Tuesday, August 4, 2009

How to Read Aloud and Enjoy It

by Virginia Knowles

Be all there! Set aside everything else you are doing. Let the answering machine take care of phone calls. Cuddle up on the couch and enjoy the story with them! Oh, that sounds so cozy and sweet. Yet often it is such a jumble of little bodies with jostling elbows and kicking feet wanting to get close to Mom and the book! What’s a Mom to do? If you have three children wanting to listen, seat the smallest two next to you and let the oldest one sit next to the youngest. Or, have them take turns sitting closest to you, perhaps for the book that they personally chose. I must admit that sometimes my children even drape themselves over the back of the couch to get a good view.

Use an expressive voice, changing your tone and style for different characters. The classic example of this is that when you read “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” you vary your pitch for Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear. Children love this! If you have a hard time being spontaneous, then read the book ahead of time to yourself and practice it. Or, take a clue from the “experts” and visit the library during story hour to see how the children’s librarian does it.

Let your child pause and study each page. He may want to point out or count various objects, or express his opinions about the story. If he doesn’t offer spontaneous comments, you might ask: “Where is the blue boat?” or “How many birds are on this page?” or “Is it night or day in this picture?” or “What season is it?” or “What do you think that Sam is feeling right now?” or “Why did she do that?” Some children love this, some don’t, and some like it once in a while. Be sensitive to your child’s desires each time you read.

Ask your child to “tell back” what you have read. When a child has a longer attention span and can remember things that aren’t right in front of her at the moment, you can close the book and ask, “Can you tell me what happened in this story?” or “Tell me what you thought about ______ in this story.” Charlotte Mason used this method of oral narration to determine whether a child understood what had been read. This is such a natural and powerful method of evaluating comprehension -- much better than fill-in-the-blank worksheets! Whether or not you use oral narration, be sure to give your child a chance to contemplate what you have read (or what he reads independently), before rushing on to the next item on the school agenda. He should delight to ask himself questions about what he is learning, not because someone else will quiz him on it, but because it is worthwhile and interesting.

Encourage your child to act out the story. Get out the dress-up box and let her choose costumes and props to go along with the story. Make finger puppets or hand puppets, and put on a show. A blanket draped over a piano bench makes a fine puppet stage.

Don’t be afraid to read the same books over and over and over. This develops auditory memory. After a while, your non-reading child might be able to repeat whole pages word for word after seeing the picture as a cue. My oldest daughter memorized whole picture books word for word when she was just two or three. She was so proud of herself that she could “read” as we turned each page. It’s such a valuable pre-reading skill! When you get to a word that you think your child remembers, pause and see if he fills it in for you. If not, just read it and keep going. Many stories and poems, such as “The House that Jack Built” use repetition, which makes it easy for your child to participate in the reading process.

Aim for maximum interest. Stop reading a book if it turns out to be boring for your children. You may need to give it a few pages to get going, but if it’s really a dud, bail out before you ruin the experience for your children. If you have to interrupt a great story, leave it at an exciting spot so your children will be eager to get back to it. Don’t be too surprised if they try to sneak off with it and finish it by themselves!

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