Reading aloud to children is the most important thing I do in my classroom, every single day. I tell parents this every year.
The fundamental constant that gives children the tools to succeed in school is language. The more words that children hear, the better they will do in school. Reading aloud to children is far more than an enjoyable experience. It increases their language development! In Kindergarten through grade four, the primary source of instruction is oral. The more words that a child has heard, the better s/he will understand the instruction, and the better s/he will perform in school. Therefore, I will always campaign to read aloud.
The books on our bookshelf are front-facing, and children have access to them any time. This photo was last week at school. It is a common scene in the classroom:
I read picture books at least twice a day. I read with passion, stop to talk about what happened and why. I laugh, I cry. Children quickly learn to love story time and books.
If they have a question, we lookup the answer, or write the author. In John Howe’s Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack’s mother said, “Jack, you stupid boy.” I read it the way a mother whose son traded their cow for beans would have read it- in a very upset voice. The children were shocked that she called Jack ‘stupid’. They wanted to know why. This was a toughie.
We decided to write the author a letter, but he lives in Switzerland. We mailed our letter to the publisher, and they forwarded the letter to John Howe. He wrote back! Two handwritten pages! He also wrote a letter to me.
My thanks for your letter which Little, Brown & Co forwarded to me. I am sure no one likes to be called a bad name, but when Jack sold their only cow for a handful of magic beans, it certainly must have seemed a stupid thing to do… There are many things in the story much worse than that word. Jack steals from the giant which is not a good thing to do….
John Howe goes on, and in essence he seizes the opportunity to talk about right and wrong. He tells snippets of stories, asks them questions. His parting sentence is, “You must be tolerant and understanding, as you would like others to be with you.”
My goodness. Reading aloud often includes a moral compass, and the author himself reinforced that in his letter.
I read all types of books to children- Fairy Tales, rhyming, animal stories, humorous, classics… it’s a long list. Here is my own book collection at school:
At the start of the school year we read fun, rhyming books. One of the most popular books is Pete the Cat
Last year a child in my class loved all the Pete the Cat books, and that spurred a love for books throughout the year. At the end of the school year, he was sight reading words. Books were always ‘front and center’ with him. His mother sent me this video of him reading. Yes, reading. She was over the moon. I was, too.
I must say, the best picture books leave children wondering and thinking. When fiction and animals become stories of dilemma, friendship, overcoming fear, and coming to grips with the right thing to do- they are favorites. Why are animals so popular in children’s books? I call it the ‘indirect method’, children love animals and can see themselves in their situations. From Winnie the Pooh to Paddington Bear to Bruce the bear, they delight children and give them ‘the right stuff’.
I chapter read every day at rest time. This is big. There are no pictures. Yikes! You have to make the pictures in your head. That is a huge leap in language and word comprehension. Chapter reading is one of our treasured moments of the day in the classroom. We bring to life the imagination, the world, and the past. The anticipation of ‘what happens next?’ stirs excitement every day. Children listen and think. They ask questions.
Preschool children understand this transition from picture books.
We start the school year with Charlotte’s Web. Year after year it is a favorite.