Sometimes it can be easy to forget how much the simple act of reading aloud develops early literacy skills. After all, how much can a child really be getting out of having the same simple picture book read to them again and again. It turns out—a lot!
For parents who want to take these early literacy interactions to the next level, promoting active engagement during reading is key to helping young children build the skills they’ll need not just as emerging readers but throughout the rest of their lives.
- Don’t forget the pictures. Sometimes it can be tempting (especially at bedtime) to simply read through the book and call it a night. However, taking the time to point out the pictures and give young readers a chance to engage with them is a crucial literacy step.
Choosing books that are heavily (or even entirely) picture-based can help parents build these observation skills. Some great options include Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann and Ball by Mary Sullivan. There are even some picture-centric books for older readers that can help reinforce the habit of using context clues and thinking critically about what’s happening. Check out The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett and Journey by Aaron Becker.
Using books like these can help build the habit of slowing down and really taking in the illustrations on each page, a practice that can carry over into other, more word-heavy choices as well.
- Ask questions with no answers. As we read to children, we often start by asking questions that can be answered with the pictures on the page. What color is the ball? Can you find the shoes? However, as children advance in their reading journey, we can start asking them questions that have not yet been answered or even questions that don’t have an answer at all:
- What do you think will happen next?
- How would you feel if that happened to you?
- Was that the right thing to do?
Asking more complex questions gives children the opportunity to really participate in the way the story unfolds, giving them the chance to consider how stories are related to their own lives.
- Go ahead. Read it “one more time.” Another important step to engaging young readers is recognizing that repetition serves an important purpose. When little kids insist that we read the book just “one more time,” they’re giving themselves a chance to make connections and dig deeper with each turn.
Research shows that children are able to pick up more vocabulary words when they hear a book repeatedly, and it also gives them a chance to listen for rhythm and flow in language.
Reading regularly to young children is one of the best steps caregivers can take to giving them a rich, engaging educational future. Adding in some tools for engagement helps build on that foundation and provide children with the habits and skills they need to become curious, active learners.
Michelle Parrinello-Cason is an educator with a Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition who has taught in college, high school, and elementary settings. Her focus is on helping students who have struggled to find a fit in traditional classrooms find positive learning experiences. She has done this through teaching developmental writing classes, creating curriculum for gifted students, and engaging in the homeschool community to create non-traditional learning opportunities.