Thursday, August 9, 2018

All You Need to Read Aloud

It seems like everyone these days is talking about reading aloud. There is so much advice and information out there about it that it can easily start to seem like reading aloud is a complicated activity that requires a lot of specialized knowledge and diligent practice to be done correctly. But really, when it comes down to it, successful read-alouds only require three things: a good book, an engaged adult, and a receptive child.

A good book: 

  • is well-written.
  • has beautiful illustrations.
  • upholds (or at least does not undermine) your family's values.
  • appeals to the adult reader.
  • appeals to the child listener.

Though you can certainly find book lists and reviews aplenty online, and these are useful when you are designing a homeschool curriculum or building your family's book collection, you don't have to have a lot of expertise in children's literature to choose good read-alouds. Reading a book to yourself even just once can give you a good idea of whether the writing flows smoothly or not, whether the pictures contribute to the story, and whether you like the book and approve of its content. (For longer books, pre-reading a couple of chapters can usually give you the same information.)

An engaged adult: 
  • gives read-aloud time her undivided attention.
  • pushes through feelings of awkwardness about reading aloud for the sake of the child's experience. 
  • models a positive attitude regarding books and reading.
  • selects books not at random, but with intention. 
  • presents a read-aloud with an invitation ("Let's see what this book is about") and not a command ("We have to read this book now.")

There are some parents who do silly voices and put on puppet shows, or who (like me) are former children's librarians and tend to turn read-aloud time into a full-blown story time. Rest assured, the parents who do these things are not inherently better at reading aloud than parents who do not. They do those things because they enjoy them, not because they are essential to the read-aloud experience. All that is truly essential is that you are ready and willing to read aloud. Anything else is gravy. (Also, don't worry if you don't sound like an audiobook narrator. Your kids still prefer your familiar voice over that of a stranger, no matter how unpolished it is.)

A receptive child: 
  • is calm and not in the midst of a meltdown.
  • is not already deeply engaged in another activity. 
  • may already be looking at books or asking you to read aloud.
  • does not turn down your invitation to hear a story. 

Good books are steadfast and reliable; the moods of human beings (especially young ones!) are much less so. Though some experts suggest that you must read aloud for a certain number of minutes every day lest your child not get into a good college (!!!), it is much better to prioritize quality over quantity. Suggesting a read-aloud when your child is in a particularly ornery mood or tearing him away from his cool LEGO creation to read when he'd rather not just causes him to develop negative associations with reading aloud that can easily be avoided if you just wait for windows of time during which he is clearly receptive to hearing stories. Watching for those opportunities is a much better way to spend your energy than trying to force a regular reading schedule.

Want to see how reading aloud looks in my family? Check out the Read-at-Home Kids Report, my monthly-ish feature where I share the books my three girls are enjoying. 

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