How to Effectively Read Aloud to A Child?

(Tips for parents)

Blog on How to Effectively Read Aloud to a Child

“Reading aloud to children is the magic bullet for creating a lifelong reader”- 

(by Jim Trelease, ‘The Read-Aloud Handbook))

But how to do that! Aren’t you wondering about this? 

Before we dive into the method, let’s first understand what read aloud means, the purpose and the importance of reading aloud to or with children. 

Read aloud is the practise of reading out written words in an engaging way so as to stimulate a positive outlook towards books and reading. It is usually carried out by parents, caregivers and teachers. Reading aloud helps in developing a child’s imagination, improving their focus, enhancing their attention span, encouraging them to have a memorable, fun time with the reader, and building a lifelong habit of reading. 

Children’s brains are extremely malleable; they constantly watch, absorb and learn from the world around them. Reading aloud from picture books or chapter books forms the best external sensory input for children to be lifelong learners and readers during their critical developmental windows. Reading to a child has proven to be “brain-changing.” 

The purpose of read aloud sessions with a child is to decode the book for the child as much as we can so that we can take the child into the book where her/his mind feels free to process the new information, map her learning and understanding, grasp her own morals/lessons, imagine the characters and settings, experience the real-life situations through the character’s journey and make sense of what they see and hear. Children process a lot during the read aloud time.

Read aloud time in our child’s daily routine is the happy hour where the child’s mind is free to wander and enjoy the written words of a book, free from the struggles of vocabulary and decoding process of text and language, delivered to her in an easy to assimilate form by parents, caregivers or teachers. 

In the blog “Why Read Aloud to Children?”, we have covered wholesome noteworthy reasons for reading aloud. Do check it out!

Mentioned below is a read aloud method answering how to effectively read aloud to a child, followed by a few things to bear in mind for read aloud practises.

Method:

  1. Take a book-walk together before beginning to read the written words to your child.
In How to Effectively Read Aloud to a Child first step is to take a book-walk together before beginning to read the written words present inside of the book. Look at the pictures, know your author, read aloud book name and other simple yet interesting details.

Take a book-walk together before beginning to read the written words to your child. Introduce the book, read aloud the title and author’s name. Go over the texts and pictures featured on the front and back cover.

2. Give voice to the written words! 

Second step in How to Effectively Read Aloud to a Child is to begin reading the written words of the book, give voice to written words and narrate expressively.

Begin narrating expressively and in an engaging way. Give voice to the written words in the book. The text delivery, in terms of pace, intonation, action and the interaction during the read aloud time – in the form of questions & clarifications about the text plays a vital role in influencing the child’s feelings about reading and books.

3. Pause to allow your child to observe pictures! 

Step three or anytime during a read aloud time with your child pause to allow your child observe pictures whenever she or he proposes and instinctively also.

Resist rushing through the story; instead, pause to let your child take a look at the pictures present on the page. Allow them to go back and forth between the pages and have a look at the pictures and illustrations to make the connection with what was read out to them and infer what can follow. Ask your child if she could identify the character shown in the picture and co-relate with their actions.

Pausing helps children to relate with the visual images present on the pages, giving them time to process and connect with what was read out to them, helping them navigate through the story well and create a mental picture in sequential order. Pausing also helps children to create visual images of the story to memorize it better.

4. Pause to let your child predict the story!

Fourth step or anytime during a read aloud time pause to let your child predict the story whenever you feel inspired to ask questions.

Enable them to predict the story through open-ended prompts. Ask them questions like “What do you think?”, “How do you feel?”, “What do you see on this page?” Ask your child whether she/he could identify the character shown in the picture and what it is doing. Let them take their time to think, so patiently wait, listen to their predicted answers when they are ready and share your response later. This way they will start relating with the event themselves by taking hints from illustrations present on the page, thus analyzing the situations in a better way. If your child’s guesses are nowhere close, do not respond with a ‘No, this is not what it is” to their predicted answers, instead affirm their guesses but guide them to the actual answers by saying “XYZ was what the author had in mind to the ABC questions.”

Enabling a child to predict stories and pictures helps in building comprehension skills and strengthening their imagination. This also helps the child to pay full attention while studying school subjects or reading picture stories.

5. Pay close attention to body language! 

Fifth step in the read aloud method, and the one that goes without saying, throughout a read aloud time is to pay close attention to the body language of your child! Remember, patience is the key.

Adjust your reading speed and tone whenever you sense your child is feeling uninterested, thinking to themselves or distracted with the other things in the room. Use creative strategies to engage your child, like act out the story or talk like a character, sing up the rhyming words, or just rename the main character with your child’s name. Observe your child’s interests patiently while reading. Follow the child’s interests to make reading a fun experience for her.

6. Recap and discuss to reinforce the information for the deeper connection!

Sixth and last step in how to effectively read aloud to a child is to recap and discuss to reinforce the information for the deeper connection in the child's mind.

After you’ve finished reading the book or chapter take time out to recap and retell the major events, identify the main idea, ascertain key concepts, discuss mini-lessons, ask the favourite parts of the story, listen to their perspectives on “What-if” questions, revisit the critical vocabulary words, and repeat the catch-phrases and lines. Recapitulating or retelling helps in establishing a deeper connection of what they heard, saw or read. Be mindful not to make reading a source of conflict.

Things to keep in mind As You Read Aloud to Children:

  1. Improve attention span with gradual progression

Be patient with the child who is new to reading or hasn’t been read to very regularly. If you read a book for a whole long hour on the very first day, the chances are that your child might lose interest in reading. Start with just 10 – 15 minutes of reading aloud. Gradually increase the reading time. Also, keep Dr. Poole-Boykin attention span calculation in mind while planning the reading time of your child and if the child can stay focused longer, then partner them along for as long as they want. Just don’t let the child’s distraction bother you. Level up the reading time gradually and consciously when you are inculcating the habit of reading.

Things to keep in mind as you read aloud to children is to focus on ways to improve attention span with gradual progression and by avoiding overcorrection!

2. Avoid Overcorrection

Be patient with your child. Let them make mistakes and do not interrupt while they are responding to prompts eagerly. Correct them occasionally so they can remember things better. Overcorrecting them for every mistake would make them lose confidence in their reading ability.

3. Focus on Vocabulary and Grammar

While reading aloud, children pick up words, grammar, and correct pronunciation of words from their parents. While you explain the meaning of words, they understand the context through the sentences and also memorize complex words and vocabulary. Regular reading helps children build their vocabulary, have a better grip on their speech and expression and become fluent, confident readers. 

As you read aloud to your child, keep in mind to focus on Vocabulary and Grammar and Teach them the correct reading method.

4. Teach the reading method

Train the preschool children, the correct method of reading from left to right, pointing the words with the finger. Let them know how to handle a book properly, how to read sentences and decode the meaning of the story. 

5. Re-read the same book

Does it annoy you sometimes when your child asks you to read a particular book over and over, and if you are like me, who counts the number of times a particular book you’ve read to your child, then let me reassure you, it is a child’s instinctive way of learning the finer details of the information present in that particular book.

Have you ever caught yourself watching a movie for the 30th time? By now, you know the dialogues of that movie, you know when to fast forward or slow down, you rewind the favourite parts of the movie, catchy lines of different actors are on your tongue etc.

In the same way, children learn finer details through reiteration and repeated exposure to a story. Children learn and retain the subtleties a story contains through repetitions. With each repeated reading, a child gets to focus on different elements of the story, whether it is the vocabulary, the rhyme and rhythm, major events, the illustrations, plot, setting, story conflict, characters – there is a lot for the child to absorb, trust me!. And with each repeated reading the child makes a deeper connection with what they listen and see. Repetition brings in familiarity, which encourages pre-readers to take risks and participate when we ask them to predict stories, read complex sentences, and frame answers.  

Things to keep in mind as you read aloud to children is treat over rhymes and repetitions as you continue to re-read the same book

6. Treat over rhymes & repetitions

Children love rhymes, rhythms and repetitions; at least that’s what I have learnt from children’s most beloved author’s Dr. Seuss Books. Dr. Seuss’s books have funny stories, crazy creatures and zany pictures with the blend of repeating words, phrases and tongue twisters—repeating familiar words while reading helps them remember lines, words, phrases, sentences and even pauses in a sentence. This step builds their ability to read complex sentences. Affirming what your child said gives them confidence while reading.

This is it!

Remember, every reading session is uniquely different. And just as rightly quoted by Dr. Seuss “You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.” Then, what are you waiting for? Get ready to explore the method outlined above to enhance your child’s cognitive abilities and make them an independent and a lifelong reader. The above method and tips have firmed up with time by learning and growing as a reader (a parent who loves to read aloud) to my child. Feel free to borrow and customize it as per how you and your child would like read aloud time to be led.

Enjoy the happy hours of read aloud time daily with your little ones! And happy parenting!

Why Read Aloud to Children?

Why Read Aloud to Children, benefits and importance

“Every time we read to a child, we’re sending a ‘pleasure’ message to the child’s brain”, Jim Trelease (Bestselling Author of The Read-Aloud Handbook’)

So, why wait, bond over a book and read aloud to your little ones! Trust me, there’s nothing more entertaining than children’s books. Pictures, dramatic illustrations, rhymes, and rhythms make you wishing for more, and if you have little bundles of joy around you to read out to, then it’s the joy of joys! 

Coming straight to the topic, let’s look into some of the reasons why reading aloud to children is so important.

We all know that a child is able to respond to the auditory stimuli around them even before they take birth. Early language development in children happens by listening, and children learn a lot by listening and talking.

Psychologists suggest that reading to children plays a vital role in developing the initial and essential neural pathways in a child’s brain. Reading aloud to children helps them in oral language development, teaches them new words and paves the way for easy and effortless parent-child interaction. Besides that, very recent studies have suggested that reading aloud also helps in the reinforcement of new words and phrases, fosters word consciousness, provides mental nourishment and helps build a strong literacy ground for them.

Children are developing readers and learners of different books. Just visualise this – a child wrapped up warmly in her parent’s lap, being read her favourite stories and rhymes with conscious care and undivided focus, feeling reassured with the comforting voice of her parent. Does it not give positive and feel-good vibes? 

This learning and development of a child happening beneath the wings of her parents with conscious care blooms the child naturally, helps them grasp things quickly and retain things for long. The brain makes connections with the outside world easily, and the child feels reassured with the comforting voice and presence of her parent/s. 

Reading aloud books and stories to children provides a smooth and supportive scaffolding from the contrasting reality of their environment and helps them form a stronger social-emotional connection and rewiring of the existing neural networks. Reading aloud to children also helps them learn new concepts easily, improve their focus and attention span, introduce the child to a rich vocabulary, develop better grammatical understanding and foster effective literacy.

Now, let us take a deep dive into some of the key reasons as to why and how reading aloud to children is helpful:

  • Reading aloud to young children helps fill the word gap and build a foundation for success
Reading aloud to young children helps fill the word gap and build a foundation for success and in fostering word consciousness in children early on.

Words matter! As Geoff Barton says, ‘Words lie at the heart of our quest to address social mobility.’

We can share a wealth of words by reading out books to our children and help bridge the word gap to a large extent. A recent study ((Logan, Justice et al, 2019 [A]) highlighted that children entering kindergarten who were never read any books by their parents or caretakers till the age of 5 years had an approx. “word gap of one million” compared to those who were read one picture book every day by their parents or caretakers at home. According to that study, parents who read a picture book every day to their children enter kindergarten hearing 1.4 million additional words than the children who are never read to by their parents.

Please note: The purpose of the above data is to help you predict reading skills in school and the later literacy success of a child who is read daily by her/his parents. The above data doesn’t mean that children who have heard a million words by the age of 5 years begin to read or write the new words. It only means that a child is more word conscious and that these words would eventually transfer onto their writing and reading as they move up the academic ladder. 

Reading aloud to children daily along with the parent-child discussions and imaginative plays [B] helps shorten the word gap in children early enough, thus enabling them to communicate with confidence, having good oral language and extensive vocabulary, which eventually leads to academic success.

  • Develop global competencies and attributes-
To develop 21st century skills reading aloud books to children is very important. It helps in developing global competency skills.

Technology has made the world flat/small, and global competency skill is an important 21st-century skill to keep in mind to make our children future-ready. The probability of children (in their teens or even in tweens or earlier) collaborating and working together with children from different parts of the world on a common project or idea is high. So, children who develop an interconnected worldview and have global mindedness in their early years thrive; work well with mission oriented-feelings and a collaborative problem-solving mindset. And what better resource to help them navigate through different cultures and social conventions than children’s books, child-friendly magazines and journals there can be. And who better than parents there can be to teach them that.

Do listen to the views of the renowned researcher and a passionate advocate of children’s literacy Dr Keisha Siriboe’s TEDx Talk on this.

  • Reading aloud enhances children’s imaginative and creative abilities
Reading Aloud books to children stimulates their imagination and expands their understanding of the world

Reading aloud to children introduces them to a world that differs from theirs and exposes them to myriads of situations and experiences. This new world acts as a stimulant and unlocks the child’s imagination and creativity, opening the door of enquiry and possibilities.

  • Reading aloud books develops emotional faculties and benefits behaviors-
Reading Aloud books to kids helps in developing emotional faculties and therefore benefits behaviours

An author’s work always contains a range of emotions. When we read aloud to our children, we give voice to the words and expressions with the rise and fall in our voice. As we read, the child is able to relate with the characters and context in the book easily and becomes sensitive to such emotional variations. Children also learn to use words to describe their feelings in the process. They are able to express their needs and uncomfortable feelings in a better way. When children are able to express their needs and big emotions, they feel more regulated and better in charge of their emotions. So, reading aloud benefits behaviors.

  • Reading aloud helps children cope up with stress and anxieties-
Another powerful reason of reading aloud to children is it helps children cope up with stress and anxieties.

“Every time we read to a child, we’re sending a ‘pleasure’ message to the child’s brain”, says Jim Trelease. Despite the book containing intriguing images and artwork, one-to-one narration and reading time with parents makes the whole reading and learning experience a positive and a nurturing activity for children.

“Reading aloud to children is the magic bullet for creating a lifelong reader”, says Jim Trelease*. Reading aloud helps in creating a positive view of books and reading in a child’s mind. This bonding moment over reading helps children return to reading later in life if they get busy with work or childrearing responsibilities because ‘reading’ reminds them of happy times with parents, and there’s nothing better than reading. So, reading aloud to children today helps them later in life also.

  • Read aloud to build Vocabulary and better Grammar understanding-
Another powerful reasons of reading aloud books to children is that reading aloud helps build Vocabulary and develop better Grammar understanding

When parents read aloud to children, children pick up new words and expressions, right syntax, pragmatics and semantics, the correct pronunciation of words, understand grammar better. While you explain the meaning of words, they understand the context through the sentences and also memorize complex words. Regular reading helps children build their vocabulary, have a better grip on their speech and expression, resulting in them becoming fluent, confident readers and speakers.

  • Setting social contexts, imparting cultural knowledge, instilling values-
One powerful reason of reading aloud books to kids- It helps in setting social contexts, imparting cultural knowledge, instilling values

Reading aloud to children opens to them whole new worlds of enquiry, exposes them to an array of real-life situations, diverse cultures, abundant characters and expressions. Children are able to think, identify and imagine situations while listening to their parents. They also grasp their own lessons and morals during the narration process and store them in memory. So, by reading aloud the right kind of children’s picture books and stories to our children we can create awareness of real-life situations that can be averted. This form of education is known as Preventive Education, which is very important for children. 

The benefits of reading aloud to children are infinite. To sum up, in a few points, here I go… Reading aloud helps children in:

  1. Improving their focus in reading and their attention span,
  2. Enhancing their brain functioning in supporting literacy,
  3. Fostering word consciousness,
  4. Promoting active listening skills
  5. Channelling the behaviors like aggression and hyperactivity
  6. Formation of stronger social-emotional connections with peers,
  7. Setting social contexts and imparting cultural knowledge,
  8. Imagining more richly, promoting creativity
  9. Boosting their confidence,
  10. Learning how to use comprehension strategies
  11. Widening perspectives,
  12. Strengthening the bond between parents and child,
  13. Establishing a successful reading habit, and
  14. Gaining the lifelong love of reading

The good news for parents is that the parenting wisdom ‘Read Aloud to children every day’ is easy to follow. Reading aloud to your child requires only book/s and parent’s willingness to spend a little quality time with little one/s every day.

There is more good news:

Reading aloud to a child doesn’t need to happen in a particular language. And there’s no point in reading to a child in the language a parent is not comfortable in. Also, do not worry about non-native English accent and fluency because the works of many authors are available online as audio recordings done by the speech-over artists, which can help along the way.

Consider reading aloud to your little one as soon as she/he is able to sit up in your lap and all the way to their tweens and teens. Only the reading aloud strategies and ways for different age group children can vary. One can even read to children a line, an excerpt, a paragraph or two when they are grown up adults doing very well in their careers. Maybe it would not be the bedtime stories for a young adult; it could be anything you have read on the internet, a classic novel, a self-help book, or op-ed pieces in the press. It can absolutely be anything we can read aloud in our voice to nourish and nurture the reading habit, the bond and the connection.

And when our children start sharing what they are reading with us, the parents, then we know we have done our job well and helped them become the readers and thinkers, says Matthew Raggett (The Doon Schools’ 10th Headmaster). He also cautions us to be careful not to make reading a source of conflict. I highly recommend parents reading the book ‘How Your Child Can Win in Life’ by Matthew Raggett, at least the first three chapters of the book.

As parents and caregivers, we must make choices to ensure the time spent with our children is of a high-quality one over quantity. As simple as, taking out time for face-to-face interaction-based reading time can nurture the young mind multi-fold and help parent-child make fond memories.

Savour the moments and make memories by reading aloud to your little ones, and thank you so much for reading the blog! Happy Parenting, and see you on the next blog topic, “How to Effectively Read Aloud to A Child? (Tips for Parents)”!

References: [A] Logan JAR, Justice LM, Yumuş M, Chaparro-Moreno LJ. When Children Are Not Read to at Home: The Million Word Gap. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2019 Jun;40(5):383-386. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000657. PMID: 30908424.

[B] Alan L. Mendelsohn, Carolyn Brockmeyer Cates, Adriana Weisleder, Samantha Berkule Johnson, Anne M. Seery, Caitlin F. Canfield, Harris S. Huberman and Benard P. Dreyer Pediatrics May 2018, 141 (5) e20173393; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2017-3393

* Quoted from Jim Trelease’s handbook (The Read-Aloud Handbook)