• Beyond Communication

Encouraging Language Development Through Interactive Read Alouds

Every summer I am lucky to have the opportunity to teach summer preschool for my school district. Without fail each year I am bombarded by colleagues’ statements of “Oh you teach the babies! How fun!” and “You get to play all day!” Yes, teaching preschool is fun, and yes, playing all day sure beats the typical nine to five, BUT I feel like most adults are unaware of the huge responsibilities that parents and educators of preschool age children shoulder every day. Research tells us that from birth to age five, a child’s brain develops more than at any other time in life[1].

As such, early childhood experiences play a huge role in setting the cognitive stage for a child’s ability to learn and achieve in school and life (no pressure, parents and teachers, right!?). This is especially true regarding language acquisition. Hands down, the best ways to build a strong base for language and cognitive development is to read and talk to your child. Interactive read-alouds can provide the perfect opportunity to bond with your child and instill a love of learning early on. Through interactive read-alouds you can…

  • Provide a model of fluent reading (check your pride at the door and use those character voices!)

  • Encourage and motivate your child to want to read on their own

  • Provide and enhance background knowledge

  • Improve recall and higher level reading comprehension skills

  • Boost vocabulary knowledge

  • Develop oral language and listening skills

  • Develop book handling and concepts of print (reading left to right, understanding that letters make up words, words make up sentences, etc.)

  • Develop an understanding of story elements

  • Support recognition of sounds, letters, words, sentences, etc.

  • Encourage imagination, curiosity, and creativity

  • Develop empathy relating to characters, identifying feelings and emotions

If possible, establish a daily reading routine in your home. In our house, bedtime provides the perfect opportunity for 20-30 minutes of reading each night with my step-son (and husband—yup, it’s a family affair!). At times, does my mind wander to the sink full of dishes downstairs, or the multiple loads of laundry calling me from the hamper—sure, but trust me when I tell you there is immense value in showing your child that your reading time is a special priority.

You may be wondering, how does an interactive read aloud work? Keep in mind, this is not a time to test or judge. The experience should be natural and engaging--the most effective read-alouds are those where children are actively involved; asking and answering questions and making predictions, rather than passively listening. Here are some helpful tips to try while reading:

  • Stop briefly to examine new vocabulary words

  • Connect text to pictures by having your child describe what they see

  • Encourage your child to visualize while listening (develop the “movie in your mind” when reading)

  • Ask open ended questions (I wonder...What do you think?...What would happen if?..)

  • Invite children to make connections to the text (That reminds me of the time….Did you ever feel happy/sad like this character….)

  • Encourage your child to interact with the text by expressing noticings and observations of what they hear or see, and/or to participate in reading (filling in the blank or providing recognized words).

The best part about read-alouds? They actually aren’t just for little ones—children of all ages can benefit from this routine. For older students, share the responsibility of reading aloud, explore a wide variety of genres, and encourage them to connect deeply with text through questioning (inferring, predicting and connecting) . Happy reading!

[1] https://www.firstthingsfirst.org/early-childhood-matters/brain-development/

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