Our nation is being plagued by an epidemic of non-readers. Even though we have a rise in social media posts and movies, there is still a decline in students’ ability to comprehend advanced vocabulary and excel in future academia. In The Read Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease states that 74% of college students that attend a community college never graduate and 43% of four-year college students never graduate because of the void that would have been filled through early reading. Who knew that reading to children before they learn to speak could affect their college performance later on. But why does reading aloud to children have such an impact on our students as they grow and mature? There are many different ways that reading aloud impacts students that go beyond phonics.
First, the enthusiasm of the parent or teacher before, during and after reading aloud can influence the child’s love or hatred of reading. Second, reading a wide selection of books to your children can build their vocabulary and background knowledge for when they start reading on their own. Third, reading aloud to students helps create a reading role model. Lastly, reading aloud to children instils a desire and pleasure for reading books especially when the storyteller makes the characters of the story come alive. Children who enter into a vicarious experience with the story are more apt to follow the positive influence of the characters.
Young children learn many things through mimicking those around them. Before they learned how to crawl or even smile, they were copying those around them. In the same way, when reading to your students or children remember that they will mimic the attitude that you have when you begin to turn the pages of adventure. If you start reading to them with little enthusiasm and an attitude that says, “Ugh, I have to read this again,” then your listeners will become uninterested and bored. In order for you to instil a desire and pleasure of reading in your students you have to show your own desire and pleasure for reading.
There is never a bad time to start reading to your children. The earlier you start reading to them the better. According to Jim Trelease, when you start reading to them, pick books that have a rhyme to them and have black and white illustrations like Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. As your children grow older you can start reading books that have more vivid pictures like Dr. Seuss books and the Trusty Collection. As your children listen to you read and see the pictures, they will begin to find joy in reading and will try to mimic what you are doing either by making the same noises you were making or memorizing the story. As you read to your children remember to read with enthusiasm and not in monotone voice. As you read picture books to your children, ask them questions about the pictures, but do not force them to answer. If you ask them questions about the picture that help them think about what they are seeing, then they will think of reading time as an adventure or treasure hunt. Just remember that most of the questions you ask should make connections between what they are seeing in the book and what they see in real life.
Around the age of six you can start incorporating books that have few to no pictures so your children learn to listen and use their imagination without needing the pictures in a book. As they listen they use their background/prior knowledge to understand the story and create pictures in their head of what Charles looks like as he is sailing his boat in Little Miss Moth. A good story to start reading to your children is The Lost Ruby by Christoph von Schmid which incorporates short attention-capturing chapters. Another factor of reading aloud to your children is being consistent with the time that you read to them.
Children love consistency in every area of their lives. As they grow they rely on this consistency to provide a stable part of their everyday life in the midst of their changing bodies and school schedules. Even if you are just reading two pages at the same time every day, then you are not only providing consistency for your children, but also showing them how much you enjoy reading and that you want to spend time with them through the different adventures offered in these stories.
As you continue to read to your children you will see their eyes sparkle with anticipation as they wait to see if Sir Constance makes it to the City Royal in Sir Knight of the Splendid Way or will Teddy ever find his button in Teddy’s Button.