Shared book-reading: Start young and read often

Reading aloud to young children is one of the most effective early literacy strategies available to preschool educators and families.

Reading aloud to children increases their literacy development.Three-year-old Jennifer snuggles into her mother’s lap. Five-year-old Kyle sits beside his father on the couch. Infant Amanda is propped up on the sofa between Mom and Grandma. All three children are looking into their parents’ faces with anticipation sparkling in their eyes. What are they waiting for? Sharing a book with a family member!

One of the most commonplace, yet powerful, activities that an adult can share with a child is the act of looking through a book together. Your children may have access to written materials all day long but when you add a familiar adult, the activity takes on new and potent effect. Early literacy research confirms that adults can boost a child’s literacy learning by sharing books with them while they are still very young.

One of the key characteristics that make shared book-reading activities work is the social and emotional aspect of learning. Shared-book reading is most effective when children feel emotionally secure within the reading situation. This criterion is most easily established in a home setting with family members as participants, but it can also be accomplished in a high-quality early childhood education environment such as a childcare center classroom or childcare home. Ways in which families and teachers can nurture relationships with young children include being consistent, being responsive to the child’s needs and using good verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

Active participation of the child in the shared book-reading process is another key element that is required for maximum literacy learning. Adults can scaffold literacy learning by talking about the characters and actions in the book. Of course, pre-verbal child will not answer with a word or a sentence, but they can point to things in the book. Many books for infants and toddlers are interactive in that they have a built-in way for young children to become involved by lifting a flap or touching an interesting texture.

Preschoolers and school age children may need help engaging in a conversation about the book, and this is fine. The point is for the adult and the child to share the activity. Following the child’s answer with another question is a good way to extend the conversation and broaden the child’s concepts related to the conversation. Experts also suggest that adults follow the child’s interests when selecting literature to share with young children. Finally, using specific praise and encouragement when a child attempts to verbally interact will support his/her active participation.

The process of shared book-reading can also facilitate higher-level thinking skills needed for acquiring literacy skills. Adults can scaffold cognitive processes by using techniques such as open-ended questioning and the use of descriptive language. Asking open-ended questions help children develop memory capacity and analytic skills and, among other cognitive processes, are necessary for higher-level thinking. Using descriptive language not only builds vocabulary, but it also lends richness to the literacy experience of shared book-reading.

Shared book-reading is a well-supported strategy in early literacy learning literature. The joint position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the International Reading Association suggests that reading aloud to young children is one of the most effective early literacy strategies available to preschool educators and.

Another source of support can be found in the research of David Dickinson and Kimberly Sprague. The authors cite shared book-reading as one of the aspects of the preschool classroom or home that can affect later literacy learning. Additionally, Grover Whitehurst and his fellow researchers have conducted students on the effects of a particular type of share book-reading technique in a study of children from low-income families. They found that children who participated in shared book-reading activities achieved significant growth in language development.

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