Reading Aloud To Children (Part 3)

This series is in 8-parts, adapted from a training handbook I prepared in 2011 for the training of public and private schools teachers in Lagos-Nigeria on how to read aloud to children. It was first serialised online by Reading Gym. I have altered the content to reflect some of the more recent happenings in the world of literacy. It is also my wish that you will (if you’ve not already started one) decide to set up your own book: bag, basket, box, case, shelf, corner or room in your world and kindle that tiny flame to become an inferno of book lovers in that little child in your life or around you.

Please join NaijaEduTalk in its virtual library project ‘The Book Basket’ and send us a picture of your little library or reading sessions on Twitter @NaijaEduTalk and  Facebook at NaijaEduTalk.

Civilisations have survived on reading with few writers, because reading is an integral part of the human existence. Just think about the enormous effects scriptural books have played in the history of mankind even at times when most of mankind could neither read nor write but had few of them reading these scriptures to them. This tells us that reading is not just very important but reading aloud is very essential for the survival of the human race, as this has always been the means by which those that know are able to inform those that do not know. This leads one to say that: in the process of building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading, reading aloud to children is the key.

When we read aloud to children we are helping children’s brains to get accustomed to words, proper sentences, and grammar rules. Above all, we are helping them to develop the love for reading.

Let’s view an analogy of the brain, as pillar is the primary support of a house, words are the primary structure for learning; people pick and register them into their brain either by listening to sounds or by seeing. Take the case of a child into consideration, then it’ll take some years before he can use his eyes to get words into his brain but as for the ear, that starts immediately from infancy. These words that a child hears at infancy grow with him/her into adulthood; the words that come into the child’s brain form the “solid” foundation for the rest of the child’s “brain house”. Those meaningful words in the ear now will help the child make sense of the words coming in through the eyes later when learning to read.

We read to children for all the same reasons we talk to children: to reassure, to entertain, to bond, to inform or educate, to arouse curiosity, to inspire.

But in reading aloud, we also:

  • Condition the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure;
  • Create background knowledge;
  • Build vocabulary;
  • Provide a reading model.

Lastly we should realize that there are “two basic reading facts of life”:

Reading Fact No. 1: Human beings are pleasure centred.

Reading Fact No. 2: Reading is an accrued skill.

Let’s see the test case for the facts above. Human beings will naturally do over and over again that which brings them pleasure and that is why we have our respective favorite sports, teams, soap operas, actors and actresses. We gravitate towards what brings pleasure, and we withdraw from what causes displeasure or pain.

“Every time we read to a child, we’re sending a “pleasure” message to the child’s brain.”

With regards to Fact No. 2 above, reading is like riding a bicycle, driving a car, playing soccer, sewing or even cooking: in order to get better at it you must do it often.

The more you read, the better you get at it.

In the novel To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, Scout the daughter of Atticus informs us how she learnt to read without learning to read formally:

…Miss Caroline came to the end of the story and said, Oh my, wasn’t that nice?

Then she went to the blackboard and printed the alphabet in enormous square capitals, turned to the class and asked, ‘Does anybody know what these are?’…as I read the alphabet a faint line appeared between her eyebrows, and after making me read most of My First Reader and the stock-market quotations from The Mobile Register aloud, she discovered that I was literate and looked at me with more than faint distaste. Miss Caroline told me to tell my father not to teach me anymore, it would interfere with my reading.

Teach me? I said in surprise. He hasn’t taught me anything, Miss Caroline. Atticus ain’t got time to teach me anything, I added, when Miss Caroline smiled and shook her head. Why, he’s so tired at night he just sits in the living room and reads.

‘If he didn’t teach you, who did?’ Miss Caroline asked good-naturedly. Somebody did. You weren’t born reading The Mobile Register.

…Now that I was compelled to think about it, reading was something that just came to me, as learning to fasten the seat belt of my union suit without looking around, or achieving two bows from a snarl of shoe laces. I could not remember when the lines above Atticus’s moving finger separated into words, but I had stared at them all evenings in my memory, listening to the news of the day….anything Atticus happened to be reading when I crawled into his lap every night. Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.  

This is a post by Abdulghaniy Kayode Otukogbe (@otukogbe), the initiator and founding editor of NaijaEduTalk.

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