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Reading aloud with your child is one of the best ways to nurture future reading and school success. Yet reading aloud shouldn’t stop when your child enters that kindergarten classroom.
Nobody is too old to enjoy hearing a story read aloud. One of my favorite authors, Jane Austen, regularly describes her adult characters reading to each other as a kind of entertainment. Hearing a tale allows you to absorb the rhythms and meaning of words in a new way. Through listening, your child will learn new vocabulary and absorb complex ideas.
Try to build reading into your routine. Ideally, you want to read aloud to your children each day. Given the hectic nature of our lives, it’s best to have at least one occasion, like bedtime, when reading aloud reliably happens.
Here are some ways to talk about the book as you read:
Notice the conventions of a book. As you read, point out the title, author and illustrator. Look at the dedication page as well. My daughter loved discovering that Ian Falconer dedicated his popular Olivia books to his kids, who shared their names with his characters. Books are read from first page to last, from left to right. Often, pages are numbered. And depending upon the genre, many stories may begin with “Once upon a time” and close with “The End.” When a book does something different, like talk to the reader, as with There’s a Monster at the End of This Book (Jon Stone; Golden Books), then that’s worth noticing too.
Study the pictures. With younger children, point to pictures and label characters and objects together. Talk about how the pictures connect (and sometimes disconnect) from the words. David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs (Clarion Books) is a wonderful book where the pictures and words work to tell the story in different ways. Make predictions based on the pictures. Use no-word books like Istvan Banyai’s Zoom (Puffin) and Barbara Lehman’s The Red Book (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children) to push your talk further.
Make connections. Good readers link what they’re reading to their own lives, to other books and to the greater world. You can help your child do this too. Link the topic to his life. For example, if the book is about gardening, talk about your own garden. Or ask your child how he would feel if the events in the book happened to him. Sometimes, other books by the same author may connect. My daughter and I were thrilled when we discovered that one of the scenes in Peggy Rathmann’s Good Night, Gorilla (G.B. Putnam’s) appeared in the background of her 10 Minutes till Bedtime (Puffin). Finally, help your child connect the concepts to the greater world. Say, “What are some reasons why Sam would be a good friend?”
Invite kids to listen together. While sometimes you’ll be able to read to kids individually, sometimes you may need to read the same story to all of your children. It’s possible that one book can appeal to a variety of ages. I use picture books with my high schoolers as a way to teach sophisticated lessons about theme or literary elements. One year, I taught Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie, to fifth-grade students while my mother taught it to her college students. Let each child take turns choosing the book.
Think out loud. Good teachers do this to show what good readers do naturally. Good readers predict, connect and question. As you read, you might say things like, “This makes me think of the time that I went to Florida,” or “I wonder whether we’ll see that bunny again.” Chances are you do this kind of thinking naturally as you read. Now, you’ll just say it out loud.
Have fun. Cuddle, laugh and use playful voices while reading aloud. Enjoy the sounds of the words as they roll off your tongue. Since you’ll read the same book aloud several times, you can vary how much you talk. Sometimes, you may want to read the words just as they are, while sometimes you might want to have a long conversation about one part.
Don’t use all of these strategies at once. Just tackle a few at a time and reading aloud will become one of your family’s favorite activities.
Emma Kress, a teacher at Cicero-North Syracuse High School, has held a variety of educational posts at levels from pre-K to 12th grade. Send comments about this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.