Reading aloud with your child has a multitude of benefits. As you deepen the parent-child bond, you are also preparing your child’s mind for language, literacy, and comprehension, and fostering social-emotional awareness. You, the parent, and the characters on the page become models for your child in the wider world.
And kids look forward to read-aloud time! According to Scholastic’s Kids & Family Reading Report, more than 80 percent of children ages 6 to 14 say they love being read to, while over 90 percent of parents agree read-aloud time is a “special time.”
New parents especially are embracing the activity: More than 75 percent have read-aloud routines in place before their child turns one.
For young and very young readers, read-alouds are often the earliest form of interaction with physical books. That’s a big first impression to make! As a parent, you may feel overwhelmed by considerations when choosing a read-aloud book, whether it’s the book’s size or how the text appears on the page. Worry not: Your child will pick up on different aspects of a book as they grow. The most important thing right now is that you are setting aside time to enjoy reading together.
“If you’re just reading a read-aloud book for enjoyment, the purpose of the reading isn’t for the child to read the text on the page,” says Nancy Garrity, senior director of early childhood at Scholastic Education. “Traditionally, read-alouds are written for enjoyment with no particular attention to the decodability of the words. They’re meant to develop content knowledge, and print and book awareness.”
Here are six tips from Garrity for choosing the best read-alouds for your child.
1. Choose concept books for those readers just starting out.
ABC books and those with images that teach colors, counting, and size differences (like big versus small) are all great choices when children are very young (ages 0 to 3) and making their earliest associations.
“When you do read-alouds, children are learning that letters and words are representations of sound and spoken language,” says Garrity. “This is critical for the development of their literacy skills.”
2. Don’t worry about novel text layout or design.
Instead, what’s important is that you point to the text as you read. Garrity recommends tracking the text with your finger as you read, which helps your child learn the difference between words and pictures.
“Sometimes young kids have a hard time distinguishing which are the words and which are the illustrations,” Garrity says. “Just point to them, and enjoy them. Any text is fine — just point to it.”
When you do come across text in different sizes or layouts, you can discuss the reasoning behind the author’s design choices — or incorporate it into your oration.
“Talk about why the author made the words that way,” she suggests. “For example, ‘I’m going to use my louder voice here because the letters are getting bigger.’”
Making these author-reader connections is relevant as your child begins to recognize patterns, name familiar things, and develop a range of emotions.
“It transfers in so many ways, just knowing that a person wrote the book — so that we would enjoy it, learn from it, be comforted by it,” Garrity says.
3. Look for rhyme and repetition, which pave the way for language and spelling skills.
Books featuring rhymes help with a child’s phonological development, when they are connecting sounds to words.
“Really hearing those individual sounds makes a difference,” says Garrity. “It will help later, when children are learning to connect sounds to spellings.”
Garrity also recommends books with a particular phrase or sentence that repeats throughout.
“Anything that makes a child feel like a reader before they’re able to read is awesome,” she says. “Particularly when a parent and child are sharing the experience together. Then reading feels more collaborative.”
4. Consider your child’s motor skills when choosing physical book elements, like page thickness.
An introduction to books means handling the physical objects themselves for the first time. In addition to modeling how to hold a book, you might consider a variety of book formats that engage or align with your child’s fine motor skills. Board books (books with very thick pages), “lift the flap” books, and books with textural elements all encourage interaction.
“If your child is just starting to develop their fine motor skills, board books and “lift the flap” books are great,” Garrity says. “They’re also great for parents who are in control of the book but want the child to be able to interact in some way. Parents scaffold the experience by holding the book but allow the child to interact with the flaps or textures.”
5. Choose a book size that fits your reading dynamic.
“There’s something to be said for snuggling in your parent’s lap as they’re holding a giant book,” Garitty says. “That’s fun for a child.”
When you’re ready to swap roles and let your child take charge of holding the book — “sharing the experience with you,” as Garrity puts it — you may need a smaller book they can manage more easily.
“For a very young child, it’s hard for them to hold the book and turn the pages,” she says. “Sometimes it’s easier if you sit together at a table and lay the book on the table, and turn the pages that way.”
6. Pick a topic that’s interesting to them — and strike up a “conversational duet.”
As your child gets older, certain topics will hold their interest (whether it’s the ocean, dinosaurs, etc.). Choose books with topics that matter to them.
“Whatever your child loves, start with books that are about that,” Garrity says. “Expand from there.”
Take your read-aloud to the next level by discussing the book’s cover and inviting your child to predict what the book is about or offer possible solutions to the characters’ challenges inside.
“Get those conversational duets going where you’re talking about the text as you’re reading it,” Garrity suggests. “So when you’re reading the book, you’re pointing to the words that you’re reading. And when you’re talking about the book, you’re not doing that. You’re going back and forth with the child and talking about what you’ve just read.”
As you watch your child’s participation transform from giggling to reading with expression, you’ll see the true rewards of read-aloud time.
“Reading aloud with your child should be fun,” Garrity concludes. “Whether you’re following their interests or introducing them to an interest of yours, it should just be fun.”
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