Start As Early As Possible
Begin reading aloud to your child from birth, if possible! Seriously. There is ample evidence to show that this is beneficial for both the child and the caregiver. In fact, there is an entire movement geared towards making 15 minutes of daily read aloud the new parenting standard. Read Aloud 15 Minutes is a decade-long campaign that aims to reach out to 250 American families by the year 2022. The underlying philosophy of this movement is that reading aloud to a child from birth is the single most effective way to stimulate a child’s brain, promote early language acquisition and literacy skills. This will ensure that the child is school-ready by the time she/he begins formal schooling, which in turn ensures academic success within the formal education system.
Thirty Million Word Advantage
A landmark study conducted in 1968 by Betty Hart and Todd Risley calculated the number of words a cross-section of children heard in the first three years of their life. Some toddlers heard very little spoken language, while some heard more than twice that amount. The differences added up over days, weeks and years –the gap widening as time passed. Eventually, it added up to a difference of about 30 million by the time the children were three years old. Children who heard more spoken words were more ready to begin learning to read and more inclined to achieve academic success.
Parents who want to give their child this advantage need to add daily read aloud time to the child’s schedule. Children need to be familiar with books and must be read to; they have to listen to hundreds of stories before they are ready to begin reading independently.
Be a Fun Reader
Read aloud with animation and expression. Be interested in the story you are reading out for your child and enjoy your child’s reactions. Have fun modulating your voice to suit the characters –deep voice for the big, bad wolf and soft, gentle voice for Red Riding Hood! Create excitement and enthusiasm, even if it a favorite story that you are reading for the hundredth time. You can’t expect to evoke any interest in your child if you read the book as a matter of dull routine.
Reread the Favorites Regularly
There will always be the favorites which your child will insist on reading every night for weeks and sometimes, months in a row. Try and maintain the same pace and intonations for each reading and no matter how monotonous this may be, keep the excitement alive every day. When your child reaches out for the same book every day, don’t discourage her/him. Just pick another new story to follow and do read the favorite as many times as your child wants. Your child will learn as much by listening to a hundred books or by listening to the same book a hundred times.
Choose the Right Books
Young children enjoy books which are long enough to tell a coherent story but short enough to hold their attention. Choose the books according to your child’s age and attention span. Choose picture books according to the age of your child; the younger your child, the less the text on each page. The picture books should have pictures which are colorful, vibrant and add to the written material. Choose classics which are eternal childhood favorites. Pick stories that have rhyme and rhythm– these are always fun to read and even more fun to listen to. Use a singsong voice for rhymes and maintain a tune if the book has a rhythm. Use the same voice and tune for each reading since children enjoy familiar patterns when it comes to reading and storytelling. Look for the kind of books your child enjoys and try to get books on the similar lines.
Keep the Dialogue Going
With toddlers and older children, start a discussion centered on the book. Encourage your child to discuss and share her/his thoughts and opinions about the book or related topics. Well-written books are always good ways to bring up sensitive issues or imminent changes. For example, a book about babies could start discussion of the baby which is on the way and the changes that this could bring about at home. You could use this intimate time to reassure your child of your unchanged and unconditional love at all times.
You could point out the pictures or other details of the book to initiate the dialogue. Tell your child a related story or teach her/him a song that you know. Read Aloud time can be a good time for your child to hear lots of language and spoken words. Remember the more language that your child hears, the easier it will be for her/him to acquire other literacy skills at a later stage, like reading and writing.
Play Word games and Picture Games
Another great way to build upon read along time is to play games connected to the words and pictures in the book. If it a rhyming book, you can let your child finish the rhyme or if it has a tune, you can clap at regular intervals. Or you can pick out words that begin with a particular alphabet. Or you can play “I Spy” with the pictures on the pages. Encourage your child to be creative and make up games. Whatever you do, have fun and make sure that your child looks forward to these read along sessions.
Don’t teach, give your child the opportunity to learn
Keep the read aloud time fun and free. Don’t get stressed with trying to teach or educate your child. Trust in your child’s ability to learn if given the opportunity. All children are lean- mean- learning- machines and all they need is the right environment to soak up the learning. This is what makes exposure to books so important. Each time you read aloud to your child, you are giving her/him an opportunity to understand phonetics, learn new words and lay the foundation of future language skills including reading and writing.