By Cooper Webb: I was twelve years old, working on a Saxon math lesson in our family home in Pocatello, ID, when the doorbell rang. At the door was our neighbor, her four year old twins in tow, wanting to speak with my mother. “I need some advice,” she explained.
I found my mom and settled back into my dining room chair, eyes on my math book, but discreetly listening. Whatever conversation was going to unfold in the foyer would surely be far more interesting than anything Mr. Saxon had to say in 8/7.
“What’s the best way to prepare my twins for school next year?” asked our neighbor.
I knew that young mom had come to the right source for help. A former elementary school teacher, now home educating her own seven children, my mother had a wealth of knowledge. I closed my eyes, ready to mentally file away whatever wisdom my mom was about to impart.
“The best thing you can do is read to your children every day.”
What?!? That was it? I was disappointed in the simplicity of my mom’s answer. Surely she had more rigorous academic exercises to recommend? Nope. She didn’t.
Several years later, as I studied elementary education in college, I realized the full truth of my mom’s advice. Time and time again I read research that backed up her simple statement: reading aloud is the single most important thing you can do to prepare your child to be a lifelong learner. Here are a few reasons why:
READING ALOUD BUILDS YOUR PRESCHOOLER’S VOCABULARY
When it comes to communicating, children first learn to understand, then speak, then read and write. Reading aloud introduces your preschooler to a broad range of vocabulary that they wouldn’t encounter in normal spoken conversation. One study found that children’s books contain 50% more rare words than prime-time television or even college students’ conversations.
Less than half of American parents read to their children, contributing to a huge vocabulary deficit. Our nation’s children are starting their educational journeys without adequate exposure to language, leaving them ill-prepared to understand new information. Poor language understanding leads to poor reading and writing skills, and, without intervention, poor academic achievement.
Reading aloud during the preschool years is critical because that is when brain development allows vocabulary to be naturally and easily acquired. Language acquisition in later years relies heavily on memorization, which requires far greater effort.
READING ALOUD MAKES YOUR PRESCHOOLER PHONOLOGICALLY AWARE
Phonological awareness is the ability to manipulate the sounds of spoken language, and it is essential for learning to read. You can increase your child’s consciousness of sound by reading books with rhymes and alliterations. Recognizing sound patterns will help your child spell words at a later age. Selecting alphabet books that contain the letter name accompanied by pictures of objects that begin with the associated phoneme (sound) can help build a strong foundation for future literacy.
READING ALOUD ALLOWS YOUR PRESCHOOLER TO PRACTICE LISTENING
Being able to sit quietly and listen is a crucial skill that your children will use for a lifetime. Just like any art, attentiveness must be taught and nurtured gradually. If you’re looking to make reading aloud a new habit, start with short picture books and read for a few minutes. Extend this time gradually, and begin to incorporate books with more print and less pictures.
READING ALOUD INSTILLS A LOVE FOR LITERATURE
Research shows that reading aloud to your preschooler stimulates the pleasure sensors in their brain, making a gratifying connection between the child and print. By reading aloud, you are actively conditioning your child to associate books and print as enjoyable. What a beautiful gift to give your child, a planted seed that will bear much fruit when they are required to read more arduous material.
Having discussed the why of reading aloud, let’s move on to the how:
BUILDING A HABIT
It is recommended that you start reading to your child from infancy, and when they are preschoolers they should be read to at least 15 minutes daily. If possible, be consistent about reading at the same time of day and in the same location.
Provide books where they are most likely to be used, and display them in accessible ways, such as in baskets. I stalked Craigslist for months to find a front facing bookshelf that allows my kids to see the colorful front covers of books. Some of our handy, DIY-inclined friends have created front facing book displays by attaching vinyl rain gutters or wooden spice racks to walls.
Don’t be surprised if your preschooler wants to read the same book again and again. It’s a normal and healthy party of cognitive development and reinforces learning. As your child gets to know the story well, have them fill in words for you. This exposes your preschooler to syntax and grammar, which are essential for understanding.
As you read aloud, keep in mind that what happens between the pages is just as important as what is read on the pages. Engage your child in discussion about the book. Have your preschooler point, touch and show while you are reading. Ask questions before you offer explanations. Make connections between the book and your child’s real-life experiences. Allow your child to make predictions before finishing the book.
BUILDING A LIBRARY
Having a wide variety of books in your home has a direct correlation to the future academic success of your children. One report recommended that households have 100 pieces of printed material for kids. Public libraries are an invaluable resource!
Relatives will often ask for gift suggestions for your children. Consider recommending specific authors or book series. My kids were so blessed to have their Auntie fill a bookshelf with books by Mo Willems. Grammy often brings Eric Carle books in her suitcase, and Great-Grandma took it upon herself to start a tradition of giving Dr. Seuss books. It’s very sweet to see how precious books become when they are associated with a loved one.
In conclusion, mom of little ones, if you’re wanting to give your preschooler an academic edge, you know what to do: snuggle with your baby and read a book together. You will be well on your way to success!
Before Five in a Row is a highly rated preschool curriculum that opens up the world of learning through great books and creative play, and builds a solid foundation for more formal education to come. A series of unit studies based on outstanding children’s literature, this curriculum provides you with a treasury of learning readiness activities intended to be used in your every day life: things to do in the kitchen, at the store, at bedtime, bath time and more. You can find more information at fiveinarow.com
BIO: Copper Webb is a second-generation Idaho homeschooler. She and her husband of 12 years, Mike, live in Meridian, where they read to their four small children. Copper occasionally blogs with a baby on her lap at www.copperwebb.com
This is a guest blog post. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SCAIHS or any employee thereof. SCAIHS is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by guest authors.