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The Benefits of Reading Aloud to Children
Parents who read aloud to their children are setting them up for academic success
Look in any book on parenting, and at some point the author is going to recommend that parents spend some time reading to their children Some parenting sources suggest that children may benefit from reading aloud from infancy, and there are even some sources that recommend reading to children who are still in the womb. What is it about reading aloud that is so beneficial and necessary? How does this simple act increase pre-literacy skills, encourage bonding and set the child up for academic success? According to research done by the American Library Association, reading to children teaches them six pre-literacy skills that they must learn before they will be able to learn to read. Those six skills are:
- Letter Knowledge
- Print Awareness
- Phonological Awareness
- Narrative Skills
- Print Motivation
No child can begin the process of learning how to read without understanding the concept of letter recognition. They must understand that those strange little squiggles on the page are letters of the alphabet. The child must learn to recognize those letters, call them by name, and understand that they are associated with certain sounds. This is why one of the first songs children learn is the alphabet song. You can reinforce letter recognition in your child by reading him or her such great alphabet books as Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin or the gloriously illustrated Animalia by Graeme Base. Also point out letters all round you - in road signs, in signs at the grocery store, on restaurant menus and even on cereal boxes.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
Closely related to letter recognition is the concept of print awareness. This skill is about understand how books work. A baby handling a board book is as likely as not to hold it upside down. Through interacting with books, children will learn which end of the book goes up, to read the text from left to right, and how to turn the pages correctly. One great book that teaches print awareness is The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone. Grover, the furry little monster from Sesame Street, begs the reader not to turn the pages, because he fears to confront the monster who lurks on the last page. As the reader turns each subsequent page, Grover becomes more and more upset until he gets a surprise at the end.
Once your child knows what letters are and what sounds they make, it's time to learn phonological awareness - the concept that letters form the building blocks of words. Children who are read stories with rhyming text will soon understand that the meaning of a word can change with the substitution of a single letter. This is why Mother Goose rhymes and rhyming fingerplays are so popular and effective with young children. Nearly any rhyming book is good for teaching phonological awareness, although one of the most successful and famous is The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss Try also Llama Llama Red Pajama, the rhyming story of a little llama at bedtime who wishes for attention from his mama.
Vocabulary, as defined by the American Library Association, is about knowing the names of things. Children will not be able to read words until they are familiar with the words, and reading books to children is an excellent method of introducing them to words they might not otherwise encounter in everyday life. To teach your children vocabulary, talk to them constantly about things they see around them. Identify new objects you pass in the grocery store, or go for a walk in the park and talk about the things you see all around you. When looking for books to teach vocabulary, consider such books as Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever, which shows pictures of hundreds of commonplace objects and identifies them by name.
Children who are read to by their parents learn narrative skills - the ability to understand sequencing, and how to tell a story. They learn that events take place in a particular logical order, and they begin to be able to place those events in the correct order themselves. Children learning narrative skills will also be able to describe things that happen to them throughout the day. One particular category of books that is especially good for teaching this concept are cumulative tales - tales in which each event builds on the one that proceeds it, usually in a very repetitive way. One example of such a story is The Napping House by Audrey Wood. First we see a snoring granny on a bed in the napping house. She is soon joined by a dreaming child, and then a dozing dog, and an increasing menagerie of sleeping animals who pile on the bed until a wakeful flea bites the slumbering mouse and causes a commotion that wakes everybody up. As children become more familiar with such books as these, they will begin telling the stories themselves.
The final skill that parents teach their children by reading to them is print motivation - the inclination to love books and reading. Children who are read to from an early age learn to perceive reading as a bonding experience between themselves and their parents. They recognize it as a source of entertainment, and they learn to see books as a way to gain pleasure throughout their lives. Children who learn print motivation will become better readers because they see it as a source of joy rather than as merely a chore or school requirement. To encourage print motivation, read to your child daily and keep books readily available at all times.
For more information
- Six Early Literacy Skills - Birth to Six - Multnomah County Library
More information on the six pre-literacy skills from Mulnoah County Library.