It’s a New Year, a time when many consider new resolutions, intentions and commitments. I would argue it’s also time to REconsider some of our standard practices, like the experiences we can offer to emerging readers when we read TO them and/or WITH them. The differences between these two are important, though perhaps not obvious. Reading TO and WITH kids are as different as talking to and with them.
Both have their places, of course, but they really aren’t substitutions for one another. Consider that if we only talked TO our kids, but not WITH them, we’d miss out on rich conversations, the initiation of potentially powerful inquiries, learning more about each other, and much information about the present situation that could benefit them immediately and in the long run. If we only talk WITH children, the need for immediate clarity, guidance and understanding (and perhaps compliance for the sake of safety or good manners) has no alternative option. Of course, employing either reading to or with is better than bypassing reading to them all together. However developing readers need both.
If we bail on either reading TO or reading WITH kids, we risk stunting their growth in reading comprehension, vocabulary development, writing ability, a ton of valuable background information that can’t be acquired so easily in any other way, and a shared experience that always gives us joy in our teaching and/or parenting.
When we read TO them, along with offering a positive experience with wonderful books, we provide kids insight into what reading is and what it can be, its obvious power and its subtleties. While listening to us read, kiddos can watch our faces, hear our fluent and nuanced vocal inflections in our volume changes, engage with our alterations of vocal pitch and speed and note our important pauses. Reading TO kids provides them with a full view of how reading builds literacy upon the foundations of ever richer language mastery. But only reading TO kids can hold them at arm’s length of full engagement with the text.
Reading WITH kids, on the other hand, (e.g., inviting their questions and observations, offering our own thoughts about other experiences or books, voice pointing on repetitive phrases in predictable books, inviting them to read along, etc.) invites them into a status as active, collaborating, engaged, happy readers. AND of course, only reading WITH them eliminates the riches available through the modeling we offer while reading TO them.
All this is to suggest that regardless of our veteran or novice status as parents and/or teachers, it may be time to commit to REconsider the ways in which we share books with our kids and students.
Happy New Year, everyone!