Regular exposure to reading and books has a long list of benefits for children: Reading expands exposure to language and new vocabulary, builds foundational skills such as prediction, sequencing, and summarising, and introduces characters and worlds far beyond a child’s family or neighbourhood. In short, reading is really powerful for children.
In our data-overloaded, media-saturated world, reading with our children and talking with them about what matters is more important than ever before. Reading fluency, comprehension, and ability to relate the ideas in a story to yourself and the wider world are the building blocks of imagination, empathy, critical thinking, and creativity—all crucial qualities for success today.
In recent years, there has been a lot of new research on steps that parents and carers can take to make reading with their children even more meaningful. If parents engage in conversational reading, they can both broaden and deepen the already wonderful benefits of the reading experience.
Our Educators recently attended training on this super-charged teaching technique, conducted by Pamela Waine, Officer of Regional Development Capricornia for Playgroup Australia. It focused on the Abecedarian approach, exploring 3A techniques for conversational reading, making language a priority, enriched care and learning games.
“Conversational reading is so easy to do, and it 10x the benefits the children get from the reading experience,” says Mary Thomasson, Nominated Supervisor at Gracemere. “We enjoyed learning about these simple but powerful techniques which we will employ in our daily practice.”
Conversational reading is like a to-and-fro conversation, asking the child to do something, and not always following the words in a book. It is fundamentally different from broadcast reading, which is simply reading the words in a book to a child. This is also distinct from the practice of asking closed questions that have yes, no, or a right or wrong answer. Conversational reading promotes the use of open-ended questions to create these conversations while reading. In this dynamic, the child and the caregiver contribute to the conversation in equal parts. The goal is to promote thinking and reflection, and a new level of comprehension and curiosity. It’s less about what you know and more about what you think.
You can practice conversational reading anywhere, any time, and you can start from when your child is in Nursery, because the child does not always have to talk in the conversation – they can take part by looking and pointing. Here are some examples:
Point to things in the book and watch your baby’s eyes. Is she looking where you are pointing?
Encourage your child to point to things in the book. Name anything she sees or touches. Say the key word first: “Apple. You are pointing at the red apple.”
Point to lots of pictures and say interesting things about them
Sometimes point to parts of the book and name them: “See, this is the cover of the book. See, these are the pages.”
Point to the first word on a page and tell him that’s where the reading starts.
Ask your child to show you things. “Where is the dog?”
And ask him to show you in interesting ways: “Stroke the cat.” “Put your finger under the flower.” “Cover the man’s shoes.”
Ask her to act out the answer to a question about the book. “How does the kangaroo move?”
As your child gets older, ask them to answer questions and explain things about the book in words.
Make mistakes and let your child correct you, or leave out words, and let your him supply them.
You don’t always have to use children’s books. Try magazines, the packaging of favourite products, signs, and so much more!
Talking to children about what matters, inside a story or outside a story, gives them the language they need to shape their thinking. It teaches children to read deeply, and that gives them the ability to better understand themselves and find their place in the world. Best of all, conversational reading is fun!
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