The holidays are over and kids are heading back to school; and for some, they might be trying out school for the first time as pre-school or KinderStart students.
Did you know that the single best way to help children prepare for school is to read aloud to them every day?
In the comfort of your own home, over Facetime or Skype, on a park bench, at the skating rink, any time is a good time to read together.
The shared reading experience stimulates brain growth.
Children are simultaneous learning new vocabulary, taking in verbal information, and also contemplating the action of the pictures in their books. They are paying close attention to the way adults read punctuation, the way grammar creates inflections in the tone of their voices, as well as the speed at which they are being read to.
Reading aloud also fosters curiosity. Children are given the opportunity to ask questions or seek clarification when they are safely snuggled up with a trusted family member or friend. In addition, picture books and reading aloud also create an opportunity to explore a variety of topics.
Maybe your child is having a hard time self-regulating; “The Color Monster,” by Anna Llenas tackles the big feelings that help a child understand there is a name for what they are experiencing.
Perhaps they are struggling to get along with others; “Me and You,” by Geneviève Côté, explores how friends can be very different but still find common ground.
Reading aloud introduces children to words they would not normally hear in everyday conversation. Eric Carle’s “Slowly, Slowly, Slowly Said the Sloth” uses big words like “lackadaisical”, “languid”, “impassive”, “sluggish.”
Children thrive with new words and are excited to use them on their own.
Empathy development is an outcome of shared reading that is often overlooked. When adults and children engage in a companionable reading experience they are cultivating their conversational skills, they engage in contemplative thought over the outcome of a story, and they consider their own feelings in relation to the action.
Reading aloud also creates more opportunities for mutual engagement and loving attention. “If I was the Sunshine,” by Julie Fogliano, is a storytime gem and a wonderful book to snuggle up with. Have you ever read a picture book to your child over and over and over again?
This can be daunting for parents or caregivers who just really want to read something (anything!) else; but there is often a reason for the repeat reading sessions.
It might be that the child just loves the story (I have personally read “Thomas’ Snowsuit,” by Robert Munsch more times than I can count just so that we could say “nooooooooo” over and over again!), or it could be the art, or a favourite character that the child loves.
There could, however, be another less obvious reason for always turning to the same book — it might be helping the child deal with something we don’t know about and listening to a story may be providing some much needed time for quiet introspection.
For many children, seeing characters in a story working through a problem is how they cope with their own understanding of the world and they are telling us something important. Perhaps they are nervous at bedtime or are afraid of the dark; reading the same book every night may bring them comfort and familiarity. Reading aloud should also be fun! Having some special time together creates opportunity to be silly and playful.
Have you ever tried to read “The Wonky Donky,” by Craig Smith without getting hilariously caught up in the tongue twister? How about building a monster and then making him magically disappear in Ed Emberley’s, “Go Away Big Green Monster” (this is a book that will be a reread for sure!)? Or what about just taking a quiet moment to connect through mindfulness with the beautiful and calming “Breathe,” by Scott Magoon? Reading together can be a gloriously diverse experience.
So as KinderStart and preschool approaches, consider some extra time to sit back and read together. Whether it is at bedtime, online, or in the middle of the day, reading with one another is an important early literacy skill that will not only enhance a child’s academic development, but will play a role as they become their whole selves.
Read together, and when you do, all of the 94 Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries across the province can help you find just the right books for your family. Come and visit us and let us lead you to your next favourite family read.
Leigha Chiasson-Locke is the Provincial Children’s Services and Collections Librarian with the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries.