Read-alouds: How 20 Minutes Everyday Can Change Your Child’s Life Forever
What were the defining moments of your childhood? Think back, and sift through your memories. I’m betting that some memories still feel fresh, and are so powerful that they have been inscribed in your mind forever.
As a language and literacy curriculum designer, it’s no surprise that some of my most meaningful memories centre around books. Reading in the library long after everyone else had left. Snuggling under the blanket late at night, reading the latest Harry Potter novel breathlessly. Most of the times, these were the moments when I burst open full of feeling – and they influenced me so profoundly that I remember them years and years later.
Those experiences set me up for who I am today, and I’m not alone. Children’s experiences in the first few years of their life irreversibly affect how their brains develop – for better or for worse. Time and again, research has shown us that children who have access to books, immersive language experiences, and thoughtful teachers grow up to be capable leaders.
Every few days, you might see a lifestyle article like, “The Top Ten Books that Shaped Bill Gates’s Life”, or “What Obama is Reading this Summer”. That’s no accident, we know that great leaders are great readers and writers, and that their ability to solve big problems directly comes directly from their ability to be critical readers.
Therefore, here at Toddler’s Den we work everyday to build a comprehensive language and literacy program for all children. One of the most important building blocks of this program is the read-aloud. Let’s start with a few basics of a read-aloud.
Why is it so important?
A read-aloud is when a trusted adult reads a book out loud to a group of children. Before children can read, they need to be immersed in its world – a world where magic exists, where characters make important choices, and where they can learn about animals and plants and solar systems far bigger than they can imagine. Word by word, children experience how and why one reads. And read-alouds help build knowledge and key skills such as:
- Recognising letters and sounds that will eventually lead them to reading words and sentences
- A large vocabulary
- Organising and sequencing their ideas logically
- Comprehension and critical thinking by thinking meaningfully about a text
For reading beginners, read-alouds are often one of their first big experiences that develop these skills. And so it is imperative to read aloud to children several times a day.
How to go on about it?
There is no one right way to read-aloud. But generally speaking, here are a few practices most educators tend to agree on (for children aged 3 years and onwards) :
- Choose interesting stories: A good story has a clear setting in which the story takes place, a problem that children can identify with, and a clear set of actions that a character takes to resolve the problem. Generally, the language is rhythmic, repetitive, and playful. Books like the ‘Three Billy Goats Gruff’, ‘Where The Wild Things Are’, and ‘The Why-Why Girl’ are great examples of this kind of writing.
- Plan the read-aloud: Just like any other good educational experience, reading aloud is an intentional process. A small checklist:
- Introduce the book by talking about the title, author, and type of book it is before the reading.
- Read with fluency and expression.
- Stop to teach important vocabulary words as you read.
- Ask questions such as, “What do you think is happening now?”, or “How have things changed?” during the reading that invite children’s comments and questions.
- After the reading, ask an open-ended “what”, “why” or “how” question that encourages critical thinking. Questions such as, “Why did the character act that way?”, “What lesson did the character learn?”, or, “How did the character solve the problem” are good building blocks to encourage comprehension.
- Extend the read-aloud: A read-aloud doesn’t end after you close the book. The same book can be read multiple times, because each time children listen, they will learn how to think critically about the same story. If they understand that Goldilocks was wrong to trespass when they hear the story for the first time, they might understand that Goldilocks should apologise to the bears to solve her problem the third time they read the book. Art engagements, puzzles, and games based on the story are also great ways to extend children’s comprehension.
At its core, a read-aloud is a vehicle for children to understand the world. Children who read become children who dream, execute, and achieve; just like the characters in their favourite stories. What could matter more?