There is no shortage of research pointing to the importance of parental engagement in a child’s education. Proactive engagement in reading and math activities is especially important in the preschool years to prepare young students for kindergarten. It's no surprise the Office of Educational Technology recommends creating apps that encourage family engagement. With regard to literacy, shared-reading experiences, also known as storytime, are touted as one of the most effective uses of time in the early childhood years and have been shown to foster positive brain development. Shared-reading sessions promote foundational literacy skills such as associations between written and spoken language, letter and word sounds, and basic print conventions; these sessions also foster positive emotions and an affinity for reading.
But literacy benefits depend on more quantity; even more important is the quality of shared-reading experiences. Simply reading together is wonderful, but here are some easy ways to get the most out of storytime.
1. Point with your finger. Non-verbal reading cues, such as pointing to the text, are a great strategy for focusing a young reader's attention. Attending to written text during shared-reading experiences has been shown to have a positive effect on vocabulary development. However, young children have a tendency to look at the illustrations instead. To refocus the young reader, use your finger to follow along as you read aloud. This process will help foster connections between written and spoken language by showing children the visual representation of their spoken vocabulary. And remember, there is utility in attending to illustrations. To demonstrate this comprehension strategy, make connections between the pictures and words by pointing to the graphic representation of certain vocabulary words or talk about how the image depicts events of the story.
2. Ask questions about the reading process. Understanding basic print conventions and the common components of written language are all part of reading development. This includes fluency in the components of a book, for example. So, before reading together, talk about the various components. What is the title? Who is the author? Who is the illustrator? Let the child hold the book. Does she hold it right-side up with the pages pointed in the right direction? Such actions demonstrate a basic understanding of written language. Moving into the story itself, encourage conversation about general print concepts. As you read, have the child be in charge of turning the page. Ask questions such as, "Where should I begin reading on this page?"
3. Ask questions about the story. Children's reading habits begin as speaking and listening skills. Through activities such as shared-reading, children begin to develop an understanding of reading behaviors, which includes strategies for comprehension. Therefore, reading together is a great way to model thinking critically about the text itself to encourage deep comprehension. Common wh-prompts are an easy way to engage in such conversation. Who are the main characters? Where do they live? Why do the characters feel the way they do? What are the characters doing? Furthermore, have children think beyond the text. For example, ask questions about how the characters and events relate to the child's own life.
4. Follow the story with discussion. Similar to the previous recommendation, talking beyond the words of the story introduces several opportunities for modeling productive reading habits and casually assessing children's reading development. A sure way to examine children's comprehension is to have them retell the story. Again, stop and encourage the child to think critically about certain plot points. Also, repeated readings are a great way to get the child to take the control of the experience. For pre-readers, have the child "reread" the story to you by analyzing the illustrations and recounting the events of the story you just read together. For beginning readers, perform the same exercise, but make a diligent effort to draw connections between key words.
5. Make reading fun. Most importantly, make reading an enjoyable experience--something young children look forward to doing with you. Reading together should be a special event where attention is focused solely on the reading experience. Let the child choose what and where you read. Get other members of the family involved. In short, foster a love of reading.
Using these and other research-based principles as a foundation, we developed Read Aloud as a supplement to shared-reading experiences. We implemented strategies such as word-by-word highlighting and guided word interaction to draw emergent readers' visual attention to the print so they could understand how letters, words, sounds, and structure combine to form sentences and stories. We've also adding a unique recording feature so that parents, teachers, and even young readers can record themselves to further simulate the shared reading experience and make the activity personal and special.
In addition, Read Aloud provides free access to numerous books with three reading modes: Read to Me, Help Me Read, and Read by Myself.
- Read to Me – Words highlight as the book is automatically read aloud. Readers experience the speaker's intonation, rhythm, and stress.
- Help Me Read – Readers are guided through the book and control the reading pace. Readers focus on developing print knowledge skills and identifying words.
- Read by Myself – Readers can progress through books silently and select only the words they would like to hear. This traditional approach allows readers to build confidence with selected support from speakers on specific words.