There is nothing that I am more passionate about in my work than the importance of reading aloud with young children at least 20 minutes each day. While I think this message has been fairly well communicated to parents and caregivers, recent research including my own, suggests that there are key qualitative changes adults can make to their read-aloud approach that positively and significantly bolsters children’s language and literacy skills that are eventually required for learning to read. In the following, I will explain the main change you can make in your approach to reading with young children that will better support their language and literacy development along with some ideas of what to say to both encourage and prompt your child to interact with you.
The number one qualitative difference that you can make to better support your child’s language and literacy development when reading together is to approach reading aloud to your child as an active, engaging time full of language, laughter, and conversation between you and your child. This is different than the quiet bedtime story routine that many of us are used to! This is not to say that quiet bedtime reading and snuggling are not important, but what I am talking about here is a different approach to reading aloud in which children become active participants in the storytelling, no matter their age or reading ability. I call this approach Interactive Shared Reading along with many others.
Interactively shared reading shifts focus from just reading the printed text to your child to inviting your child to participate in the storytelling with you by asking questions, making predictions, analyzing the book’s illustrations, talking about the books’ features and more. To try this reading approach with the children in your life, I suggest you begin by making the shift in your mind and actions from reading to your child to reading with your child.
To get started, ask your child to explore the cover with you before opening the book at all- you’ll be amazed at what your children can tell and how interesting the cover of the book can truly be! Below are some ideas of important concepts you should discuss that are found on the cover:
Title: Can you show me where the title of our book is? The title is right here, at the top. There are 4 words in the title of our book- count with me! What does the title tell us? That’s right, the title tells us what our story is about.
Author and illustrator: Here is the name of the author. What does the author do? The author writes the words in our story! I will read the author’s name to you.
Illustrations: Wow, there sure are some very colorful illustrations on the cover of our book. Illustrations are the pictures and they sometimes give us clues about what will happen in our book or who we will meet. Let’s look at the illustrations together. What do you see?
What I really like about this interactive approach to reading with children is that it can be tailored to meet the needs of individual children of varying ages by the people who know their children best- their parents! For example, a very young reader – age 2 or so- may point to any words found on the cover when asked to find the title- or none at all- while an emerging reader of 5 or 6 years would likely find the title and be able to identify a certain letter or sight word within the title when asked. Still, others at that age may be able to read the title themselves!
Learning to read is a developmental process that draws on several language and literacy skills that children learn and develop over many years. Children of the same age will vary significantly in their knowledge, abilities, and competencies. By tailoring your read aloud sessions with your child to their needs you are supporting their image of themselves as a reader which is important and powerful. Aim to spend at least 20 minutes a day reading with your child from birth on- the positive impacts cannot be overstated and are well documented!
Erin Schryer lives in Quispamsis, New Brunswick with her husband Sean and two children, ages 8 weeks and 4. Erin obtained her PhD from UNB’s faculty of Education in 2014. She is the Executive Director of the provincial nonprofit organization Elementary Literacy Inc. and is an Honorary Research Associate at UNB. Erin is a passionate educator, writer and presenter who believes that parents are children’s first and most influential teachers and that we must empower them with the information they need to fulfill this role the best they can. Erin shares her knowledge and insights around the latest child development and learning research on her Facebook page @drerinschryer, you can also find her on Twitter @erinschryer.