Today, (19th September 2019) it is Australian Reading Hour day! Now, I know I am probably biased – given that I am a writer, but I truly love this initiative. I will definitely be taking time to read a good book this afternoon (luckily for me I am in the middle of a brilliant Australian novel that I have a hard time putting down!). I also plan on doing some reading with my children today. We read together a lot, we always have. I still remember purchasing countless books during my first pregnancy and our bookshelves are now heaving with many well-loved favourites. As an educator, I could often be found curled up on a lounge or a cushion reading books to children.
I strongly believe in the power of a book to transport us to another time or place, to inspire wonder and creativity, to make us laugh (or in the case of one of my personal favourites Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge – make me cry!).
I have to admit though, that in my role now as a trainer and consultant, who has the pleasure of visiting many early childhood services, it saddens me when I see dispassionate reading with/to children. What do I mean by dispassionate? Well – it’s a monotone voice, an obvious lack of enthusiasm, hurrying through the pages to get to the end. It’s comments like “oh, not this one again!” when a child hands you The Hungry Caterpillar for the fifth time that day.
Look – I get it. We are not all “readers”. I struggle to hold the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and feel awkward or self-concious when singing to children… but they love me doing it, so I do it anyway. I know there are many educators (and parents) who lack the confidence to read aloud with children. But I urge them not to give up. Reading with children has copious benefits, including:
- Exposure to new concepts, information and ways of being in the world
- Development of imagination and creativity
- Greater benefits in language development than simple conversation
- Greater brain activation
So, the benefits are clear. This might then make it easier to say “just push through the discomfort – do it for the children!” But I don’t believe that is fair. We can’t simply insist that people push through their discomfort, but what we can do is support educators to develop their skills and comfort levels. Some key tips to support educators in developing their skills for reading with children:
- Read familiar stories – get comfortable with some stories and you will get used to the rhyme, the language, the tone and build more confidence.
- Practice, practice, practice.
- Slow down. Often we rush through stories and miss vital opportunities to really support children to connect with the story (and with us!)
- Observe colleagues. If you have a colleague who is a great reader/storyteller – watch them, listen to them. Take note of how they draw children into the story.