On the first Wednesday of every February, World Read Aloud Day is scheduled to celebrate the power of reading aloud. Thinking about this day in 2021 made me reflect on my life and the books that were read aloud to me and those that I have read aloud to others. I recall joyful moments where time seemed to stand still, whether I was the participant or the reader. It’s made me reflect on the business of today’s world and the how we are reminded to stay in the moment and be mindful. I wonder where reading aloud can fit into this? Maybe this could be just as important (or dare I say it?) even more important than mindfulness? Think about the book by JM Barrie called Peter Pan. In today’s busy world wouldn’t it be wonderful to listen to this story be read aloud and close your eyes whilst you’re swept away to Neverland?
Thinking back to my childhood I clearly remember some picture books and where they were read aloud to me. In my first two or three years, I vividly remember a story about a little rabbit who lost her first tooth. The little rabbit talks about how the space where the tooth is gone is now like a small window in her mouth. This is one of my earliest memories as a child.
I also remember attending Kindergarten when I was three years’ old and the stories that were shared with me by the Teachers. I cannot recall my teacher’s names, but I clearly remember “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” as one of my favourite stories. I didn’t know it at the time, but the simple text, brightly coloured illustrations and the book design with pages that were cut to fit the illustration and holes in the food eaten by the caterpillar drew me in as a child.
I also remember then attending Preschool and being a year older. I was fascinated by the book “Where the Wild Things Are”. When it was read aloud by the teacher with enthusiasm, I remember how I was slightly scared but also intrigued about the “wild things”. I was a cautious and timid child and this picture book gave me the opportunity to explore some risk-taking in my own imagination. Or maybe even escaping my identity and visiting the “wild things” and even befriending them?
My interest in children’s picture books was further developed during my studies at University. I was fortunate to do a whole subject in children’s picture books and relished this class which started with the professor reading a children’s picture book at the start of every lecture. Our assessment was to develop our own professional catalogue of children’s picture books. This required an abundance of research of reading children’s picture books. Whilst it didn’t feel like work, this wise Professor ensured the students who graduated her class left with her passion for children’s picture books, which is an essential characteristic of any good early childhood teacher.
During my studies, I also explored the art of storytelling. Whilst I earlier described myself as a shy and timid child those who know me now would be quite shocked. During my twenties at University, I developed into a confident and outgoing person and the art of storytelling became a skill I added to my professional tool kit. I still remember one of my final Practicums in the fourth year. I had chosen to work in a Kindergarten rather than early Primary as my passion has always been with the Birth to five-year age group. I was being visited by my lecturer and was required to present a lesson which in this context was to hold a group time. I still clearly remember this day. I had prepared the story “Tiki Tiki Tembo” as a storytelling experience. This required me to memorize the story and present this with no props. I look back and think this was a risky move for a final practicum! Why didn’t I just read the book? The reason I chose storytelling as the method of presenting this “lesson” was that I loved the story. I think back with pride as to how well my “lesson” went and the fantastic feedback I had from my supervising teacher and lecturer. Why did this go so well? I could say because even back then I was a fantastic teacher, but I know that wasn’t the case at all. As a graduate, I still had so much to learn, just as I do today. Then why did this “lesson” go so well? It was simply because I loved the story so much and the children joined in on my enthusiasm.
Of course, during my career, I continued to visit book shops that specialized in children’s picture books and research the latest releases and continued to read aloud to children even in my role as Centre Director. I did this for a few purposes, to deepen my relationships with the children who attended, to role model reading aloud to my educators who were still developing this skill, but secretly because I loved reading aloud to the children.
The birth of my daughter further impacted my love of children’s picture books and literature. After she was born, I found being a Mother at home with a young baby was a stark contrast to my work life. As a Centre Director, I was used to being busy all the time and an extremely fast-paced day. Whilst everyone had told me how busy it was to be a mother of a newborn it was a different kind of busy. It was busy in that the “job” never ends but it certainly wasn’t as fast-paced as I was used to. What was I going to do with this “spare time”? I used this time to read to her, even from the first day she was home from the hospital. Why did I do this? Of course as an early childhood teacher, I knew the benefits of reading aloud for our developing attachment as well as the benefits for her oral language and literacy development, but the real reason was a “selfish” one. It was that it was such a lovely way for me to spend time with my baby.
Our love of books has continued to grow over the years with many outings to our favourite book shops, storytimes at our local library and special trips into the State Library which has a fantastic area for young children which is well worth going to if you haven’t been. My daughter and I still reminisce about these outings and how special they were.
As mentioned earlier reading aloud to your children has so many benefits for their oral language and early literacy development. In the book, “Reading Magic” author Mem Fox shares how your child can learn to read before school. She does however caution parents that:
“Reading aloud shouldn’t be thought of as a grimacing This-is-Good-for-Your-Child event for mothers and fathers. When we get involved in reading aloud to our babies and other children, we often forget entirely that we should be reading aloud. We have such a rollicking good time and we relate so warmly to our kids as we read together, that it becomes a delicious ‘chocolate’ kind of experience.”
I fully acknowledge that in 2021 today’s families are under so much pressure to just survive the enormous expectations of parenting and trying to find a work-life balance. I have not written this article to create a further burden on families. There are copious amounts of information about “how” to read aloud to children, the questions to ask and many other strategies. Whilst this can be helpful for families, I am wary that this can take away the enjoyment for both the child and the parent.
I have written this as a suggestion on a way to find small moments of joy with your child through sharing reading aloud moments. The focus should be the relationship and enjoyment for both of you, with the educational benefits for your child a by-product of the experience.
As Mem Fox states:
“Twenty-first-century living is more than hectic. For parents whose careers eat time and endanger relationships – and I emphasize busy fathers, as well as busy mothers – the read-aloud session between a parent and child, is one of the most effective rescue remedies available. The time spent reading together provides clear evidence to a child of a parent’s love, care and focused attention. And it gives the parent a chance to close off the rest of the world, relax and connect with the child wonderfully.”
For more information see #WorldReadAloudDay or www.litworld.org
Much love, Miss Karen