Reading to Young Children: 6 Tips for Parents & Teachers

Written by Gen

Reading aloud to children is, by far, the easiest and most inexpensive way to boost a child’s literacy learning and love of reading. It requires only a library card and a willing adult! Research by Allington and Gabriel (2012) suggests that children should have the opportunity to hear a fluent reader every day. They outline the benefits of reading aloud to children and note that the following are developed through the process of read alouds:

  • fluency
  • comprehension
  • vocabulary
  • background knowledge
  • sense of story
  • awareness of genre and text structure

As both a teacher and a parent, I can fully relate to the stress, pressure, and exhaustion that comes with both jobs. As teachers, we always have one eye on the clock and one part of our brain running through the list of everything we need to “get to.” As parents, we are often picking up books to read to our children at bedtime, after we’ve had an exhausting day of caring for our children or working outside of the home. In both of these scenarios it is difficult to keep sight of how important those few minutes of a read aloud can be each day- but we must!

When reading aloud to young children and emerging readers there are a few things to keep in mind to make the most of that precious time:

Be Expressive

Interpreting the characters’ feelings with our voices and making our voices rise and fall with the punctuation lays the groundwork for fluent readers by demonstrating to children what reading should sound like. Rasinski and Smith (2018) define fluency as, “…not speaking or reading fast; rather, fluency is speaking and reading with expression that reflects and adds to the meaning of the oral or written message.” This is very hard to do when you’re tired or feeling pressure to get to the things that students will be tested on. Keep in mind, though, that not only will reading expressively help to develop children’s fluency, it will create a very enjoyable experience for them. When one experiences happiness the brain releases hormones, commonly known as, “happiness hormones.” The more pleasant experiences a child has around reading, the more likely that child will be to seek out reading experiences in the future.

Read it Again! And Again…and Again…

Read that favorite book as many times as they want you to. You’ll be sick of that book but young children need you to do it. This is particularly true for children who are not yet looking closely at print. Children will begin to memorize the book and may even “read” it on their own from memory. Let them! This is reading. In fact, it is their first independent reading experience. By reading their favorite books over and over again we allow them to access that text on their own later on. They will feel motivated, successful, and will begin to create their identities as readers. Avoid the inclination to discount this type of reading as, “just memorizing,” because it is a very important literacy experience.

Invite Participation

Once children are very familiar with a book invite them to read along with you or to join in on repeated parts of the text. This will give children an opportunity to practice all that fluency that they’ve been hearing you demonstrate without getting bogged down in problem-solving the text themselves. Children will enjoy chiming in, particularly during silly or expressive parts.

Keep Reading

If you are a parent of a young child keep reading even if your toddler leaves your lap to go play nearby. Some very young children may like to sit for an entire book either long or short, but it’s not in a toddler’s nature to sit still. So if your toddler gets up mid-book, don’t sweat it, just keep reading! Your child will still benefit from hearing your expressive reading. Sometimes your very young child may bring you a book, sit for a few pages, and then loose interest or his attention will be captured  by something else. Don’t fret! Read whenever your child wants you to, but never force him to sit for an entire book. For very young children the goal should always be to foster a love of books and reading so making it feel like a punishment is not recommended.

Read Volumes of Books

For both parents and teachers read aloud time doesn’t need to be one-and-done! Keep a basket of books nearby and read one book after another. At home, parents can keep stacks of books that you know your child loves to hear. At school, teachers can focus on one new book, with some accountable talk afterwards, followed by several “old favorites.” We know that children need to hear volumes of words every day for their own language development. We also know that children need to be exposed to “book language” in order to be successful readers themselves. What better way to develop this than to set a goal to read multiple books at every read aloud sitting?

Take the Time

As hard as it can be, it is important to carve out time to read to children every day, both at school and at home. In school, children have the opportunity to experience a read aloud with their classmates, hearing each other’s comments and ideas about the book. They will participate in discussions with accountable talk facilitated by their teachers. At home, children will experience books with someone they love and who cares for them. It will be a personal experience on the lap of a loved one, who is reading just to them. Both experiences are necessary in a child’s literate life. So, even when we’re running late, or bedtime is near, take a deep breath and pull out that basket of books!

Very young children benefit greatly from sitting on the lap of an adult while experiencing a book. For more information about reading to very young children at home,  please see this previous post:

Closing the Reading Gap Early in Low Socioeconomic School Districts

Allington, R. L., & Gabriel, R. E. (2012). Every Child, Every Day. Educational Leadership, Volume 69 (Issue 6), pp. 10-15
Rasinski, T. V. & Smith, M. C. (2018) The Megabook of Fluency. New York, New York: Scholastic Inc.

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