beg for more books?
Now that we know reading aloud works, the goal for your child is to read/listen to 1,000 books before Kindergarten. If you want your child to excel in Kindergarten, the number should be 5,000 books.
That number of 1,000 means a LOT of time will be spent in the next few years reading books. I want to make sure you know how to make the most of the time together with your child.
This next section will address the most important strategies during your read aloud time together.
Pre- Read Books and Set the Scene
Know that I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to NOT reading the book beforehand. In my classroom, I read 3-6 books aloud per day.
Because of the statistics, I always assume the kids will not read anything out of school, so if they don’t, they get their 30 minutes a day from me at school. I tell parents all the time that if they read to their child at home, they make the job of a teacher/caregiver that much easier.
At home with my daughter, I read anywhere from 3-30 books per day depending on the length. I ask myself and others, how can you possibly read every book before you read it aloud? Especially into the older grades?
I think it goes without saying that sometimes it just is not going to happen because of a multitude of factors. You should feel no shame in that game. However, if you are one that NEVER or RARELY pre-reads a book, you are missing a piece of reading magic you can easily grab onto.
When you pre-read a book, you can set the scene to allow students to step into the book and listen as if they were transported into the story. The scene you set will get your students in the mood for funny, mysterious, rhyming, gross, silly, thought-provoking, etc.
As you build suspense, you will have children begging you to finally open the book. I have read so many books and thought afterwards, wow, if only I had read this, I could have done _______. (Fill in that blank with 100 different things).
Now there is something to be said for open-ended questions after reading aloud and having children make those connections. They will come up with connections to other stories, other events, news, etc. Nevertheless, being armed and prepared with connection questions should never be underestimated.
One of the best strategies and the HARDEST things to do while reading aloud is called "wait time". I joke with my fellow elementary school teachers that "wait time" could also be called "patience building time".
Even as trained professionals, it is SO HARD to not fill the silence when you are reading to a child or they are reading to you. It seems painful and awkward, but starting when your child is only 1-year old, you need to wait 5-8 seconds for your child to respond to your question.
I remember counting to 8 in my head with my 1st grade classroom (before I had my own child) and it was so painful for me to allow 8 SECONDS of silence that I would often forget what I asked them when someone finally raised their hand to answer.
Their little sponge like brains are absorbing so much of the content on the page; the texture, the colors, the pictures, the letters, the sizes, etc. They need adequate time for their brain to focus in on what you are saying as well as formulate a response.
I say this because even most formal educators have an average wait time of 2-3 seconds in lower elementary classrooms. This should tell you just how DIFFICULT it is to do. However, what we as adults see as awkward silence, the child sees it as respect for their developing thinking and speaking skills.
Know that you are in good company if you try this strategy and it is a struggle at the beginning. Keep up the effort and explicit practice and it will get easier over time.
Facial Expressions, Hand Gestures, and Sound Effects
Between ages 0-5 is the most important time to develop a child’s attention span and stamina for reading. If you are teaching multiple languages, remember that a read aloud should be translated (or use bilingual books) so a child is hearing the word in each language. I promise this will not be confusing for a growing multi-lingual child.
The art of reading aloud is in over-expression. The more animated you are, the more you keep their attention. The over-exaggeration may seem awkward, but for children, it is deepening their understanding with every facial expression, movement, and noise.
You are the artist, so paint a vivid and memorable picture with language. When you have read that same book 100 times, change your voice. When reading to children with language delays, using expression and voices is especially effective.
With my daughter, my underwater voice was always a hit.
A few other popular voices are:
Zoo voice (choose your favorite animal)
Volcano voice (get louder as you read each word)
Mouse voice (squeak as you read)
Pirate voice (adding lots of “arrrrrgh” and “matey” between words, sentences, and questions)
Using prosody (a sing-song voice) on pages with rhyming words will help your child start to recognize patterns and rhymes. Using sign language or gestures to connect a kinesthetic movement to vocabulary is also very important for cementing long-term memorization of the vocabulary words.
You can also label the words on index cards and have your child scribble/draw pictures when you finish the book. For example, around 18 months when a baby starts noticing environmental print, you can pick out words to label household objects.
I did this in my classroom for all my English language learners as well. For example, I labeled words such as chair, door, carpet, library and had my students draw a picture of the word.
I also had a “word wall” with our vocabulary from our units. For instance, if we were studying community helpers, the kids copied the word “teacher” and drew a picture of a teacher, etc. I put the child’s card on the wall, and this way, I can point to the word as we had discussions in class to help connect the letters to the word.
Starting at around 18 months, a child’s brain can start to connect letters to verbal speech. When they begin writing, it starts as a disconnected string of scribbles or shapes, then a string of letters, then eventually into single words.
When you start labeling and making word/picture cards for young children, they will start writing much earlier. Again, it is very important these flashcards are not for drilling a child, but for passively encouraging the oral to written connection through environmental print. More on environmental print and how the brain develops writing skills will be in a later lesson.
If you think that you don’t have what it takes to engage a child or a group of students for an entire book, you absolutely do. I repeat myself here, but you must PRACTICE. Any adult is capable of mesmerizing a child with a quality book and the right strategies.
Role Play and Props
A great example of using role play and props while reading aloud is Neil Griffiths at the Early Learning Centre. When he is reading aloud to ages 4 and up, he has them all eating out of the palm of his hand.
Like in my own classroom, we get dressed up to start a new theme or introduce new books. Puppets, stuffed animals, and props are a STAPLE in an elementary classroom (and should be a home as well).
Most teachers and parents can agree that having props or dressing up will engage kids. Ask any dad in the world if they have dressed up as a ninja or a ballerina, and they will probably answer with a resounding yes. The same goes for the classroom.
However, I want to point out a tool that may or may not be in your class or your home. Using a pointer for vocabulary words is both fun for kids and helpful for searching for words and repetition. What is modeled in class is what children will do at home.
Kids WILL copy what they see you do when it is their turn to read aloud to other kids or parents.
For example, in my 2nd grade classroom, when the kid’s role played “teacher”, the first object they all grabbed was my pointer stick. I tried this at home with my 4-year-old daughter and bought her a pointer.
It is now a running joke with my husband and I because she uses it for EVERYTHING. We will be in the middle of eating and she will run to get her pointer to read the label on the juice.
She makes us role play with the map on the wall and answer her questions while pointing to different countries.
Fact: Kids LOVE pointer sticks because it “gives them all the power”. Do not skip this inexpensive and valuable tool!
This is a popular topic and I see teachers, librarians, and parents doing effectively all the time. How do you build suspense and see children actually physically lean in to hear the next page? The answer is to use the strategies I have already discussed above.
- Painting a picture through facial expressions and gestures will get children to eagerly await what happens next.
- Using engaging props, puppets, and role-play will engage your listeners to feel empathy for the characters.
- Wait time of 5-8 seconds builds suspense as they see the potential for the next few words to shock them or change the outcome they were expecting.
- Setting the scene through pre-reading could pique a child's curiosity through knowing something bad (or good) is about to happen to one of the beloved characters you have been reading about.
Questions to Ask while Reading Aloud
If you read with a child under three, the most common question to ask them while reading is “what’s that?” As you utilize proper wait time, you need to have an arsenal of questions to ask while reading that are more diverse than “what’s that?” to keep a child’s attention.
When you finish a book, the first question you will most likely ask is, “Did you like it? or “Was that a good book?”
These are all valid questions, but do not elicit more than one-word answers. At first, a baby will only be able to repeat your answers, so you want to make them count.
You are building the blocks of language by giving them more than one-word answer questions, even if you answer them yourself for the first year or so.
For example, as you read with children under 3 years old, if there is a red block in the book, point to the block and ask a question: “Do you like red blocks or green blocks better?”
Tell the child the answer for now: “I think you like the red block more than the green block because you like to play with red blocks in your room.” Eventually, a child will respond independently and you can celebrate!
Remember for older children (age 3-5), do not use the I-R-E Pattern that even many educators fall into. The IRE pattern is when the parent/caregiver initiates a question, the child responds, and the adult evaluates the response.
Research shows that this pattern used with children all the way through high school is not effective in growing comprehension. Conversations that are sustained by the child taking turns asking questions, speaking on the topic are far more successful.
Children are just like adults in that they need real conversations about books to fall in love with them, not just artificial or topical discussions.
Below, I have listed suggestions for reading aloud (you can convert the language to fit age-appropriate considerations for your specific child). Some of the questions, you as the adult may ask and answer for your child in order to model the answers before children are able to answer independently.
If any of these questions seem abnormal or too difficult at first, that is okay. Guide your child to be able to critically think of answers to these types of questions.
When your child goes to Kindergarten, these are the type of responses the teachers are looking during lessons as well as on assessments. You want to give your child as much exposure to them as possible. This way they can confidently take part in reading at school and enjoy the group or partner reading experience.
Parents/Caregivers who are not fluent readers
When I was teaching overseas, my classroom was conducted completely in English and there were many parents who themselves did not know any English and their 1st grade child from my class would be translating for them.
When I would have conferences with them, I would tell them that their mother tongue development was crucial in helping their child learn English.
The same is true for parents who do not claim to be fluent readers or are uncomfortable reading to their children. My advice to them is to orally tell stories from their lives and experiences, use their imaginations to make up stories, or use pictures and wordless books.
This course is not limited to English and neither are your children. Use these strategies to help your child learn your mother tongue, learn a new language, or increase their fluency in English.
Read Aloud Book Guide
Below is a list of over 500 books divided by age and type of book to get you started. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and you may see a few classics or popular titles left off.
This is a guide for you to begin, but the other 500 books to read before Kindergarten should be based on your child’s particular interests or experiences.
The goal is to give you a list of books that represents all sorts of families, cultures, disabilities, religions, and genders. Learn to read while reading the world!
Most important things to remember:
- Start slow; begin with books with only a few words on a page and work your way up to more text.
- Always read the author/illustrator no matter if you have read the book once or 100 times.
- Ask pre-reading questions, or with babies, preview the book before reading.
- Occasionally choose books that are over your child’s instructional level to challenge them.
- Don’t start reading before a child is calm. Take a few minutes of down time when transitioning from playing to reading. They need time to focus their minds and bodies.
- Create a positive mood and atmosphere.
- Sit in a chair or place that allows your child to easily see the book and the pictures.
- Practice, practice, practice. Most adults are not gifted storytellers naturally.
- SLOW down and give adequate wait time!
- Don’t choose a title that you won’t enjoy yourself.
- Don’t choose a book that you feel is not appropriate for your child intellectually, socially, or emotionally. All children mature at different paces.
- And you may laugh, but… Don’t fall asleep while reading to your child. :) Slap some water on your face or have a cup of coffee next to you, but stay the course!
- My personal pet peeve; Do not under any circumstance use reading a book as a consequence. Don’t threaten not to read for misbehavior. If a child needs a consequence for their actions, please find another strategy besides taking away reading. This will only set them up for a negative experience with reading which is the exact opposite of what you want or need for your budding reader.
- Don’t keep reading a book that was a poor choice or boring to your child. Admit the mistake and choose something else instead of insisting your child sit through it to the end. You can avoid this most times by pre-reading the book yourself.
My top 3 Reading Books for Parents:
Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina
My sister-in-law gave me this book, (she is an early elementary educator like myself) when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter. There are fancy programs and “reading shortcuts” advertised everywhere.
However, Medina’s book shows you scientific proof that the magic is in the fundamentals. In this book, we learn that your child’s brain is 80% developed by the time they are 2 years old. It is imperative that your child’s language development needs to begin at birth through reading, singing, speaking, and listening.
Medina also lays out clear evidence in his “rules for baby” on topics such as screen time, sharing household responsibilities equally with your partner, sleep training etc.
The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
I was first introduced to this book in my Teacher Education undergrad courses and I have worn out many copies of his book since then. He is the KING of read-alouds for decades now.
In The Read- Aloud Handbook, he makes the case that reading aloud is the single best investment of parental time and energy. If Jim were to write a sequel to his book here in 2017, I think he would be even more sure of his stance.
As a young student, I wanted to go and teach in countries around the world that did not have the resources that I had while growing up. When my husband was growing up, books were the only way he could afford to travel.
Both he, and some of my students, learned about geography, religion, food, etc. from a book. In turn, this made them into more globally-minded, tolerant, and empathetic individuals.
“Children whose families take them to museums and zoos, who visit historic sites, who travel abroad, or who camp in remote areas accumulate huge chunks of background knowledge without even studying.
Besides reading aloud, one of the biggest takeaways from his book in my own parenting methods was his view on screen time. In his book, he explained how the country of Finland has successfully used closed captioning and subtitles to promote literacy.
Finnish children do not begin formal reading instruction until they are seven years old, but they consistently score the highest in the world in standardized reading tests compared to other countries.
Finnish families are some of the highest users of closed captioning and it is attributed as the reason for their high literacy rates. In the book, Trelease explains the 30:1 ratio of visual receptors over auditory receptors in the brain.
Research shows that the chances of a word (or sentence) being retained in our memory bank are thirty times greater if we see it instead of just hear it. Trelease calls it the “sponge effect”.
I use this fabulous sponge effect to reinforce language learning with my kids. For example, to distract my daughter when I do her hair, she is given a quick lesson by watching a show in Spanish or French with English subtitles.
Another amazing reading guru (and fellow Trelease fan) is Mem Fox. I have read her book many times over again for it’s simple and engaging writing about the number one thing parents can do to help their children academically for the rest of their lives: reading.
She talks about how to connect with your children on an emotional level through books. Mem walks you through how to build self-confidence through your children finding book characters that look like them and have similar experiences.
Fox’s book champions giving children the power to be who they are and be unashamed of being different. In moments where my daughter came home from pre-school in tears because of a remark someone had made about her hair or her skin color,
I used the stories of other girls and women like her who have risen above and changed the world to comfort her.
“Books don't harm kids; they arm them.”
― Mem Fox
She weaves in the statistics of the benefits of reading in a way that will not give you a guilt trip, but inspire you to try these different strategies. She is a literacy expert, but her humble approach to teaching others about reading with children is very approachable.
No parent wants to read a book that is condescending or be given impossible standards. Fox’s book is the opposite. She has you thinking you are a superhero right from page one. Most importantly, she gives you advice for helping your children love to read instead of just tolerating books.
She promotes a healthy attitude towards books that stays with children for the rest of their lives.
“When I say to a parent, "read to a child", I don't want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate.” ― Mem Fox
I have read these brilliant authors over and over again. I give these books to each one of my friends when they have a child. These books have answered so many of my own questions and given me life-long tools to implement with my daughters.
They consistently challenge me that even when life is at its craziest, reading is our beacon of calm in the storm.
Further Recommended Reading:
Literacy and the Youngest Learner by V. Susan Bennett-Armistead, Nell K. Duke, and Annie M. Moses