- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 13, 2002

Reading and children's-literature specialists say reading aloud to children is the most effective brick in building a skilled, interested reader. It also provides a forum for a shared pleasure in a hurried world.

"You bring a lot of experiences to children through books," says Lee Galda, a professor of children's literature at the University of Minnesota. "When you sit down with them with that book, it's not a teaching-learning situation, it's a sharing situation of the pleasure in the book. That really helps to motivate children to want to read."

The parent of two teen-agers, Ms. Galda says she continues to read aloud to her children.

"When your child is fluent and reading has become comfortable, then they can read on their own, but that doesn't mean you should stop" reading to them, she says.

"How can you get your child to like reading? Read out loud," says Kathleen Odean, an editor at Book magazine, the chairwoman of the 2001 Newbery Medal award committee and a former longtime children's librarian. By reading aloud, parents can "fool a kid into listening and wanting to find out what happens next. It's a great device," she says.

Another strong reason to read aloud is that it models fluent reading and speaking.

"Kids hear how it should sound," Ms. Galda says, and vocabularies are enhanced when children hear words with which they are not familiar.

"Kids learn to define words according to the context in which they're used," she says. "Kids come up on new words, and teachers teach them to look at the context and make a guess. They're not meeting the word in isolation on white paper."

Parents can help children learn new words by pausing during a story, Ms. Galda says.

"While reading, ask your child, 'Do you know what that means?' Say, 'What a neat word exasperated she wasn't just impatient, she was exasperated.' Then use it in a context that helps the child understand what the word is."

Having a conversation about books not a quiz tells parents a lot about their child's interests and learning level. In such conversations, the parent conveys that he or she cares about the character and is engaged in the story, Ms. Galda says.

Another advantage of reading aloud is that children get to hear book language, says Sophie Kowzun, program supervisor for reading and language arts at Montgomery County public schools.

"It's different than the language we use to have a conversation," she says.

She recommends that parents initiate a discussion with their child after turning the last page of a book: " 'What did you like best? What picture?' It's important to know if the child understood what has just been shared. Find out if the child grasped it or was just confused. If so, you can go back and reread it. In addition, you can always stop during the reading and have the child predict what is going to happen next."

The sheer pleasure of reading aloud is a win-win situation that unites caregivers and children, says Denny Taylor, a professor of literacy studies at Hofstra University in New York and author of "Family Literacy: Young Children Learning to Read and Write."

"Books bring families together," she says. "Sharing a story is like a cuddly blanket that you wrap around yourself and your child."

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