Even before a child learns to read, he may be gathering the skills required to become a successful reader. That’s because reading skills are not just learned as a child first picks out words on a page. Reading skills are also learned by understanding stories, seeing how words work together and by experiencing how the right word in the right circumstance can make all the difference in getting a meaning across.
If the task of teaching all that seems daunting, fear not. Reading aloud to a child covers it automatically. Another advantage of reading to your child is that it helps a him discover how valuable reading can be. Recognizing the excitement of reading and seeing it as a key to exploring beloved subjects motivates a child to learn to read, the first requirement of creating a good reader.
Start Reading to a Child From the Early Years
Reading aloud to a child can start early. During the toddler years, vocabulary is rapidly expanding and providing regular reading times can aid in language development. Picture books depicting actions or that ask a child to identify familiar things — say, fingers, toes, arms and elbows — reinforce the idea that words are connected to concrete objects and abstract notions.
As children get older, they enjoy playing with language and so are open to rhymes, riddles, alliteration and poetry. Reading these shows off language as dynamic and fluid, and reveals reading and writing to be creative and enjoyable pastimes. Meanwhile, reading stories with rhyme and rhythm makes children familiar with phrasing, which is part of comprehension.
Choose Great Reading Material
Of course, the greatest benefits of reading aloud to a child come from reading quality works that both you and your child can enjoy. This enjoyment criteria is not a small thing. “Through the Eyes of a Child” author Donna L. Norton lists entertainment value as the first criteria in choosing works for a literature program. She also points out that children should be exposed to the best of literature, works that have something to say and say it extremely well. To find good material, consider plot, characterization and setting.
The characters and the setting should feel organic. The more real they feel, the better. Good plots, meanwhile, have a clear beginning, middle and end and develop naturally. They also feature conflict. Remember the conflict in “Green Eggs and Ham”? In it, the egg dish is refused: “I would not like them here or there. I would not like them anywhere. I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am.” These phrases are repeated throughout the book, so besides depicting conflict, the story allows children to participate.
A good rule of thumb for choosing a story is this: If it bores you, pass on it. Realize that if you feel bored, your child likely will, too, breaking Norton’s first rule that literature must entertain.
Not just the story, but the reader must entertain. It is, after all, the reader’s job to bring the story to life. It must be acted out with gusto if necessary, the dialogue perhaps read in special voices to distinguish it from the rest of the narrative. It can’t be rushed through, or a child might miss something.
Not rushing includes leaving time to talk about the story. Allowing a child to discuss it teaches her to analyse and comprehend the written word, deepening the experience of the story. You can stimulate responses by asking what the favourite part of a story was or what she thought or felt about certain elements. This brings the story into sharp and personal focus.
Choose Different Genres to Read
It’s natural to want to stick with your own tastes when choosing books to read, but if your child is to have broad reading horizons, it’s important to draw from a variety of genres. Sometimes the child is the one demanding the same story or kinds of story repeatedly. It may help to establish a rule that you, as the reader, picks out the book. Choosing two or three stories, then giving the child the final say is a good compromise.
Though many parents may enjoy a night-time bedtime story ritual, for those who haven’t warmed up to it, consider that reading aloud not only enhances later reading ability, it also enhances achievement in general. A study by Vincent Greaney found that leisure reading is directly related to student accomplishment.