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Dialogic Reading - The Fun and Easy Way to Read to Your Child

Are you reading regularly to your little one?  If yes, keep it up!  You are preparing your child for life-long success.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends reading aloud to children for at least 15 minutes a day beginning in infancy.  Those 15 minutes spent reading together can be the best part of the day for both of you.  According to the AAP, children who are read to during infancy and preschool have better language skills and are more interested in reading when they start school.  What's more, sharing a book helps kids and parents create a closer bond which is so important for cognitive and social-emotional development.

Reading to a child doesn't always come naturally

Even though educators and children's advocates have long beaten the drum about the importance of reading to children, it doesn't always come naturally to parents.  They may have negative associations around reading and books from their own childhood, or school experience, or be uncomfortable with their own reading ability.  If they grew up in households without books, or being read to themselves, the notion may simply feel foreign to them.  They may also wonder why it's important to read to a baby who is too young to understand the words, or may be more interested in chewing the book than listening to the story.  These reasons are particularly common among parents coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.

SHARE STEP makes reading to your baby easy and enjoyable

Fortunately, there are evidence-based practices designed to put parents at ease and help them enjoy the experience.  One such method is SHARE STEP, developed by John Hutton, MD, a pediatrician and researcher based in Cincinnati.  It's a simple practice that uses acronyms to guide all parents, not just those having difficulties, in getting the most out of reading to their little one.

    Snuggle on your lap 

    Hold - let your baby hold the book and learn how it works

    Affection - show your baby that reading together is love-ly!

    Respond to what your baby does

    Enjoy - most of all, have fun!

    S-t-r-e-t-c-h word sounds so your baby can learn them

    Talk about the pictures

    Explore new word sounds in fun ways

    Patience - if your baby gets frustrated, stay calm and keep trying

Keeping it fun and easy with your preschooler

The uncertainties about reading to babies is likely to continue into the preschool years.  Dialogic reading is a process that's been around since the 1990's to help parents read more naturally with slightly older children.  It may sound complex, but it's nothing more than a fun way of reading that many parents already do naturally.  Dialogic reading is for children roughly two and over who have reasonable verbal skills.  It's been extensively researched and shown to dramatically build language and literacy skills, strengthen relationships, increase interest in reading and improve overall brain development.

Dialogic Reading is Storytelling

When we share a book with a preschooler, we most often read and the child listens.  However, research tells us that youngsters get the most from books when they are actively involved in telling the story.  Dialogic reading uses books to teach them to become good storytellers.  Most children's books are appropriate for dialogic reading.  The best ones are books that have rich detailed pictures, and are interesting to the child.

With dialogic reading, there are four simple things to keep in mind when reading - Prompting, Evaluating, Expanding, and Repeating (PEER)

Prompt your child to say something about the book 
Evaluate your child's response in a positive way
Expand your child's response by rephrasing and adding information to it
Repeat the prompt to make sure the child has learned from the expansion

Imagine that you and your child are reading First Day Critter Jitters and looking at the page with the picture of a school bus on it.  You might say, "What is this?" (Prompt) while pointing to the school bus.  If your child answers "bus," you might follow with "that's right, it's a bus (Evaluation); that kind of bus is called a school bus (Expansion); can you say school bus?" (Repetition).

There are five kinds of prompts that are used in dialogic reading.  The first letters of each of these prompts spell the word CROWD.

Completion prompts:
    You leave a blank at the end of a sentence and get the child to fill it in.  These are typically used in books that rhyme or books with repetitive phrases.  For example, when reading Goodnight Numbers, you might say, "Goodnight, seven days. Goodnight, whole week.  Goodnight, two ears, so small and _____." (sweet)

Recall prompts:
    These are questions about what happened in a book a child has already read.  Recall prompts work for nearly everything except alphabet books.  For example, on a second or third reading of Eat Pete, you might say, "Can you tell me what happened to Pete at the end of the story?" (The monster hugs him).  Recall prompts help children to understand story plot and to describe sequences of events.  Recall prompts can be used not only at the end of a book, but also at the beginning of a book when the child has been read that book before.

Open-ended prompts:
    These often focus on the pictures in books.  They work best for books that have rich, detailed illustrations.  For example, while looking at a page in a book that the child is familiar with, you might say, "Tell me what is happening in this picture."  Open-ended questions don't have a right or wrong answer.  Families Belong has wonderful illustrations that give your child lots of opportunities to tell you what the people in the families are doing - singing, gathering, relaxing, spinning; or where they are - at home, in a park, on bicycles, or in a thunderstorm...

Wh- prompts:
    These prompts usually begin with What, When, Why and How questions.  Unlike open-ended questions, Wh- questions tend to have a right or wrong answer.  They often focus on the pictures in books as well.  For example, you might ask your child questions about what the characters in the book are thinking or how they are feeling, and ask them how they know this.  In The First Strawberries, you could ask, "Why do you think the wife no longer wanted to live with her husband?" and follow-up with "How did he feel when she left?" or, "What did the sweetness of the strawberries remind her of?"

Distancing prompts:
    These ask children to relate the pictures or words in the book they are reading to experiences outside the book.  For example, while reading Last Stop on Market Street, you might say something like, "Do you remember taking the bus last week just like CJ?"  "Where were we going?"  Or you may ask them how they would feel if they were one of the characters in the book and why this is so.  When reading First Day Critter Jitters, you could ask, "Are you nervous about the first day of school?"  Distancing prompts help children form a bridge between books and the real world.

Distancing prompts and Recall prompts are more difficult for children than Completion, Open-ended, and Wh - prompts.  Don't use Distancing and Recall prompts too often if your child is younger than four or five.  Also, try not to ask questions that can simply be answered by a Yes or a No.  YES/NO questions don't make for good conversation about a book.  Don't push your little ones with more prompts than they can handle happily, and keep it fun!  

Here are the BEGIN WITH BOOKS/Imagination Library favorites mentioned above:

Eat Peteby Michael Rex - 2020 selection for children turning 5

Families Belong, by Dan Saks, illustrated by Brooke Smart - July 2021 selection for children turning 3

First Day Critter Jitters, by Jory John, illustrated by Liz Cumo - July 2021 selection for children turning 5

Goodnight Numbersby Danica Mckellar, illustrated by Alicia Padrón - 2021 selection for children turning 3

Last Stop on Market Streetby Matt De La Pēna, illustrated by Christian Robinson - 2021 selection for children turning 5

The First Strawberriesretold by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Anna Vojtech - July 2021 selection for children turning 4

--Caron Bell, PhD. Early Childhood Development and volunteer.


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