Reading Aloud: An Investment of 15 Minutes a Day

I reached out to a principal of a school, as they had just that day lost a teacher to Covid-19. In normal circumstances, the management, principal and a few teachers would have been present with the family to offer support and lend a helping hand. I could sense her feeling of helplessness in finding ways to console except to say, ‘stay strong’.

Well intentioned, but what do we even mean when we say that?

  • Does it mean, don’t cry, bottle up your emotions?
  • Does it mean, get on with the funeral arrangements?
  • Does it mean you have to be strong for your family?

We need to give these questions a thought.

Sorry, I digressed. Going back to the helplessness, it is not about one family — there are many others, teachers, friends, children, families who are struggling to make sense of the enormity of what is happening.

And then she said, added to all this is the issue of coping with the aggression of a few parents who are out to find fault with everything that a school does. What is the school doing? Why should parents get involved in teaching? It is the responsibility of the school — and so why should I pay fees? And so on.

Am I ranting? I think I am. I am ranting at the sheer lack of understanding of the challenges a school faces. And yet, on the contrary, am I sailing in the same boat as the parents, a lack of understanding and awareness of what is happening in the minds and hearts of the parents?

No, I am operating from a level of frustration that they just don’t get it, that the main victim is the child. The child is already losing out and unless parents make a distinction between formal and informal education, these children are going to lose out on the foundational years of their lives.

Let’s take a small peek into the psychology and development of the 2 to 6 year old.

  • Their attention span could range from a few seconds to a maximum of 5 to 7 minutes for an activity.(Will be clarified later)
  • They are curious, active and energetic.
  • They want to be independent
  • Are constantly creative
  • Their physical growth is rapid giving rise to new challenges and experiences every day.
  • The social behaviour is a process of growth from solitary play (with an adult around) to parallel, associative and finally cooperative play by about the age of 5+ years. This process is not easily understood by adults as it is looked at from an adult to child perspective rather than child to child interactions.
  • There is rapid growth of language. Children can speak more than one language if exposed to different languages.

This is quite a challenge to keep up with. A child needs a balance in the daily schedule of activities; Formal and informal, structured and unstructured, active and quiet, indoor and outdoor, individual and together, observing and participating.

If we do a check point, it is obvious that there are gaps and limits to what schools, while having to survive for the medium to long term, can do within the given time frame prescribed by the government during the pandemic.

I am conscious of the anxiety levels of parents as regards the education and future of their children. Hence, I want to share an idea or a strategy with parents and teachers too. This strategy will provide informal learning yet with a lot of love and bonding with your children.

I have been doing some reading and research for a project that I want to start. One of the books I have been reading is, ‘The Read-Aloud Handbook’ by Jim Trelease. Allow me to share a few of his research findings with some inputs from me.

PROPOSAL

Spend 15 minutes a day to READ ALOUD to your child.

Yes, that’s right — Read aloud, not narrate. That is a different skill and has its own importance.

Why read aloud?

We’ve taught children how to read, but forgotten to teach them to want to read.

How do we create life time readers?

There are 2 basic reading ‘facts of life’, principles absolutely essential for success in education.

Reading Fact № 1: Human beings are pleasure centred. We do over and over what brings pleasure, and when there is pleasure we respond positively. Every time we read to a child, we’re sending a pleasure message to the child’s brain. When my granddaughters were younger, we used to have a picnic every Sunday on the staircase landing. The picnic consisted of some eats, juice and a basket of books. The elder one once said, ‘when you read grandma, I can dive into the story’. I believe she was talking about pleasure.

Reading Fact №2: Reading is an accrued skill. That means reading is like riding a bicycle or sewing; in order to get better at it you must do it.

The more you read, the better you get at it; and the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.

When to start?

If a child is old enough to talk to (we did that from day 1) s/he is old enough to be read to.

Concept and Attention Span

Here are 2 concepts within the grasp of a 3 year old:

  • The mobile phone can be used to make and receive calls.
  • Books contain stories that give me pleasure if I listen and watch.

Which of these will the new generation child have a concept of?

Most certainly, the mobile phone, not books unless the child is being read to.

Hence, one-on-one time between adult and child is essential to teaching the concept of animals, bicycles, books or anything. Only then the important next stage which is Attention Span will follow. Without a concept a child cannot and will not pay attention to something for an appropriate length of time. Parents often tell me, that the child will not study, but can spend time reading about space, or cricket or animals. The answer is clear, attention span is based on the concept that the child has brought to the activity.

Listening level Vs Reading Level

A big mistake made by parents who started off reading to their child was to stop reading aloud too early. Suppose a child is reading at an age appropriate 4th or 5th grade level –Excellent. But, what level is the child listening on? Generally, up to the 8th grade, children listen on a higher level than they read on. Therefore, children can hear and understand stories that are more complicated than anything that they could read on their own.

One last point, we have 2 forms of language — spoken and written. Written words are far more structured and normally more complicated than the spoken words. In listening to fiction or even non-fiction read aloud, a child is learning a 2nd language, the standard language of books. I once called to speak to a lady, her 8 year old daughter who picked up the phone, said, ‘I will fetch her’. Needless to say, I was fascinated.

I would like to conclude with an anecdote that I read a long time ago.

A father would read bed time stories to his son every night. We all know children like the same story to be read. After a while, the father got tired of reading the same story, so he taped it and showed his son how to use the tape recorder. The little fellow listened to the story the first night, the second night and on the third night; he came with the book to the father. The father told him to go and listen to the tape. The boy said, ‘but papa, the tape recorder does not have a lap’. Bonding time and maybe, just maybe a time to share a few secrets too.

Parents, how about making an investment of just 15 minutes a day for your child for lifelong results!

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Phyllis Farias

Educational Consultant with 2 passions in life: the Child — from toddler to adolescent, and Education — education philosophy and psychology