Monday, March 12, 2012

Roald Dahl and the Value of Reading Aloud to Children

(Written by guest blogger, Lyndsey G.)

A new survey has named Roald Dahl as the favorite children’s author among British elementary school teachers. Dahl earned twice as many votes as J.K. Rowling and Julia Donaldson, who came in tied for second. In addition, five of Dahl’s titles made the list of top ten children’s books, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG and Danny the Champion of the World. (Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo took first place.)

Why do teachers gravitate to Dahl’s books over the newer, shinier books that line the shelves?

Many suspect it is because they are timeless classics that are fun and easy to read aloud. Amanda Conquy, the manager of Dahl’s literary estate, told the BBC, "Teachers would find Roald Dahl easier to read to their class than they would the Harry Potter books. The Harry Potter books are brilliant but they are very long and dense." Dahl’s books, while less complicated, have been known to captivate young audiences. They’re the type of books that beg to be read to groups of wide-eyed and belly-laughing kids.

Dahl’s popularity among teachers raises a question worth considering:

How important is it that parents and teachers read aloud to children?

Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, argues that reading aloud to children is not just important – it is imperative.

Studies indicate that children whose parents and teachers read aloud to them benefit in two ways:  First, they are more capable and fluent readers, writers, speakers and listeners than those children who are not read to. In addition, those children who are read to are noticeably more enthusiastic toward reading than those who are not read to. As Trelease said, “We read to children for all the same reasons we talk with children: to reassure, to entertain, to bond, to inform or explain, to arouse curiosity, to inspire. But in reading aloud, we also condition the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure, create back ground knowledge, build vocabulary, and provide a reading role model” (4).

Some other important statistics Trelease notes are:
  • A study conducted in 1999 by the U.S. Dept. of Education found that “children who were read to at least three times a week had a significantly greater phonemic awareness when they entered kindergarten than did children who were read to less often” (9). Those children who scored in the top 25th percentile in reading were almost always the ones who were read to three times a week.
  • In 2004, the U.S. Dept of Education studied the reading-aloud and oral communication between parents and children from professional, working class, and poverty backgrounds. When the words these children were exposed to from birth to four years was totaled, the results were telling: “the four-year-old child from the professional family will have heard 45 million words, the working-class child 26 million, and the welfare child only 13 million. All three children will show up for kindergarten on the same day, but one will have heard 32 million fewer words.”
If you're interested in beginning to read aloud to your children or students (or if you already do, but would like do more), the Indiana Library Federation has released a fantastic list of recommendations called "Read Alouds Too Good to Miss 2011 - 2012."  Or you can browse our recommendations here at Mentor's Reader!

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