Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Read-Aloud Handbook: A Must-Read for Parents

I asserted in my last post that I think The Read-Aloud Handbook should be required reading for every parent. Maybe that's overstating the case--I know there are plenty of caring, involved parents who don't need this book to teach them to read to their children. But as the daughter of public school educators, I dream of what might happen if every parent in America had to read at least an article excerpted from this book! Here's why:

Jim Trelease, the author, quotes the Commission on Reading's 1985 report "Becoming a Nation of Readers," which found that “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” Trelease says that “poverty and illiteracy are related—they are the parents of desperation and imprisonment.”

And if you're tuning out because you're not a parent, consider this:

“Reading is the ultimate weapon, destroying ignorance, poverty, and despair before they can destroy us. A nation that doesn’t read much doesn’t know much. And a nation that doesn’t know much is more likely to make poor choices in the home, the marketplace, the jury box, and the voting booth. And those decisions ultimately affect an entire nation—the literate and the illiterate.”

Trelease points out that it's never too early to read to your child. You started talking to your newborn on the very first day, didn't you? Maybe even before that, while she was still in the womb! She couldn't understand you, but that didn't stop you. Reading is the same way.

“We read to children for all the same reasons we talk with children: to reassure, to entertain, to bond, to inform or explain, to arouse curiosity, to inspire. But in reading aloud, we also condition the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure; create background knowledge; build vocabulary; provide a reading role model.”

But children need to hear more words than we would normally speak in conversations, or even than are commonly heard on TV shows. Trelease writes:

Most conversation is plain and simple, whether it’s between two adults or with children. It consists of the five thousand words we use all the time, called the Basic Lexicon. Then there are another five thousand words we use in conversation less often. …Beyond that ten thousand mark are the "rare words," and these play a critical role in reading. The eventual strength of our vocabulary is determined not by the ten thousand common words but by how many "rare words" we understand.

…printed text contains the most rare words. Whereas an adult uses only nine rare words (per thousand) when talking with a three-year-old, there are three times as many in a children’s book… oral communication (including a TV script) is decidedly inferior to print when building vocabulary. …This poses serious problems for at-risk children who watch large amounts of TV, hear fewer words, and encounter print less often at home. Such children face a gigantic word gap that impedes reading progress throughout school.”

And this little fact, based on research, was astounding to me: “the larger the vocabularies and the more complex the thinking process in youth, the less chance of Alzheimer’s damage”! Reading has side effects I never even imagined.

In case you haven't gotten my point, I highly recommend The Read-Aloud Handbook. I'd also encourage you to check out Jim Trelease's personal website for lots of great information, including these handy PDF files:

Ten Facts About Reading
30 DOs to Remember When Reading Aloud
A Dozen DON'Ts to Remember When Reading Aloud


Anonymous said...

Wait...are your parents school teachers? Mine are, too. Haha. My mom was a literacy specialist and is now a kindergarten teacher, and my dad teaches 8th grade English.

And I've read this book and highly recommend it, too. It's one of the reasons I haven't given up on reading to William even though he could seem to care less right now.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Amy. The thing about reading is that it is not just a function of a person, but a value as well. To make a sweeping generalization, I will say that most parents who are both poverty-striken and illiterate have come from homes where thier own parents didn't value reading and education. Therefore, they adopted their parents' values, and passed them on. It's hard for me to get my mind around it. I know that people can rise above both poverty and illiteracy. Dr. Ben Carson is an excellent example. I also know that poverty can stand alone and be the very impetus for a person to value reading because they see the link between education and personal improvement (be that a better job, better health, better neighborhood, etc).