Raising a Reader Part 2: The Magic of Read Aloud

June 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

From the lovely Emily at the Black Apple Shop

Dear friend,

This is such a fun post to share.  One of my favorite things in my kindergarten classroom was sitting in my rocking chair and reading aloud to my kids.  Although most often-and you will find out why as you read on-I was not sitting but engaging my kids in the book through my magic tricks.  I want to first tell you some of the amazing benefits from reading aloud to your children and then show you some magic tricks for really engaging them in that reading.  This information is from my experience and from an awesome conference I attended while in college that I took notes on.  Sadly I did not write who presented it so if you know let me know so I can thank her for all the students that have benefited from her insight.

“Reading aloud to children is the single most important activity one can do to raise a reader.”-US Department of Educations Commission on Reading


Why is reading aloud so important?

  • If done well will serve to connect reading and pleasure in the brain.
  • Teaches children the conventions of print.
  • Teaches children that print can be turned into sound that carries a story.
  • It also teaches that the message in a book is permanent.
  • And to expect that a story will make sense.
  • Enriches vocabulary.
  • Increases grammar and writing skills.
  • Improves problem solving and critical thinking skills.
  • Contributes to a wealth of background knowledge needed in all other educational subjects.
  • Improves attention span.
  • Creates empathy.
  • Improves the imagination.
  • Proven as the single most important activity for building understanding and gaining essential skills for reading success. {NAEYC}
  • And in some studies correlates with higher quality of life, longer lifespans, improved self esteem, lowers probability of imprisonment, and increases child’s probability of staying in school.
  • …and if that is not enough it is simply entertaining and F-U-N!


How can I make the most out of my read aloud time?

  1. Choose a magical book-I am not talking a book of spells but a book that you love, and that your kids can fall in love with too.  So a must is to familiarize yourself with the book-practice reading it using the following tips and remember what Mem Fox says,  “If we don’t gasp, howl, block our ears, sigh, vomit, giggle, curl our toes, empathize, sympathize, feel pain, weep or shiver during the reading of a picture book, then surely the writer has wasted our time, our money, and our precious trees.”
  2. Make it special-Have high expectations for children’s behavior but make it an environment in which the kids are comfortable to gasp, giggle, and sigh as the book lend itself.  Perhaps have a special place in your house for reading aloud or a special time or special signal to call your children to read aloud.
  3. Relish the words- pay attention to placement of words extra space, alliteration and by taking your time and loving the words you bring the words to life.
  4. More than a voice- Reading a story aloud is more than vocalizing the text.  Tell the story with your eyes, voice and even your big toe.  First tell it with your eyes {The story must be in the eyes as much as it is in the mouth-Mem Fox}  Make eye contact with your audience and know the story enough that you can look at the audience periodically.  Next with your voice {make good use of inflection, whispering, yelling, and never ever underestimate the power of a pause}, and last even enlist the use of that big toe meaning use in of your body language {move, jump, shiver, or sword fight as needed:)}.
  5. Encourage interaction-if the book contains a repeating phrase, pause once child has picked up the pattern and allow them to fill in the blank.  When appropriate ask questions to engage children in the story.
  6. Make the first line fantastic-draw them in and make sure to end with a bang!
  7. Add a third dimension- when at all possible have something tangible from the story to follow up the read aloud, Jim Trelease uses the example of having a bowl of blueberries to share when finishing Blueberries for Sal.
What books are good read-aloud books?
There is only two clear rules.  Find books you love and avoid an overabundance of dialogue-it gets tricky when reading aloud.  Some of my favorite authors and the favorites of my students are of course, Mem Fox, Mo Willems {Pigeon Books}, Judy Schachner {Skippy Jon Jones}, and many of the classics found on this list.  This list is the top 100 books every child should know.
But, one of my most favorite read alouds- one that would lead to my kindergarteners coming back as 1st graders to show me the book they checked out, or reading to me before school on the playgroud to tell me what happens in one of the books from the series we didn’t read-was during the second half of the year I would read a chapter from the The Magic Treehouse Series everyday until year end.  “No pictures with 5 year olds?!” you say-twenty six to be exact-and they loved every minute of it.  Most days I would be standing and acting out the action scenes as I read or slowing my speech as the egyptian ghost came down the hall of the tomb but they loved it.  So much in fact if I forgot I would get at least 5 hands reminding me we needed to find out what happened to Jack and Annie.
Fieldtrip to the Bookstore/ Library- One great way to find books your kids are sure to love is let them test them out first.  Let them pick out the books that look like fun and then spend some time reading to them-you will know instantly those that should be purchased or brought home, and those that should be left behind.  McGilly and I already are pro’s at this.
How often should I read aloud to my kids?
Simple Answer: As much as you can but at least 20 minutes a day.
“In education, there is a lot of theory, but the achievement and life-long benefits to 20 minutes of daily read-aloud are fact.” -Esme Raji Codell
Helpful hints to pack in more reading:
  • Store books in the pockets in the backs of the front seats of the car
  • Keep one in your bag for check out lines and waiting rooms
  • Definitely add some bath books to your bath time toys {One of McGilly’s favorites}
  • Keep track of reading using a chart or simply adding a circle or star with the books name to the back of your child’s bedroom door.  This is an idea I just heard from a friend {thanks jaime} this helps her and her kids to see how many books they have read.
  • Make it part of your routine.
There is so much more I could write but instead I will direct you to some of the most helpful of websites on reading aloud:
And last but not least just one more thought on the subject if I haven’t convinced you already on the importance of read aloud, this is from the America Reads website:
What difference can reading to a child for 30 minutes a day make?
If daily reading begins in infancy, by the time the child is 5 years old,
he or she has been fed roughly 900 hours of brain food!
Reduce that experience to just 30 minutes a week and the child’s hungry mind loses
770 hours of nursery rhymes, fairytales, and stories.
A kindergaten student who has not been read to could enter school with less than 60 hours of literacy nutrition.  No teacher, no matter how talented, can make up for those lost hours of mental nourishment.
If you read 30 minutes daily……the child has 900 hours by age 5.
If you read 30 minutes weekly……the child has 130 hours by age 5.
If you read less than 15 minutes weekly…..the child has 60 hours by age 5.
I truly believe from my experience as an educator and as a mother, that 30 minutes of reading each day is the best investment you can make in the future of your child.  It’s not easy sometimes but I promise it does get easier.
Have  a happy day and go read a book!

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