Reading aloud – Cascading into another world

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Outside, night is falling and soon it is time to go to bed. But Mia has other plans. She marches into her room, going straight to her bookshelf and begins taking out picture books. The dark-haired little girl is almost three years old and she knows exactly what she wants. She wants mommy or daddy to read to her. First, they look at one of her cartoon picture books, and then there’s a story for her big brother Paul. Paul is already five and likes different stories, but Mia stays in his room listening, particularly when it comes to thrilling stories of knights which she also likes a lot.
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The fascination of stories

All children love stories, and they are not alone. Grown-ups love stories, too. Stories transport us into another world, they excite our imaginations, providing entertainment and solving patterns to help us cope with a myriad of challenges and problems. Scientists assume that our brains weave stories from events and experiences. These stories then help us to understand certain situations or the attributes of a particular personality.

Reading aloud is the most beautiful way to transfer stories to children. Several studies have been made on the importance reading aloud has for children. Independent research institutes regularly examine how reading aloud benefits children’s speech and personality development. We have compiled the essential points for you here. 

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Why is reading aloud important?

Long-term Stiftung Lesen (German Literacy Foundation) studies prove that reading aloud not only fosters speech development in children, but also has a strong, positive effect on a child’s personality and social competence development.  

Reading aloud expands a child’s vocabulary and active speech skills. In short, they learn improved articulation. Therefore, looking at picture books and reading short, understandable stories to even the smallest of children is recommended. Pointers on finding the appropriate book can be found under Which books are best to read aloud?

Also, children love the intimacy of reading aloud; the close physical presence that nurtures the bond between them and their parents or another person who reads aloud to them regularly, be it grandparents, siblings, or teachers.

A current Stiftung Lesen study proves that reading aloud strengthens children’s personalities. Over 90 percent of the children who are read to on a daily basis are described as cheerful and self-confident. This description applies to only one half or two thirds of the children who are rarely or never read to. Interesting enough, reading aloud promotes social skills. Children who are often read to make a greater effort to integrate outsiders into a social circle, willingly helping and mediating in problem or conflict situations.

Stories animate speech. Expand on interesting story aspects and talk about the characters or pictures with your little listener. How do they act? What do they think? How would your children act in this situation? Have they ever had such an experience? The list of topics is long and frequently set a conversation in motion, leading to a child describing experiences in school or kindergarten. Stories often relate basic behavior patterns that children unconsciously absorb and act out. 

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Helpful pointers for reading aloud

There is no wrong way to read aloud. The person reading as well as the children’s ages and attentiveness play major roles. Typically, a chosen text is read aloud in one sitting. Some more ambitious readers take on different voices for the individual characters, but that is not necessary.  Especially with stories read repeatedly, you transfer the moods automatically, depending on whether the situation is funny, suspenseful or earnest and on how the characters react to it.

Particularly with younger children it makes sense to read conversationally, asking questions or veering off from the text to talk about illustrations. This way it’s easy to create an atmosphere for questions or comments on the text you just read. You can point out details in the story or illustrations.

Do not read too quickly. Your little listeners need enough time to follow the plot and imagine the pictures in their own minds.

Approach reading aloud naturally and choose books that also appeal to you. A book that you find linguistically or contextually inappropriate for your child can stay on the shelf. And when precisely this book is your little one’s favorite, you will certainly strike a satisfying compromise.

Regular reading aloud is best done at regular times, in regular places. But stay flexible and be sensitive to your child’s mood, to how the day has been and to how you feel. After hard day’s work despite an annoying head cold, you can expect consideration from your child. Perhaps you turn things around and let your child read to you? Children often know their favorite stories by heart, or make up their own stories to the pictures in the book.

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Which books are best to read aloud?

There are many children's books…most important is that the content is suited to your child’s age. Babies love simple books made of fabric or wood or buggy books to play with underway.

One-year-old children are old enough for their first cartoon books. They take great pleasure from simple stories in rhyme, books with uncomplicated pictures, with first words and clearly illustrated picture books.

From 2 years on, children enjoy little stories or their first, basic non-fiction about everyday events or things that they have observed such as construction vehicles, trains, farm or zoo animals.

At 3 years of age a child’s attention span grows and they are old enough for more comprehensive picture books and their first books for reading aloud with somewhat longer texts. 

The spectrum of topics for four-year olds becomes ever broader. Simply experiment with what appeals to your children - classic authors of children’s books, picture books with longer texts on each page or stories with several chapters. Whether fairy tales or true-to-life, dragons or super heroes, elves or princesses…the possibilities are unlimited. And don’t hesitate to read aloud topics that are initially not at the top of your child’s favorite list, such topics expand your child’s horizons.

The two stories, Maisy Marvel and the exploding cough syrup and Vampire Draculino and the fearfully delightful costume festival, are excellent material for a cozy story-telling evening, offering wonderful entertainment for both little ones and grownups.