Summer is in full swing, and hopefully your kids’ reading lives are as well. If my prior suggestions (see tips 1-2, tip 3, tips 4-6) for promoting summer reading seem like too much for your summer lifestyle, the single most important reading activity that I could encourage you to do with your child this summer is to read aloud. While reading aloud is certainly important all year long, it is especially valuable during the summer, when kids are at risk of experiencing the “summer slide” in reading skills. Reading aloud affects so many aspects of academic development, including every literacy outcome (e.g., reading fluency, motivation, vocabulary, world knowledge, and comprehension) and academic achievement in other content areas such as math, science, and writing. Research shows that this is true not just for preschoolers and beginning readers but also for older, independent and highly competent readers. SO, if your focus this summer has been to get your kids to read on their own, this is a reminder to put just as much emphasis on making sure that you read aloud to them. Your reading aloud to your kids most definitely counts in their tallies of their reading this summer!
One of the very greatest benefits of reading aloud is that it the best way to show kids (a) that it is important to ALWAYS THINK while reading and (b) what good thinking while reading sounds like. This is especially important because often kids will focus on sounding out words, sounding good during oral reading in class, and finishing required reading for homework. So, all too many kids become “word callers” (reading the words on the page without attention to meaning), with only a superficial understanding of the text at best. While reading aloud is beneficial in and of itself, how parents read aloud can make a tremendous difference. Many of my later posts will focus on the nitty gritty of how to build the most important thinking skills for deep comprehension. For now, here are four quick tips to keep in mind while reading aloud with your kids this summer:
- Try hard to resist the natural tendency to read a book straight through, from start to finish. This can actually show kids that good readers neither pause nor think when they read!
- “Think aloud” while you read to your kids. Pay close attention to your own thoughts about the text, and pause to share those thoughts with your kids. For example, if you say out loud, “I’m guessing that the character is going to get caught”, you are showing that good readers make predictions when they read. If you share, “I remember when I was a kid my best friend also moved away”, you are showing that good readers make connections between what happens in the text and their own experiences. Or, if you find that you are reading the words without really attending to their meaning, pause to say, “I just noticed that my mouth has been saying the words but I’ve lost track of the story. Let’s re-read for a second”. This shows that good readers reflect on their understanding and re-read when necessary. A sentence or two of thinking aloud can do wonders!
- Encourage kids to share their thinking about the text. Invite them to join you in your thinking aloud, then back off and encourage them to continue on their own. Ask open-ended questions that prompt kids towards thoughtful analysis of text (rather than just finding a correct answer). Examples include questions that start with Why, How, Have you, What if, What did you think about….
- Think about your read aloud sessions as having three segments — before, during, and after. Any one or more of these segments can include some thinking aloud by you or your child. How you approach the before and after segments of the read-aloud session can make a big difference.
Before: If you view the ‘before’ segment of the read aloud as a warm-up with thinking aloud by you and/or your child, you set the expectation for the rest of the read aloud to be an interactive and thoughtful endeavor. Making comments based on the cover or the title is an obvious way to start (e.g., “The title tells me that this book is going to be about…” or “I wonder why this book is called Blubber”). If you are continuing the book from a prior day, it can help to spend a few minutes together recalling what has happened so far.
After: After you are done reading, try to linger over the ending rather than simply put the book down and move on. Often a lengthy discussion is not possible; however it only takes an extra minute or two to share thinking that shows that the book matters, the words matter, the words make us think. What does the ending make you think about? How do you feel at the end? Did the author surprise you? In our family, we love to talk about the “souvenir” that we want to take from the book — a favorite quote, character, illustration, part of the story, or important message to hold on to.
Reading aloud in these ways improves comprehension and enjoyment of the book. It also increases the chance that kids will pause to think when they are reading on their own. Which will help them get more out of not just their summer reading but their reading as they start the new school year!
And remember…keep reading aloud to your kids when school starts up again. And for as many years as your kids will let you!