Did you know that more than half the children in this country won’t hear a bedtime story tonight? Did you know that by age four, low-income children have heard over 30 million less words than their average peers? Did you know that you have the power to change this? Reading has the power to change and better the lives of children, and that power is given to them through their parents. Reading to your child is an important part of their everyday lives, and if you’re unsure how to do this successfully, here’s a few tips from best-selling author Doug Lemov.
1. GET COMFORTABLE. Stories have been told and read for me immemorial because they are pleasurable and because sharing them draws people together. This is not necessarily obvious to children. At home, it’s good to mix reading with warmth and affection. I try to express that in the way I sit. We tuck in on the couch or in a comfy chair. I try to snuggle with my little one, and even with my older ones, ages 13 and 11. Or we lie on the living room floor, all of us while I read aloud. Even if your child is behind in reading and there’s pressure to make progress, try to make reading time feel comfortable and caring.
2. READ SLOWLY. I like to stop for a couple of seconds about every half page or so when I‘m reading, especially to my youngest. The words and the story are more complex than she is used to. I want to give her me to absorb it. Sometimes I stop and look at her and smile when we’re reading. Sometimes she doesn’t say anything to me when I smile, and that’s fine. Sometimes she smiles back. And sometimes she makes a little comment. “Mrs. Frisby is afraid, I think,” she’ll say. I don’t have to do much to show her she’s doing well when she does that. Sometimes I’ll just nod and smile or kiss the top of her head. And then I keep reading. I read slowly too. Nice and steady to let the words sink in. There’s no rush.
3. GIVE THEM A FEW WORDS TOO. My kids love it when I say, “And the next chapter is called…” and they get to read the title of the chapter to me. Look for little moments when your child can help you read a more advanced book and see that it’s within his or her range someday. Even if it’s just reading the word ‘I’ or ‘and,’ it helps. “See, you’re on your way!” is a powerful message.
4. EXPRESS YOURSELF (as much as you can). The power of reading aloud for kids is in developing their ear for language, for what words sound like and how sentences work. Capturing that is key and it’s simpler than it might sound. You don’t have to act out the roles and make it theater, you just have to capture the sound of language and the cadence of words—which ones run together, which ones get a bit of emphasis.
5. DON’T FREAK OUT. OK, maybe you’re great at reading aloud. But maybe you’re not. Maybe you fear it. Is it ok if you’re not confident in your own reading? Yes. But more important than telling you it’s okay I want to suggest a way to make you feel more confident and therefore more likely to read to your kids: preview the section you are going to read. The night before you read to your child, take the book to bed and read the part you’ll read the next night. If you’ve read it through beforehand, you’ll remember even if you don’t realize it. Please know that I do this all the time, even though I am a former English teacher and principal. I like to know where the book is going and to be ready for tough spots or content that’s challenging. It just makes me feel confident to know where things are going. If you’re nervous about reading, it will help you as well. As will starting simply. I know—I said read challenging books. But you can always build up to them. Reading to your child is a marathon, not a sprint so it’s fine if you need some me to build your own comfort and skill. Just please don’t let that fear stand between your child and what will help them most.
Reading to your child isn’t always easy, but it is crucial for their future development. Make sure to take at least a few minutes before bedtime to read with them, and watch them grow as you do.
Doug Lemov (with co-authors Colleen Driggs and Erica Woolway) is the author of Reading Reconsidered: A Practical Guide to Rigorous Literacy. For more information, please visit, www.teachlikeachampion.com and connect with Doug on Twitter, @douglemov.