Welcome to part one of our summertime blog series: Sunflower Summer Reading.
Long summer days– when daylight stretches into nighttime and people and schedules are more relaxed– are the perfect time to get lost inside a book.
But what good’s an adventure if you can’t share it?
For this series, we chose to talk about reading aloud, specifically, because it combines two of our favorite things: reading, of course, (and all that comes with it: language, literacy, expression, imagination) and community.
Join us throughout the summer as Sunflower Blog explores reading aloud in all its forms and benefits, from the tangible to the more magical.
“A book?” asked the grandson.
“That’s right.” Replied the grandfather, “When I was your age, television was called books. And this is a special book. It was the book my father used to read to me when I was sick, and I used to read it to your father. And today I’m gonna read it to you.”
“Has it got any sports in it?”
“Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…”
“Doesn’t sound too bad. I’ll try to stay awake.”
“Oh, well, thank you very much, very nice of you. Your vote of confidence is overwhelming.”
Yes, “The Princess Bride” is a movie. A strange way to begin a series about reading aloud, I admit, but at the same time it so perfectly illustrates the worlds that we open up when we read aloud to our children. The film begins with a grandfather reading aloud to his grandson. This reading, this relationship, is the only “reality” that is found in the movie. The rest of the film is what is seen through the imagination of the grandson as his grandpa lovingly tells him the story of Wesley, the woman he loves, and the characters he encounters on his way to save her. While many worry that reading aloud is an activity that will put our kids to sleep, as the grandson frets, know that the results are anything but sleep-inducing and in fact awaken ourselves to the unending joy that can be found in reading.
My first grade class this year studied folktales. The central idea of studying the topic was to understand that stories have been passed down from generation to generation. While the grandfather in “The Princess Bride” was able to share a written book that had been enjoyed in his family for years, most of the generations that have lived upon the earth have had to experience stories in one way– orally. The reasons for this were practical: there has, until relatively recent history, always been a lack of both written books and the literacy required to read them.
The power and effectiveness of oral storytelling can easily be seen through the similarities of folktales throughout cultures around the world. It is why Norwegians know the story of “Katie Woodencloak,” Russians know “Valissa the Beautiful,” Algonquins know “The Rough Face Girl,” and the French know “Cinderella.” These are all variations of the same story, spread over the world through word of mouth over the slow passage of time.
Why read aloud?
So in this age of schooling, where literacy rates are high, and millions of books are literally at our fingertips, why should we continue to read aloud? The reasons are both magical, and equally as practical as the oral storytelling traditions of our ancestors that have allowed us to share in and imagine the same stories that they knew as children.
Let’s start with the magic. It’s fun to read to our kids. It’s fun to engage them in a way where we can see the wheels turning as they use their imaginations to process the worlds that we share with them. It’s fun to hear them make predictions about what they think will happen next, or feel emotions about people that they have never seen nor heard except through our voices. It is the first step in introducing them to the magical world that is found within books.
Even more magical, is that through reading aloud, we are setting the groundwork for a love of reading that will last a lifetime. How does listening to a story make a child want to read? Listening to a story engages our children in the reading process. Yes, they can hear our voices model inflection and emotion, as well as illustrate the difference between dialogue and inner monologue. But what is even more important, at least initially, is that they begin to see the correlation between the written and the spoken word. We are showing them that there is a key to get into these magical places that our voices speak of. That key is called reading.
There are countless articles that explain how reading aloud positively affects a child’s language and literacy development, as well as improves his/her phonological awareness (the number one indicator of reading success!)
Here are some links to just a few of the abundant resources that help explain the practicality of reading aloud to our children:
Reading aloud to our children is an activity that needs to continue in every generation if we are to continue creating able, confident, expressive, and life-long readers. When we worry that reading aloud is an interest that has lost its place, or is no longer relevant in a digital age, we need only to remember “The Princess Bride,” and the world that the grandson so vividly imagines thanks to his grandfather’s reading aloud. It is wonderful to know that someday the boy will be sharing the same story with his own grandchildren.
“Grandpa,” began the boy, “maybe you could come over and read it again to me tomorrow.”
“As you wish.”
Post by Michael Marnell
Photo by Haidor Truu
Sunflower Summer Reading Graphic by Meade Peers McCoy