Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Reading Notes - Reading Aloud to Literate Children

My eldest two daughters are both proficient readers. A, at almost 8, spends long swathes of time tucked up on the couch with her pink fluffy blanket, absorbed in a novel, ignoring the world. E, 6, has just recently mastered the art of reading in her head and is obsessed with reading all the novels her big sister has read in the past and enjoyed. At the moment she's working her way through Wendy Harmer's Pearlie books, and has tagged the Magic Treehouse books as her next project. If anything, she's more of a natural reader than A in that reading is her go-to indoor leisure activity. Much like her mother, she sinks without trace into her books, becoming vague and uncommunicative while reading, and is much more contented after an extended reading session.

So, now that they are both able to read well and enjoy doing so, you might think that my days of reading aloud to them would be over. In fact, while it's certainly the case that I read more to my 2.5 year old, I still read aloud regularly to the big girls, at their enthusiastic request, and they read aloud to me and to each other, as well as taking their turn at reading picture books to the little one. We are working our way through the Trixie Belden books at the moment; I read a chapter at dinnertime and another before bed, with extra time on the weekends if we're not too frantic. They also often come clustering around if I'm reading a particularly loved picture book to the toddler.

Talking it over with other mums at school recently, it seems there is a diversity of views about the benefits of reading aloud to literate children. Some feel that it's better to get out of the light, as it were, once the kids can read to themselves, and let them interpret the stories in their own way. Others, like me, feel that kids of any age get something valuable from being read to, regardless of how "unnecessary" it is when they are literate.

The teaching website Literary Connections has this to say about older children's desire to be read to:

"Your children will probably want you to continue reading to them long after they are capable of doing it independently - because reading aloud isn't just about reading. It's a warm, loving experience that we hope that you'll continue for as long as your child desires." http://www.literacyconnections.com/LiteracyBeginsAtHome.php

Time spent together, pleasurable time, non-frenetic time, is clearly one motivation for continuing a tradition of reading aloud to literate children. There is nothing like curling up together with a story to bring the often madly rushing elements of a family to one place of stillness. Even if there was nothing more to it than this - we enjoy it, and it brings us together - no further justification would be needed.

As well than that, though, I intuit that there is an ongoing literacy and educational value in reading aloud. Brain research indicates that people are capable of understanding a higher order of language when spoken than what they only receive via reading. Having a text with higher-order concepts read aloud can help the listener make sense of and understand a text that they would otherwise struggle with, or miss the subtleties of - the intonation, body language and interpolations of the reader can fill in the gaps in a seamless way.

Jim Trelease, in his book The Read-Aloud Handbook, points out that reading aloud creates knowledge, understanding, and vocabulary, but it also is a powerful conditioner - essentially, the more we read aloud (and enjoy it), the more our children's brains associate reading with pleasure, excitement and learning. Less reading aloud, for many children, will eventually translate to less reading, full stop:

"One factor hidden in the decline of students' recreational reading is that it coincides with a decline in the amount of time adults read to them. By middle school, almost no one is reading aloud to students. If each read-aloud is a commercial for the pleasures of reading, then a decline in advertising would naturally be reflected in a decline in students recreational reading."

Reading well - that is, more than competently, more than adequately, but skillfully, swiftly, and with delight - was one of the three gifts I most wanted to give my children in the skills-transfer part of my parenting. (The other two were physical dexterity, or at least capacity, and a love of, understanding of, and capability to prepare a wide range of food). Reading is such a keynote of who *I* am that it was inevitable that I would seek to share this with my children, that my pleasure and immersion in text would communicate to them.

I've always been a true believer in Mem Fox's Ten Read-Aloud Commandments. While some of them are targeted at carers of pre-reading children, one in particular leaps out at me as encapsulating the way in which I want to continue to read to all my children:

4. Read with joy and enjoyment: real enjoyment for yourself and great joy for the listeners.

Great joy, pleasure, relaxation, togetherness, warmth, bonding, language strengthening, knowledge acquisition ... these are all pretty strong motivations, if I needed any, to keep reading aloud to my older children.

1 comment:

  1. I have never found anything to be more enjoyable and satisfying than reading a story to my children. Whether it be an old favourite or a new adventure, the pleasure is immense. The memory of reading some truly wonderful stories to my children during their childhood years will always linger as something very precious and personal. In sharing a book together, we have shared so much happiness and love.