Whenever I visit preschool or early elementary schools, people ask questions about what is “okay” to do while reading aloud. I believe there is no bad way to read aloud. Together, you and the child or children in your life will come to read-aloud habits that make the most sense for your experience of reading together. But there is no one right or wrong way to do it.
Just in case you’re feeling at all hesitant, however, here are some of the questions parents and caregivers have asked most frequently, concerning reading aloud together with their child.
Q: We often stop and discuss some aspect of the story, or I’ll interrupt to ask my child questions to make sure she understands what’s going on. Is that okay?
A: Reading aloud is a time to enjoy the pure pleasure of a story with your child, and I recommend reading the book straight through, if possible. Of course, if your child asks questions as you go along, it makes sense to answer them. But sometimes a “Let’s read on and see” will take care of it. This is a chance for your child to relax with you with no goal other than to enjoy the experience of sharing a good story.
Q: Sometimes when I’m reading aloud and I see a word that I know my child will not know, I skip it or substitute a different word.
A: Chances are, the author has spent a great deal of time selecting the right word or phrase. Hopefully, you’ve selected this book because you believe it will appeal to your child, or because a trusted teacher, librarian or bookseller has recommended it to you as one they think your child will like. Most children can make a guess about the meaning of a word from its context or by picking up clues from the pictures. Reading aloud allows them to expand their vocabulary, and sometimes you’ll even hear them “adopting” a new word and trying it out in different situations. If they ask, certainly help them figure out the meaning by pointing out clues from the context or the artwork, but otherwise, keep going.
Q: What if my child is stuck on a book I dislike or am just tired of reading aloud night after night?
A: If you really dislike a book, tell your child why, and try to be as specific as you can (e.g., “You know, I don’t like this book very much. I think the main character is mean to his classmates”; or “I don’t think it’s as good as some of the other books we’ve read”). Then suggest, “Let’s pick another book.” If that doesn’t work, choose an alternative (“Look what I picked out for us to try”). You may have to ride out your child’s obsession with a book or series, but that doesn’t mean you can’t introduce a new title into the mix every now and again, and your child will eventually tire of it. In the meantime, you’ve (a) expressed your opinion if you disliked the book and (b) attempted to bring in some variety.
The most important thing you can do is commit to reading aloud regularly, ideally establishing a consistent time of day, or if you are separated by distance, perhaps a consistent day or days each week when your family reads aloud together. It might be when your children get home from school, right after dinner or just before bed. But try to keep it consistent, so that it’s something you all look forward to together. Reading aloud gives you the gift of family time together, a common vocabulary, and it gives you great memories of shared stories.
With all my best,