Reading aloud to children is important but shockingly not all people value this incredible activity. Reading aloud to infants from their very first day in the world or to an energetic little toddler just leaving babyhood behind? An even larger amount think it’s, frankly, ridiculous and impossible.
However, this early start is an essential element of bonding parent to child, child to parent, child to books, and child to reading.
How do I know that? Well, inspired by my deep love for children’s books and because reading aloud is a huge part of my job as a nanny, I decided to set out on a quest to garner some knowledge about this important pastime.
I came upon this wonderful little blog called “Boyd’s Nest News” and discovered that not only was this inspiring family huge proponents of reading aloud, they also used reading aloud as a teaching tool in their home school (you have to check this out!) and even to delicately handle some of life’s big questions.
The author of the blog reviewed Mem Fox’s book, “Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever,” so I checked it out for myself, eager to discover!
Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed with the book. Her premise is such: In order to read, we have to make sense of the print, have a grasp on words & grammar, and be exposed to a multitude of enriching experiences which all come together to result in the reading child. I did like her take on the detriments of a phonics only approach being myself an early reader who found phonics horribly cumbersome. All great advice.
However, I found her delivery to be self-righteous, frequently promoting her own children’s books and bragging about how her daughter taught herself to read at 4 simply because they read aloud to her. Her book is packaged with the slight skew that if you read aloud to your child, you will have the smartest, earliest reader on your block. I have disdain for any parenting book that makes a child’s life and learning journey into a competition.
Enter “The Read Aloud Handbook” by Jim Trelease. Feeling disheartened by my lack of enthusiasm for Mem’s book, I turned to Amazon reviews and found that everyone was recommending the Handbook as a bigger, better, more well-researched version of “Reading Magic.”
Boy did I fall in love!!! Seriously, every parent should receive this book in the mail from the government upon becoming pregnant!!
Jim Trelease is a radical read aloud crusader, who is not afraid to “go there,” presenting some pretty ugly statistics, suggesting a nationwide campaign for family literacy that involves educating, frightening, and shaming parents, and calling out all government legislators for the damage they have done in the public schools of America.
It’s extensively researched which makes it a bit heavy at times, but this book is powerful and will convert anyone and everyone into a passionate read-aloud parent/caretaker/educator.
Besides the alarming research showing the benefits of reading aloud and the detriments of not doing so, he offers some nuggets of wisdom that I have adopted into my everyday life with the twins.
The first is repetition, repetition, repetition! Before reading this book, we would check out picture books from the library, read each one once or twice, and then return them for new ones. However, according to Trelease, repeating books is an essential part of a toddler’s journey to reading. What becomes old to you is even more exciting to the toddler.
For example, the twins have fallen in love with “Rosie’s Walk,” a simple, 32word story about a fox hunting a rather intelligent hen who walks about the farm, leading the fox into trouble. The first time I read it, I read with anticipation in my voice, explaining the various scenarios in depth with much pointing and inflection. I was excited, and they were too!
I read it again after requests for “More?” Then, I proceeded to introduce it again and again, reading it between my mom and I probably close to 50 times. & they weren’t the least bit tired of it! They could now guess what was going to happen on the next page, crying “Nose! Ow!” before the fox even gets hit with the rake.
They were excited because they had gotten so used to the story that in a very early, crude way they were “reading.”
The same with “Go Dog, Go!” On the page with the blimp, I say “Go by…” and they cry “Blimp!” or “Go by…” and they cry “Boat!” Then, I give a lot of praise, being sure to say, “Wow! You’re reading!” It makes them proud to “read.” Through repetition this achievement in “reading” before even age 2 can happen!
I would venture to say that many people don’t even attempt to read to their very young baby or toddler because of attention span or lack thereof. Yes, a toddler’s attention span is quite short, but Trelease makes the case that an attention span is something that is developed over a long period of time.
If you have not been reading aloud consistently to your child from birth, and you try to sit and read “The Bog Baby” to your now 22 month old, you will likely end up frustrated and have a wandering child who just wants to “play.”
It is a tad fatalistic, but his argument stands that if you read aloud from infancy, your toddler will and can sit and engage in a 30+ page picture book because they have been conditioned already to recognize the fun that can be had in a lap with a book and that that experience to them is “playing.”
For example, I like to read to the twins at the end of each mealtime. This curtails my frustration over whether they are eating enough and is an impetus to them for absentmindedly sneaking a few extra bites while being engrossed in the story.
This is the perfect time to introduce new, more lengthy books and slowly develop that attention span. They can now sit through a 30 page book entirely engaged. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, but the fact that they can means they are developing the attention span that eventual chapter books and arguably life as a whole will require.
Finally, Trelease and Mem both stress how important it is to bond with your child over books. Make reading an exciting game, guessing words and plots, discussing storylines, lessons, and life applications, laughing, crying, getting scared, and feeling inspired together.
It is a way to learn more about your child’s opinions and a way to make them feel valued. Reading aloud can be as fun as TV and all the more nurturing!
I can’t stress enough that when reading is presented as something worth our time and something incredibly adventurous and precious, magic really does happen! Happy reading aloud!
xoxo chloe ella