If you enjoy reading for pleasure, you can probably conjure up images of sitting in the lap of a parent, being encircled by feelings of protectiveness and warmth, intimacy and wonder. That childhood reading time became the springboard for your own journey into the world of books.
There has been so much research and publicity about the benefits of reading aloud to children that it can go without saying. What is often neglected in these discussions however, is how reading aloud to a child works so well. One answer is that the intangibles of reading aloud create an intertwined triangle. The reading experience enhances a relationship, and the relationship promotes a tender association with books, and that association promotes reading skills. “How to” techniques with the objective of teaching independent reading skills often overlook the incredible power of that association. For reading books to become as much of a craving as eating and sleeping, it’s important to give credit to the effect of intimacy. It’s the one-to-one coziness of story time starts a child’s path around that key triangle.
Taking license with a book, particularly with younger children, can be liberating and enchanting. Paraphrase, elaborate and personalize. When you elaborate, your interventions bring the text into context. You can use your child’s own experiences to connect him or her to the book or the story. If a story is set at a beach, add the name of the beach you visited last summer. If the main character has a neighbor, add the name of yours.
Another form of paraphrasing is browsing. Glancing through books by skipping all or parts of the text gives children a preview that whets their appetite for a later true telling. Discussing the feelings of characters gives you an ideal opportunity to help your child understand his or her own feelings and how to express them appropriately. When you retell a familiar story together, you can skip the actual text altogether to focus on repetitive and distinctive words and word patterns. When Goldilocks visits the three bears, she tries out the chairs, the bowls of porridge and the beds, all with the same basic response, “it was too small” (or too hard, or too hot) and finally, it was “just right.” The rest of the plot becomes secondary to the drama of the repetition. And that drama can be recalled throughout the day, reminding you and your child of the shared intimacy of that first or second or third reading experience. Encouraging these “inside jokes” develops shortcuts to reliving those wonderful feelings that were created at bedtime the first night that book came off the shelf.
Why is it that master storytellers can make an age-old hero come to life again and again? Because retelling has its own power and magic. With toddlers and preschoolers, it is particularly important to reread books. You can occasionally stop at a key word or phrase and allow your child to provide the word, encouraging an understanding of words as separate units and text as the basis of books. Rereading can also increase the power of a certain book to bring your child’s thoughts and feelings back to your lap.
When you read to your child every day, you’re committing to three things: To promoting early literacy, to an understanding of the inspirational power of books and to the power of teaching “life lessons” through examples. As parents, your ability to create and enhance the triangle of reading aloud, relationships and reading skills contributes to these goals in a way that is more powerful than any other technique. Instead of taking the cues to your child’s eventual reading prowess from the field of education, take them from what were, hopefully, your first reading experiences—snuggled in a lap, safe and loved.
Zibby Andrews is the head of preschool for Garrison Forest School.
Photo credit: Talento Tec