No child is too young or too old to benefit
Young children love being read to. It’s fun, it’s cozy and it can launch their imaginations. More importantly, it’s a vital way for caregivers and educators to help establish a lifelong love of reading and start building key literacy skills.
Book Recommendations for Students of All Ages
Clarke professionals are teaming up with LitWorld for World Read Aloud Day on February 2, 2022.
LitWorld is a nonprofit organization working to strengthen kids and communities through the power of stories. Their World Read Aloud Day campaign celebrates the power of reading aloud to create community and amplify new stories, and to advocate for literacy as a foundational human right.
Clarke encourages educators and families to celebrate reading aloud every day! It’s one of the most important habits we can encourage in children, particularly those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“Reading aloud is one of the most important things parents and teachers can do with children,” said Anne Schertzer, teacher of the deaf and literacy specialist at Clarke Boston. And you can’t start too soon—for very young children, parents and caregivers are their first teachers. “Children who are exposed to a variety of read-alouds, both fiction and nonfiction, reap a multitude of benefits.”
Benefits that grow with your child
Anne said providing young children with literacy-based experiences such as reading aloud requires them to listen, speak and interact with language early on. In turn, that builds the foundation for growing into confident speakers, listeners, readers and writers of language.
Those skills—and the enjoyable relationship to language—are especially important to foster in children who are deaf or hard of hearing and therefore may not have full access to incidental language, such as background conversations. Reading aloud can help children with their language and literacy development, vocabulary, listening skills, print awareness and social-emotional development.
Books and reading aloud expose children to the sounds, vocabulary and rhythm of spoken language which develops receptive and expressive language. For children with hearing loss, repeated, meaningful exposure to language is critical to their brain development and language acquisition.
Reading to children also helps them learn new vocabulary and provides information about the world beyond their immediate experience. As children hear new words, they try to connect them to things they already understand.
Reading to children also helps them to understand that there is a “code” in printed language that has meaning and can convey important information or be a source of fun. Looking at the words and pictures on the page during a read-aloud session is the crucial first step in becoming familiar with, and eventually understanding, the meaning behind letters, words and sentences.
Reading is fun! And it is never too soon. “Families should start a reading ritual in those very first days with a newborn. Even very young babies respond to the warmth of a lap and the soothing sound of a book being read aloud,” said Anne. The shared routine of reading stories and singing songs creates an emotional bond for a young child and parent.
Nor is a child “too old” to be read to just because they’ve “cracked the code” of how to read by themselves. “Parents should continue to read with their children through the elementary school years and beyond,” Anne said. Besides the ongoing emotional bond, reading together with older children continues to develop their vocabulary, knowledge and language growth.
Parents who model a love of reading are more likely to have children who love to read. As children grow older, reading together can continue. Caregivers are encouraged to read aloud to their children of all ages to expose them to literature they may not be able to read independently yet. Family conversations about books, dedicated family “reading time” and other book-related experiences can continue the reading ritual long after your child is too big to sit in your lap for a read-aloud.
Make it even more enjoyable
To make reading aloud more interesting and fun, caregivers and educators should establish a reading routine early. Ideally, that means having a convenient space to do it without a lot of distractions and a small library of books so the child can choose one for each read-along session. (That doesn’t mean you have to invest a ton of money. Books from your local library can supplement your family book stash and provide a way to explore new topics or characters.)
It’s important to let children choose the book—those who do have more interest in reading. And don’t feel pressured to finish every book. If it turns out to be boring or too scary for your child, put it aside and choose a new one. Reading with your child is about building positive experiences with books.
At home and at school, kids should have access to fiction and non-fiction books so they have a variety of topics to discover.
Engage your child in turn-taking conversations around the book and subject. Reread favorites often, especially those topics that are of particular interest to your child. This supports their understanding of how stories are structured and how print works. The repetition also supports the development of their literacy skills. Look for books with clear, large print that include colorful photos or illustrations. Use stuffed animals or puppets to act out the story.
When reading with very young children, it’s helpful to point to the words, talk about things you notice in the illustrations and otherwise guide them in ways to interact with the printed page. You can ask them to name objects they see or find things in the illustrations. (“Do you see a giraffe?”)
For preschool to kindergarten age children, you can focus more on the printed words and start pointing out the parts of the book (cover, author name, etc.) to help build their print awareness.
For older children, start discussing books in more depth—ask questions about the story and what the characters might be thinking or feeling, for example. You can also ask children to draw or write a response to something in the story to further their understanding of the text.
Need more ideas? The 13th annual World Read Aloud Day is February 2, 2022. The event’s site has resources including literature clubs and virtual programs to help caregivers and educators find new, creative ways to build children’s love of reading. Find book recommendations from the Clarke team at clarkeschools.org.