Reading aloud at home is a great learning activity that will help keep your child learning and be a critical thinker!
When I first taught kindergarten, I read aloud The Very Hungry Caterpillar every day for two weeks: It was my first time teaching. . The kids in my class loved it and we spent hours discussing caterpillars, eating habits, stories about bugs, and discovering information about the author, Eric Carle. Luckily for me, the third-grade teacher down the hall, probably tired of hearing me read the book aloud again and again, offered a wonderful list of books to read aloud. The list included fiction and nonfiction. To this day, I’m grateful (as I’m sure my students were, too!) to this teacher. Over time, I’ve learned from first-hand experience how important a read-aloud is.
Research supports the importance of read-alouds for developing fluency, background knowledge, and language acquisition. In order for kids to succeed in reading, they need to master those skills. What are those skills? Fluency is the ability to read texts; and continually expanding the amount kids are capable of reading—think of this as moving from picture books to the Harry Potter series. Background knowledge is what students already know and can apply to their reading. And language acquisition is building vocabulary and understanding how language works.
Fluent readers make connections in their reading; they relate their past reading to their current and future reading and this helps them make predictions about their reading. Good readers take what they know and apply it to their reading.
And the more kids read and participate in read-alouds, the more language they acquire. Fluent readers are aware that readers do three critical things with language: make meaning, understand how language functions, and see the purpose or reason for language being used. In other words, fluent readers know and understand why an author is using certain terms and words and the meaning behind the author’s word choice. This means the reader can recognize certain types of writing. For example, when children hear the phrase “Once upon a time,” they recognize a fairy tale and have an idea what will happen in the story.
Reading aloud at home
That’s how read-alouds work in a classroom. So what can you do at home? As a parent, I’ve tried to replicate the read-aloud classroom experience at home. Here are some basic tips. (Also see Victory Productions’ list of at-home lessons that guardians and students can experiment with.)
With young children, the one of the best times to have a read-aloud is at bedtime. Everyone is comfortable and snuggled in bed. Distractions are gone and the focus can be on the book. We suggest choosing calm books, such as “Good Night Moon,” “The Little House,” or “Make Way for Ducklings.” However, a favorite of my daughters was “Where the Wild Things Are,” and while not calming they loved the story and the illustrations. They also loved horses, so “Black Beauty” was a requested favorite.
Here are some tips when choosing your read-aloud book:
- Choose a book your child can relate to and understand. For example, if your child is learning a new game, then a book where a child is doing the same thing is a good one.
- Books where the main character solves a problem can help children learn lessons. Folktales, such as “Stone Soup” and the “Bremen Town Musicians” are great for learning importance of sharing and getting along with others.
- Choose a book that gives you things to talk about. My grandson’s (who is six) current favorites are “The Little Blue Truck” and “The Story of Babar.” “The Little Blue Truck” has repetitive language and everyone helps get a truck out of the mud, including the little blue truck. He loves repeating the animal noises in the book and so he reads along! Because he is just beginning to read, we identify repeated words in the text. It’s like a discovery game and builds his reading skills.
- Don’t limit your read aloud to stories! Nonfiction books have great illustrations and photos and lots of facts, which kids love memorizing. My grandson loves reading aloud about bugs, sea creatures, dinosaurs, and plants. Plus, nonfiction books are great for discussions and learning more about new subjects. Here’s a list of Caldecott Award winners from GoodReads. These award-winning books have great story lines and beautiful illustrations which will lead to great book talks.
- Talk about what is happening as you read aloud. Use these questions: Who is in the story? What is happening? Point to the illustrations when you ask the questions. When you finish the story, ask your child to retell the story in his or her own words. Don’t worry about the details, just the “big picture.” Remember it’s not a test; it’s a talk about the book. You want the read aloud to be a good comforting experience and something your child looks forward to each time you have a read aloud. Eventually, your child will read aloud to you!
Often we stop reading aloud to our kids as soon as they can read for themselves. However, kids never outgrow the need for read-alouds. Research has proven that the same benefits occur when we use read-alouds beyond the primary years. Reading aloud with older kids confirms good reading habits, builds thinking skills, and creates opportunities for book talks.
Chapter books are great read-aloud material for older children. One of my favorite read-aloud books for older children is “Sarah, Plain and Tall” by Patricia Maclachlan. It is a simple, but beautiful story full of wonderful images. We spent many days discussing the book: the characters, the settings, and what happened. The discussions were simple and lasted about 20 minutes each time, but it prompted many rereadings of the book. It’s good to revisit books and see new interpretations. But remember to make these book talks fun and not like a test situation. This is where opinions and thoughts about books surface so there are no “correct” answers. That said, though, one good thing is to ask your children why they have that opinion. They can then revisit the book to show how they came to that conclusion or opinion. Simple but valuable. You’re teaching your child to think about their reading.
Later, we moved on to the “Little House on the Prairie” and “Harry Potter” series. We all took turns reading chapters aloud and talked about each chapter before the next read-aloud. We had great talks during meal times. You can start a similar discussion by asking a few questions:
- What is your favorite part?
- What do you think of the characters?
- What do you think will happen next?
Reading one book aloud can also lead to discussions about other books you have read with your children. Ask your children questions such as:
- Is this book like another book we have read?
- How are they alike?
- How are they different?
With your older children, think of a read-aloud as a book club. It’s a time for discussing why you like or don’t like a book and talking about how the author developed the book. And, of course, we watched movies based on books and then compared the movies to the books.
Encourage a love of reading
Read-alouds are a great way of instilling in children a love for books and the impulse to pass that love on. I often found my daughters reading aloud to their toys. They repeated my questions and mimicked the way I paused and ran my finger under the print, even though they couldn’t really read. I also found them napping with a book on their tummies just as I did on the weekend afternoons!
To help your children value reading, it’s important that they see you engaged in reading, whether it’s online, or in a book, magazine, or newspaper. It’s important to show how reading, and thinking about what you are reading (or watching), is an important part of everyday life.
Read-alouds are a great way to connect with your child, so enjoy them and have fun. And if you’re too tired for a read-aloud after a busy day, there’s nothing wrong with having a “watch-aloud” of a favorite show or movie with your child. Just be sure to talk about it when it’s over to keep your child thinking!
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia Maclachlan
A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis
The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Willa Cather, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neal Hurston
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