The human brain is a very complex organ. In the first five years or so, a child’s brain is crowded with neurons and synapses being formed constantly. Neuro-scientists have proven that the child’s brain is at its most pliable during these early years of life. It is these crucial years in the growth of a brain that will determine not just what the child learns, but also how he or she learns for the rest of their lives. Naturally, we cannot ignore how we deliver information to them, or interact with them during this very impressionable and fragile age in their development.
A lot of research done in the field of early and pre-school education in children will tell you that it is essential that you read to the little ones - help them pick up the basics of social, linguistic, physical and personal coordination abilities, introduce the basic concept of numbers and hone the fine and gross motor skills.
According to the Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report, India – compiled from a nationwide survey carried out by YouGov, it is heartening to see that 34% of kids aged 0-5 are read aloud to 5-7 days a week. In addition, among the kids who are no longer read to, 57% wished that it had continued.
Look at any behavioural research study, and you will see that everyone–including children–learn much better when they are in interactive and supportive environments where they feel special in some way. Also, we must note, that many children find this a relaxing experience, which can be a good tool to reduce toxic stress in our children.
Picture a storytelling session–a teacher sitting with a book, surrounded by children–all waiting to hear her weave a whole new world with her words for them to walk into. In the hands of a good storyteller, armed with the right book, one that covers diverse subjects and topics, this medium can support, inform and nourish a child. When a teacher reads aloud an age-appropriate book to a group of children–as they hear a story, and make the relevant connections, they learn to become better listeners and their imagination and creativity is activated.
"For me, my read-aloud sessions are exclusive time with my son, without other distractions. The moment we pick up a book to read out we are transported to a world created by the book, away from mobiles, TV, and trappings of regular life." (Parent of a six-year old)
“Read aloud builds the foundation for independent reading in the future.” (Fountas and Pinnell, 1996) “When a child listens to stories being read aloud, they also learn to understand the process of writing a story, as well as becoming aware of literary conventions that are often used to start or end stories.” (Bredekamp et al., 2000).
"To me, as a teacher, a read aloud session is what calms a child down and helps the child to concentrate on the text being read. It is a time when, subconsciously, the child learns voice modulation, articulation, pronunciation, pauses, tone, fluency and speed. It is an end all activity in developing a love for a language in a child." - Primary school teacher
A read aloud with a big book helps children make important links between what is written and what meaning it conveys – that written words ultimately convey meanings and sets up a conversation between the child and the author as well. Your children will also be learning to read. True, when a child first comes to school, he or she is too young to read more than a few letters, at the most – but every child first reads visually. When a teacher points to the words as she reads – the child learns to ‘read’ the word-pictures. If it is a word that is oft repeated in the same story – by the end of it, some children will be able to see the word and identify it as well.
"Reading aloud has also been credited with being the single most significant foundation for development of the important literary skills, ultimately leading to reading success" Bredekamp, Copple, & Neuman, 2000
This is also a great opportunity for the teacher to be supportive and empathetic. If any particular child may be facing difficult circumstances – be it at home or at school - story-telling time can be a good opportunity to look for visible cues and to offer help. Often, shared reading sessions can become a safe-space for little children, a place of trust where they can express their problems. It has also been observed that emotionally engaging cute characters often inspire a sense of reciprocity – where the child begins to identify with the characters and share their feelings. This releases oxytocin – the feel-good chemical in the brain – promoting empathy, connection and reducing stress considerably.
Our children are the future. But before they go out into the world as balanced and responsible individuals, it is up to us to give them the right skillset and tools. The beautiful thing about the read-aloud is how it can be tailored to the lifestyles and preferences of families and educators. Everyone can join together around the read-aloud to create a sense of well-being and mutual care. It is a prescription for lifelong success for the child and a dose of deep well-being for the family.
Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report, India – http://scholastic.co.in/static/readingreport/
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