Well folks June has finally arrived and that means that in a couple of weeks it will officially be summer. I love this month not just because yours truly was (ahem) born or because I absolutely never tire of catching lightning bugs, (yes, I’m quite aware I’m not 10 years old, but tell that to the kid in me). It isn’t because if you balance an egg on the summer solstice day it will sit upright (Is this even true? Has anyone tried this?) It’s not the summer thunderstorms or the way the grass smells after one. No, the reason I love June is that I’m a Gemini and not only are Geminis wonderful, fabulous people, but we are apparently the communicators of the zodiac. Yep, you read that right. We Geminis, well, we love our words. Words have the power to unite or separate. They have the power to heal or divide. They can enlighten or cast a dark shadow and words have the power to make you laugh hysterically or get all misty eyed. What I love about words is that they have the power to spread knowledge, connect ideas and expand your realm of thinking and feeling. Words help you to step out of yourself and into someone else’s world. Words can calm and they can excite you. Words can provide a warm blanket on a day in which you are feeling utterly cold and lonely and words, the right words, can almost feel like an angel, disguised as a book, a poem, or a simple line ready to offer you solace and comfort.

The reason I love June is because it’s the perfect month to start reading aloud to your children. June days are longer and that means more hours that require activities for kids. For parents worrying about increasing their kids’ vocabulary and comprehension skills, please do yourself and your child a huge favor this summer and just read aloud to them. In Jim Trelease’s book (which I highly recommend), The Read Aloud Book he writes, “This is not a book about teaching a child how to read; it’s about teaching a child to want to read.” Nowadays, the impetus for the majority of parents in wanting their child to read is because they want their children to get into the best universities and colleges. It’s not that I don’t want that for your children. It’s just that lately it’s the first and sometimes only reason being offered by parents. Whatever happened to instilling, in the hearts of our children, reading as a life long pursuit?

The benefits of reading aloud to our children extend far past achieving excellent grades on standardized exams and college applications. Reading aloud enhances the bond between parent and child. It also not only improves vocabulary and comprehension skills, but also teaches intonation and focus. Reading aloud should be an enjoyable experience as much for the reader as the person being read to. If you think that reading aloud is not that important just remember how it felt to see an excellent play or musical. One in which the actors blew your socks off with their performances; and now try to picture the actors saying their lines in a very monotonous and unfeeling way. It takes practice to give a fine performance on stage and the same can be said for reading aloud, but when done well a child can experience the magic and beauty of a story right in their own home.

I’m going to shift gears a little and add that reading aloud can also be done in one’s classroom. From my own personal teaching experience reading aloud helped me tremendously during my first year of teaching special needs 6th graders that were classified as emotionally disturbed. My students (all predominantly boys at the time) usually had a really difficult time focusing on what they were reading. The majority of the students in my class were reading way below the 6th grade level thus leaving them unmotivated in the reading department. At this particular time in my teaching juncture I hadn’t yet read about the benefits of reading aloud. All I knew was that I had always loved to listen to stories being read aloud, whether it be in person, or on the radio. (Does anyone remember hearing stories being read on the radio?) Intuitively, I knew that my students needed to feel motivated in wanting to learn to read. I knew that worksheets and flashcards were not going to instill this desire. I knew I had to pick a book that would totally engage their senses and make their imaginations work and with those two things in mind I began one day to read to them James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.

I told my class that there would be no quizzes or tests on the book. I wouldn’t have them looking up vocabulary words or giving them spelling tests. I told them that all they had to do was listen. I’ll never forget the look on their faces as if saying “huh”, “what’s the catch lady?” And so began our reading aloud time. At first I read for 5 minutes and then it got to be 15 minutes and by the time we got to the middle of the book I was reading up to 25 minutes a day (which was usually unheard of for the type of students I taught). Some students who couldn’t keep still during class and were always coloring or doodling continued to do so while I read, but they heard every word. There was one boy in class who would put two chairs together, lay down and looked as if he was sleeping, however whenever I stopped to ask a question about the story he was always one of the first boys with his hand up. There were maybe one or two students who really couldn’t get through a read aloud, but as for the rest of “my boys” as I affectionately called them, they couldn’t wait for me to read aloud to them.

I remember one particular day (full teacher disclosure here) I couldn’t control my class. They were just running around the room, throwing spit balls, chasing each other, cracking jokes and nothing I said was registering (ah, what a shining teaching moment that was). Finally, out of desperation I said, “OK, who wants to hear what happens next in James in the Giant Peach?” What happened next astonished me. Every boy in the room suddenly stopped what they were doing and in unison just plopped down into whatever seat they could find. “Yea”, “alright!” I heard from several of my students. The spokesman for the class looked at me with a smile on his face and said, “Alright, Ms. Naranjo” (maiden name) “We’re listening,” and listened they did all the way to they end of the book. One of the best compliments I got that year was when I brought the movie version of the book to class. I’ll never forget that every single student in class fell asleep during the movie. I went up to one of my students and asked, “don’t you like the movie?” My student just looked at me and said, “you do the voices better” and went back to his sweet slumber. Now did my students overcome all their literacy problems? Of course not, but as one student told me “I never had anyone read to me like you do.” “I like it,” and this was a student who didn’t know how to spell anything but his name when he came to my class. Reading James and the Giant Peach allowed me to segue into other books, on other topics, and this would have never happened if I hadn’t remembered one fundamental thing about why I myself read. I read simply because it brings me pleasure and I knew that my students were missing this key motivating factor.

If you would like more information on read aloud the book I mentioned before The Read Aloud Book by Jim Trelease is an excellent source. You can also check out his website at http://www.trelease-on-reading.com. Another great website which offers excellent suggestions on reading aloud is by the great children’s author Mem Fox. I’m including her web page that specifically addresses reading aloud, http://www.memfox.net/reading-magic-and-do-it-like-this. I hope you get a chance to read any one of these great sources. If you have any comments or anecdotes regarding read aloud I would love to hear them. In the meantime enjoy your summer and enjoy the wonderful world of books.

All photographs by Β© Nareen Rivas

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