Read-Alouds: A Gift of Love

By Wendy Cottam, Principal Partner and Retired Principal of Redwood School in Inglewood, Calif.

Reading Aloud to Children How sweet the sound of a loved one’s voice reading aloud or sharing a family history, cultural tradition, song, rhyme, or personal story. Like comfort food, these treasured experiences – ones that give us a sense of pleasure and safety – promote a lifetime love of reading.

Actively listening and following a sequence requires great concentration and develops a child’s attention span. Distractions such as background noise from televisions, computer games, and phones may intrude. Listening may also suffer as the result of a negative culture surrounding recreational reading, and, ironically, from other school assignments. Listening takes practice and is acquired like any other habit. The earlier it starts, the stronger it will take hold.

Before developing an awareness of the printed text, children love the sound of language. Reading aloud captures the patterns and melodies of speech, promoting language acquisition. Beginning with song and rhyme, children internalize the rhythms of language and the actual sounds of the words that comprise the soul of language. Children of any age can enjoy picture books with repeated rhythmic cadences.

Children listen on a level above their reading ability and often anticipate events in the story. They often have an emotional investment in making sure the story is read without deviation. In Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein, Baby Chicken promises not to interrupt Papa while he reads a favorite bedtime story. Papa warns him not to get so involved in the action and relax, but Baby cannot help from inserting himself into the story and anticipating the conclusion.

Often, children memorize a story and even sleep with a favorite book and ask for the story over and over. True, rereading the same story takes patience and control on the part of the reader. With access and plenty of books, the child will eventually move on.

In picture books, art and the text are combined to help children explore and connect to the characters. The illustrations depict mood and tone as well as advancing the plot narrative. Connecting with a character through pictures helps children develop empathy and compassion.

It is still important to read aloud to children who are independent readers. Vocabulary and background knowledge expand by reading aloud books beyond a child’s reading level.

Great Read-Aloud Best Practices When Reading on Campus

Principals in any school setting will do well to employ some of these best practices, which can be shared with parents and caregivers for home use as well:
  • Select a picture book from your own shelf, and go read for even five minutes to a group of students. You will develop a strong bond with your students and model the importance of reading with a very short investment of your time.
  • Don’t reserve read-alouds just for your youngest students. Remember that students of all ages enjoy being read to, and students who are read aloud to actually score in the 96th percentile nationwide on standardized tests.
  • Weave a brief read-aloud into your morning news.
  • Encourage children to predict outcomes and events. Look for clues that foreshadow an event or change in the action.
  • Ask how they would interpret a concept or alter the ending. Literacy is gained through post-reading conversations.
  • Collect books by favorite authors and compare styles, genres, and illustrations.
  • Read works of different types – fiction and nonfiction – as well as different lengths.
  • When unable to finish a long chapter in one sitting, find a suspenseful place at which to stop.
  • Read with expression and pacing appropriate to the book.
  • Research the author ahead of time and share something interesting about her with the children to engage kids in a more personal way.
  • Incorporate an interactive element – a food or game mentioned in the text – to help the book come alive for the students.
  • For more great tips, visit for a downloadable brochure from author Jim Trealease called Thirty Do’s to Remember When Reading Aloud.
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