Teaching Our Youngest
A Guide for Preschool Teachers and Child Care and Family Providers
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Reading Aloud to Children

In the landmark 1986 review Becoming a Nation of Readers, the Commission on Reading, called reading aloud to children "the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for success in reading." The best time to begin reading books with children is when they are infants—babies as young as six weeks old enjoy being read to and looking at pictures. By age two or three, children begin to develop an awareness of printed letters and words. They see adults around them reading, writing, and using printed words for many purposes. Toddlers and preschoolers are especially ready to learn from adults reading to and with them.

Reading aloud to young children is important because it helps them acquire the information and skills they need to succeed in school and life, such as:

  • Knowledge of printed letters and words and the relationship between sound and print.
  • The meaning of many words.
  • How books work and a variety of writing styles.
  • The world in which they live.
  • The difference between written language and everyday conversation.
  • The pleasure of reading.

Here are some suggestions for reading aloud to children.

  • Make reading books an enjoyable experience. Choose a comfortable place where the children can sit near you. Help them feel safe and secure. Be enthusiastic about reading. Show the children that reading is an interesting and rewarding activity. When children enjoy being read to, they will grow to love books and be eager to learn to read.

  • Read to children frequently. Read to the children in your care several times a day. Establish regular times for reading during the day, and find other opportunities to read:

    • Start or end the day with a book.
    • Read to children after a morning play period which also helps settle them down.
    • Read to them during snack time or before nap time.
  • Help children to learn as you read. Offer explanations, make observations, and help the children to notice new information. Explain words that they may not know. Point out how the pictures in a book relate to the story. If the story takes place in an historic era or in an unfamiliar place, give children some background information so that they will better understand and enjoy the story. Talk about the characters' actions and feelings. Find ways to compare the book that you are reading with what the children have been doing in the classroom.

  • Ask children questions as you read. Ask questions that help children connect the story with their own lives or that help them to compare the book with other books that they have read. Ask questions that help the children to notice what is in the book and ask them to predict what happens next.

Teacher Talk

  • This story is about Gregory, a little goat that didn't like to eat what his parents thought he should. Do you feel this way sometimes?
  • Does this book remind you of any other books we've read? Yes, we've read other books about Clifford, the big red dog. Do you remember Clifford? What do you remember about him?
  • What is similar about Gregory and Clifford? What is different?
  • Encourage children to talk about the book. Have a conversation with the children about the book you are reading. Answer their questions. Welcome their observations, and add to what they say. Continue to talk about the book after you have read it. Invite the children to comment on the story. Ask them to talk about their favorite parts and encourage them to tell the story in their own words.

Teacher Talk

  • Why do you think Max asked his grandmother if he could play outside? Could it be because he wanted to throw a ball? Sometimes it is better to throw balls outside because things could be broken inside. What are some other games that are better to play outside?
  • Yes, that bird in the picture does have a seed in its mouth. It's probably going to eat it.

Reading Aloud with Children

In this example, a teacher reads Eric Hill's "lift-the-flap" book Spot's First Walk. Notice how the experience is like a conversation. The teacher invites the children's comments and answers their questions. She builds on what they say and encourages them to make sense of what is happening in the story. She tells the children new information that will help them to understand and enjoy the book more.

Book Teacher and Children
Not in there, Spot. T: Where's Spot going?
C: Out there.
T: Yes, he's going through a hole in the fence.
C: What's he going to do?
T: I don't know. Let's read and find out. (lifts flap)
Hello! T: Who's saying "hello"? Do you know what that is?
C: No.
T: It's a snail. . .a little animal that you might find in a garden. See the shell on its back?
(points to shell)
Watch out! T: Who's saying, "watch out!"?
C: That bird (points to bird).
T: That's right! The blue bird that's sitting on the shovel is telling Spot to watch out.
C: Why?
T: Maybe Spot could get into trouble if he goes in that little blue house. Let's see what happens. (lifts flap)
(Picture of angry-looking cat with "!!!" in speech cat balloon) C: Oh, it's a cat!
T: Yes, a cat that looks as big as Spot. Does that cat look happy to see Spot?
C: He looks like a mean cat.
T: Yes, he looks mean to me, too. I don't think he's happy to see Spot. That's probably why the bird told Spot to watch out.
C: I'd be scared.
T: Me, too!
C: What's this? (points to exclamation marks in speech balloon)
T: These are called exclamation marks. Cats can't talk, but they make a hissing sound when they get angry (makes a hissing sound). I think that's the writer's way of showing us that the cat is hissing at Spot and telling him to get away.
  • Read many kinds of books. Children need to be read different kinds of books. Storybooks can help children to learn about times, cultures, and peoples other than their own; stories can help them understand how others think, act, and feel. Informational books can help children learn facts about the world around them. These books also introduce children to important concepts and vocabulary that they will need for success in school. Read books that relate to the children's backgrounds: their experiences, cultures, languages and interests. Read books with characters and situations both similar and dissimilar to those in the children's lives so they can learn about the world.

  • Choose books to help you teach. Use alphabet books to help you teach the names of the letters and the sounds that each letter represents and use counting books to teach children how to count and to recognize numbers. Use poetry or rhyming books to support your teaching of phonological awareness. Use big books (oversized books that your children can easily see) to point out letters, words, and other features of print and to teach book handling. Choose stories that help children learn about social behavior, for example books about friendship to help children learn to share and cooperate. Also choose stories that show children how the world around them works for example, what is happening with the eggs that are hatching in your science area.

  • Reread favorite books. Children love to hear their favorite books over and over again. Hearing books read several times helps children understand and notice new things. For example, they may figure out what an unfamiliar word means when they have heard the story several times. They may notice repeated sound patterns. If you point out some letters and words as you read the book repeatedly, children also may pick up specific words that are easily recognized and specific letter-sound relationships.

Types of Books for Reading Aloud

Alphabet books. Alphabet books usually feature the capital and lowercase forms of a letter on each page and one or more pictures of something that begins with the most common sound that the letter represents.

Counting (or number) books. In these books, each page usually presents one number and shows a corresponding number of items (two monkeys, five dinosaurs, and so forth).

Concept books. These books are designed to teach particular concepts that children need to know in order to succeed in school. Concept books may teach about colors, shapes, sizes (big, little), or opposites (up, down). They may focus on concepts (farm or zoo animals, families around the world, trucks, or places to live).

Nursery rhymes. These books often contain rhymes and repeated verses, which is why they are easy to remember and recite and why they appeal to children.

Repetitious stories and pattern books. In these predictable books, a word or phrase is repeated throughout the story, forming a pattern. After the first few pages, your children may be able to "read along" because they know the pattern. This ability will let them experience the pleasure of reading.

Traditional literature. Traditional literature includes fairy tales, folktales, fables, myths, and legends from around the world and across the ages of time. Through these beloved stories, children become familiar with many different times, cultures, and traditions. Some stories, such as Cinderella, vary slightly from culture to culture and it is interesting to compare their differences.

Wordless picture books. These books tell stories through pictures, without using words. Wordless picture books give children the opportunity to tell stories themselves as they "read," an activity that most children enjoy. In telling their stories, children develop language skills; they also get a sense of the sequence of events in stories.

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Last Modified: 08/31/2007