Friday, January 21, 2011

The power of reading aloud

My school had a family night tonight to celebrate the season. I signed up to read a few Winter books during the “storytime” portion of the night. I signed up for one main reason — I love reading aloud. It just so happens to be one thing I can do very well. For some very strange reason, public speaking has never bothered me. However, I’m not sure you can call reading to a group of kindergartners public speaking. :)
Anyone who knows me professionally knows that I am passionate about children’s literature. A great picture book can captivate a child’s imagination, engage readers in rich language, and most importantly, foster an early love of reading. Every week, I thrive on picking the perfect books for my lesson plans. The possibilities for connecting literature to lessons are endless. For example, this week, our “Book of the Week” told the story of a chameleon who was not very good at blending in with his surroundings. So, we read stories about other mixed-up animals, enjoyed informational books about chameleons, explored animals with camouflage (and the reasons they use it), as well as read a few more books by the same author. It all comes together beautifully.
If anything truly surprised me during my first year of teaching, it was the power of reading aloud. Reading a great book can render the wildest classroom into a wide-eyed, engaged group of little learners. I have always loved children’s books, but I had no idea of their hidden power. With the right amount of enthusiasm, voice, and volume, a read-aloud can become electric and magnetic. It has become my new “secret weapon.”
But, back to tonight… I read Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner (an imaginative story with beautiful illustrations) and The Gingerbread Girl by Lisa Campbell Ernst (a playful sequel with equally playful language). Great books are the first step to great read-alouds. Although, I have made due with some pretty weak stories in the past — but, I am not proud of the amount of acting I had to do to entertain them! Seated in a rocking chair, with about 50 children at my feet, I was surrounded by plush snowmen and twinkling Christmas lights. The school did a magical job at turning our library into a Winter Wonderland. The crowd was wiggly and loud, with sticky fingers from the pancake dinner. But, not even the wiggliest boy could resist being entranced by the environment and the stories. Ahhh… the power of the read-aloud.
I was struck by the amount of parents who stopped me afterwards. They told me how much they enjoyed the stories and what a nice job I did… but mainly, how theycouldn’t believe how their child was so “into” the stories! I mean, “How do you DO that?!” I realized that these parents do not know the power of reading aloud. I know that kids behave differently for their parents than they do for their teachers, and much differently at home than at school. But, I think many adults are wary about reading aloud. We want our children to become confident readers, but many parents often shy away from reading to their children. Most read with their children before bed, but this sadly seems to cease around the age of seven, when they can read to themselves. As much as they might not want to admit it, older children absolutely love picture books, especially when they are read-aloud. Regardless of whether you can read it yourself or not, there is something magical about being read to. It feels like a really great hug.  
I think parents need to feel empowered with the magic of read-alouds. It’s not just for teachers. It’s not just for little kids. One of my education professors started every class by reading us a picture book, and we ate up every word. What an awesome way to warm up a crowd. 
So, READ IT FORWARD! Read a great book to someone you love, young or old. Don’t be shy. Make up silly voices. You’ll be surprised who might listen. And just how great you will both feel.

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