3 simple steps to increase children’s school readiness: “Read a book. Ask a question. Start a conversation.”

When I was in first and second grade, we had a beloved time block on our daily schedule for S.S.R, Silent Sustained Reading.  During this time, each student would pick out a book, find a patch of carpet to cuddle up on, and read to him or herself for thirty minutes.  I always looked forward to this time.  I loved the exhilaration of finishing one book and quickly picking out another.

But was I gaining anything else?  Was I absorbing what I was reading?  As I consumed page after page, was I asking any questions of the content?  In the sustained silence, was anyone asking questions of me?

The answer is no.  While I have fond memories of S.S.R, I don’t believe I really grew or was challenged by it.  In fact, I can’t name one book I devoured during S.S.R.  I can, however, with much delight tell you about the books we read and discussed as a class.

As world-renowned literacy coach Diane Frankenstein explained in her conversational reading workshop for All Our Kin providers last week, valuable teachable moments are lost when a book is put aside once the last page is read.  Instead, she says, educators and parents should use books as tools to start conversations with children.  At its core, conversational reading means: “read a book, ask a question, start a conversation.”  The concept “really is that simple,” she said, “you’re not missing anything.”  Simply asking children what they think about a character’s choice or action in the story can start these conversations. Don’t give the disengaged or shy child a free pass, either.  “I don’t know isn’t an answer.  I’m not asking what you know, I’m asking what you think!” emphasized Diane.

Conversational reading strikes me as especially valuable because it engages children of all reading abilities and empowers them as they realize that the answers are within themselves.  By encouraging children to think, guess, and question at a young age, conversational reading helps children build the skills they need to be ready to learn in school.

Conversational reading isn’t about analyzing literature or even testing children on content. Before reading one word of a book, Diane says, “take a picture walk.”  Going through a book page-by-page and asking children for their reactions or predictions encourages imagination and critical thinking and crucially builds vocabulary, the true purposes of the conversational reading technique.  Diane modeled what she meant as she walked workshop attendees through the illustrations of Unlovable by Dan Yaccarino, eliciting predictions and first impressions from the audience.  She then read the story from start to finish, and next let the dialogue begin.   Attendees also brainstormed their own questions to ask the children in their family child care programs.

“This was the best workshop I’ve been to,” one provider told me,  “I can’t wait to do this with my kids.”

I smile thinking about how many children will benefit from conversational reading strategies now that over forty providers serving about 240 of our youngest children have been schooled in the practice.  Family child care providers work daily nurturing young children, getting them ready not only for kindergarten but for a lifetime of learning.  By enthusiastically attending All Our Kin’s professional development workshops, providers are able to increase their skill set and strengthen their already dynamic and quality programs.  It’s amazing how  a conversation about reading can open doors for children and family child care providers alike.

Workshop attendees went home with a copy of Unlovable and other fun gifts courtesy of Andy Eder.  Thanks Andy!

To learn more about Diane Frankenstein and conversational reading strategies, visit her website.

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