Nancy Bailey: Reading Aloud to Help Children Read Well Their Whole Lives!
Nancy Bailey reflects on Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook. Reposted with permission.
Every new parent should get a copy of Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook. Teachers should have a copy too. In honor of the late Trelease, parent and award-winning artist, writer, and author, it’s important to point out that his well-documented research lives on encouraging reading aloud to children, even babies, to foster a lifelong love of reading.
How do we help America’s children learn to love reading so they’ll want to read their whole lives and be good at it? The Read-Aloud Handbook has the answers.
I taught reading to middle and high school students with learning disabilities for years, and my degrees and preparation are in this area. I recommend Trelease’s book and his website to all who care about teaching children to read.
It’s never too late to read aloud with children and teens. Make it a family affair.
I learned as a teacher that while phonics is essential to help children learn to read and to help those with reading disabilities, what drives children to improve, is continued practice reading what they find exciting and having access to books and material in their classes, homes, and school libraries.
What’s alarming is the push for young children to read by drill and a focus on sounds and flashcards and the technicalities of reading before they understand the glory of books!
Public schools are turning classrooms for young children into assessment centers, with classroom walls lined with phonics rules and sounds that hold no interest, emphasizing disabilities like dyslexia before children can understand why they should care about words. Then setting them up for instruction with unproven online programs or direct instruction with manuals.
It’s troubling to see the loss of school librarians and the closure of school libraries, especially in poor schools. It tells children that reading isn’t a priority. Why should they care about learning sounds if they cannot access books and reading material?
We know that great school libraries mean better test scores, so why is there rarely any mention of this?
Competing phonics programs, some created by individuals with unclear credentials, advertised for instructing children as young as two and three, inadvertently reveal that children dislike these programs and could be learning to hate reading.
Here are examples of some of the claims.
- Teach your child to read without tears.
- Don’t battle with your young child to teach them to read.
- Teach your child without making them cry.
- Teaching children to read and spell is challenging.
- They’re excited, but the process can be so hard that they lose interest.
- Children try to get out of it.
- The child said they thought I was their friend.
- The approach is no fun at all.
The emphasis on the technical side of reading could destroy a child’s interest, sense of wonder, or joy. Pushing young children to learn words and sounds when they cannot connect their purpose to books wastes precious time.
Some children will read early. Parents may brag that their child learned to read at age two! Maybe those children will like to read in the future, but perhaps they won’t. If it’s mostly drilling phonics sounds, they likely won’t care, but excitement about books will carry them into the future with a love for reading.
In The Read-Aloud Handbook, Trelease includes a quote by Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, called America’s pediatrician, who stated this on John Merrow’s Options in Education, National Public Radio, September 3, 1979.
I’ve had children in my practice who were reading from a dictionary at the age of three and one-half or four and had learned to read and type successfully by age four. But those kids went through a very tough time later on. They went through first grade successfully, but in second grade, they really bombed out. And I have a feeling that they’ve been pushed so hard from outside to learn to read early, that the cost of it didn’t show up until later (pp. 31-32).
One of the most moving sections of Trelease’s book is about parents who taught their daughter with disabilities how to read by consistently reading aloud the books she enjoyed when she was young.
Trelease discusses Cushla and Her Books by author Dorothy Butler who describes how parents read their child a diet of ten books daily (pp.25-26). Reading became so enjoyable that Cusla defied those who claimed she would not go far intellectually.
Instead of buying unproven, costly online phonics programs or drilling children nonstop on flashcards, get Trelease’s book and learn how to establish true reading joy for children that will last a lifetime and avoid reading remediation. Read books and magazines to children that they enjoy, that they choose!
Make sure your child’s school has a great library, and get them a library card from the local library.
Parents and teachers, children don’t need to cry to learn how to read. It can be an enjoyable process and can start anytime. It’s a simple and inexpensive solution. Read aloud to children and do it often. Even older children may enjoy being read to.
If parents and educators genuinely want to help children learn to read, they’ll follow Trelease’s suggestions in The Read-Aloud Handbook. Helping children learn to read can and should be a joyful experience. Many thanks to Jim Trelease.
Trelease, J. (2013). The Read-Aloud Handbook: Includes a Giant Treasury of Great Read-Aloud Books. New York, New York: Penguin Books.