I learned to make homemade Italian spaghetti sauce from my mother, who learned from her mother, who learned from her mother...well, you get the point. With each generation, traditions change and evolve slightly based on personal preferences, health concerns, or availability of ingredients. My mother believed that the best sauce was made with pork, or at least a combination of pork and beef. She particularly liked to use the neckbone of the pig. While I believe she was right about it making great-tasting sauce, I have personal reservations about using pork in my sauce. I use beef instead, when I use meat. My family thinks my sauce is superb and I am glad! I have also gone one step further with my sauce to make it a healthy meal: I finely chop up vegetables and add them to the sauce. Squash, zuchinni, peppers, and eggplant add nutritional benefits my family isn't even aware they are getting! It also makes a nice thick sauce that really sticks to the pasta.
You probably have traditions similar to this that you have altered over the years to suit your family's needs. The read-aloud can also be once such tradition that you can jam-pack with healthy reading benefits that your children won't even be aware of - they will think they are just enjoying a wonderful tradition of storytime!
In order to make the most of your read-aloud time, here are some things you can do:
- Involve your child in the book selection: even babies can learn to choose books that they enjoy or are drawn to; this develops in your child the sense of being an independent reader and one who makes her own choices about reading.
- Talk about the pictures and the cover and what the book might be about. This helps to teach your child about predicting - a strategy that good readers use often.
- Talk about new vocabulary words that you encounter. Encourage your child to stop you when you read a word they don't know so you can explain it. You may even want to look up the word in a dictionary or use an online dictionary such as dictionary.com to teach them this valuable life skill. (I have the dictionary app loaded on my Blackberry and keep it with me when I read so I can easily access new words that I encounter even when I am cuddled up under the covers!)
- Talk about characters and setting and which characters or incidents in the story your child can identify with in order to help her become an active and engaged reader. Avid readers constantly find connections to what they are reading and people, events, or memories from their own lives. "Remember when we went to visit that dairy farm and saw the cows getting milked? How is this farm in the book like the farm we visited?" Creating dialogue around books is a wonderful way to help your child make connections.
- Help your child begin to recognize common sight words as you read. Words such as: the, and, is, in, said, etc, comprise almost 75% of the print a young reader will encounter, so the sooner they learn to recognize these words the better!
- If it is a book you have read often and your child has favorite parts memorized, go ahead and let her recite them! This develops a sense of being a real reader. Don't worry that she is not really sounding out words, that will come later!
- Even books for young readers have themes that the author has woven throughout the story. Talk about these themes, whether they are "be nice to animals" or "everyone needs a friend" or something a bit meatier such as: "good versus evil." The sooner your child understands that every author writes for a purpose and that readers can discover great messages in books, the more natural it will be for her to discover the author's message when she reads on her own.
Certainly you don't want the read-aloud time to become a reading lesson - trust me - your child will see right through that! Just as if I were to put large chunks of vegetables in the sauce, my children would reject the sauce all together and I would have ruined a great tradition as well as deprived them of a healthy meal. Don't overload the read-aloud with large portions of "teaching" - make it natural. With a little practice and discretion, you can make the read-aloud a staple in your child's life and the foundation for becoming a successful reader!