The importance of reading stories as a family
May there be peace on Earth, and may it begin with me. I remember sitting in church, between my mom and dad, singing, hymn firmly clutched in my hand. I was amazed when I realized that as we read we went from each first line to the chorus. Then we sang every first line of the second section, until the chorus, then the same for the third section, and so on. It was an “ah ha” moment, a moment when the light bulb went out in my head. I had discovered another treat on the pleasure of reading. Running my finger over the printed words, the sounds, the story all lead to clarity, thoughtfulness and an exciting desire to read and learn more. Reading aloud to children is powerful. Of all the experiences believed to contribute to early literacy, the shared reading of books between families and children is the most valuable.
“Storytelling begins in the earliest days of infancy when parents hold or feed a child and continues throughout childhood as it is woven into the fabric of family life,” writes the late Bernice Cullinan of New York University. “As young mothers, Denny Taylor and Dorothy Strickland instinctively knew that stories would nourish their children’s minds like milk and vegetables nourished their bodies. Now, with personal and professional references, they carefully observe the reading of family storybooks to focus on ongoing literacy lessons. I benefited from these dairy and vegetable experiences. Dorothy Strickland was my mother, God rest her soul. Cullinan goes on to describe my mother and Taylor as keen observers, the type who sees the connections between complex learning events and the natural occasions in which they occur.
When adults read appropriate text to their children in the early years, such exposure is a boon to children’s language development and reading comprehension. Stories can help children process and understand their everyday experiences, explore new topics, or express their reactions or emotions to situations. Read-alouds help young children learn about the meaning of print; the sequence of letters; the role of the author and illustrator; and descriptions of characters, settings, and major events.
Through books, children discover the mysteries of reading, bring their attention to print, and engage with writing patterns that build on and expand young concepts of texts and how they work. The books expose children to words beyond those they hear in their daily lives, building vocabulary and allowing children to experience people and places in situations they might never encounter otherwise. Books reinforce basic knowledge. Repeated book readings help children recognize words and connect speech to print. Reading aloud can help children develop their ability to reason for themselves and with others if children actively participate in discussions about the book being read.
When children discover adult storybooks that use expression and show fun, this provides an important opportunity. They learn the language, play with ideas and build confidence and understanding. Through reading aloud, modeling and discussion, children learn that print has meaning, that print reads from left to right and that picture clues can help tell the story. story. They also learn important skills such as prediction, and that one can use drawing and writing to answer the story. Using verbal prompts can help guide children through the process and show them how to express their ideas. Ask open-ended questions. This gives children the opportunity to work on critical thinking, extending their understanding more globally.
Keep a variety of books that offer a diverse representation of groups and identities. There are variations within cultural groups and a book cannot authentically and accurately represent all the dynamics of a culture. Work toward a balance between books that reflect your children’s culture, language, backgrounds, identities, and abilities, and books that expose them to different ways of living, being, and doing.
From mundane events to extraordinary occurrences, sharing storybooks gives parents and children the opportunity to explore, experience, discuss and engage. Include your whole family and extended family in storytelling and creating. Stories can help connect home and school, make concepts relevant to students, and demonstrate the collaborative nature of the early learning community. Read books from your school and public library at home and reflect together on the topics of the books in a family reading journal.
If reflective thinking is an intellectual process, reading storybooks as a family creates opportunities in our homes to shape that process. I have seen working parents with a new baby, bilingual families, and single parent families with multiple children, all benefit greatly from reading family stories as a vital habit in their daily lives.
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