by Stephanie Landry
Stephanie Landry is a Manager of Teacher Leadership Development at Teach For America in Chicago, supporting pre-K teachers in community-based organizations and public schools throughout the city.
Now, as a teacher coach in Chicago, I still love having story time in the daily schedule. So much learning happens here! Kids develop sophisticated vocabulary as well as listening comprehension and critical thinking skills that will serve as the foundation for the rest of their education. And, in the hands of a good teacher, it’s fun. Kids build a love of reading that will sustain them throughout their lives.
My sister also loves reading and children. While her career path has not taken her to the classroom, since 2012 she has served on the Jumpstart Young Professionals Board in the Metro Boston area, spreading awareness for early education and raising money to help put volunteers in classrooms.
For this year’s Read for the Record, she’s finding her own way to support the campaign for early childhood education and literacy – by volunteering and also talking to parents and teachers about how they can participate. However, as someone who’s not in the classroom every day, she’s also apprehensive. I called her last week to talk about it. “When I get up there in front of the kids,” she told me, “I start to think about all the pressure that comes with trying to teach them. There’s a lot riding on educating the little humans, and I get a little overwhelmed thinking about the growing minds that are solely in your hands.”
This post is for my sister and all the other volunteers out there who might be nervous about sitting front of a crowd of small children. Reading and talking are two of the simplest, yet most profoundly important things you can do for a young child, and you’re already an expert at them! With the simple act of reading, you are positively impacting children’s lives. And in case you’re still anxious, here are a couple of tips from a self-proclaimed “Read-Aloud Enthusiast” to help you prepare to read this year’s Read for the Record book, Bunny Cakes:
·Read the book to yourself beforehand. You don’t need to memorize it, but giving it a quick read-through to familiarize yourself with the characters and plot will help you feel more confident.
·Make sure the pictures are facing the kids when you read. You’d be surprised how many people forget this one. (My sister remembers being “reprimanded” by one of my students for not properly showing the pictures when she read to them.) Make sure to pause after every page to show the pictures around.
·Use funny voices for the characters. Even if you feel ridiculous, the kids will love it. It’s impossible for 3- to 5-year-olds to be snarky, so release your inner diva.
·Point out the illustrations in addition to reading the text. You don’t have to do this for every picture, but it’s especially important to pay attention to the illustrations and lists in Bunny Cakes!
·Don’t be afraid to let kids call out and respond. Story time isn’t passive – kids learn through sharing their ideas and hearing new ones. Don’t worry if kids call out – welcome their contributions! A simple smile and nod with, “That’s a great idea!” will go far. And if everyone is talking at once, saying, “Okay, let’s see what happens next!” will help you get back on track.
·Don’t be afraid to stop and explain words. There are some great vocabulary words in “Bunny Cakes”- earthworm, grocer, caterpillar, thrilled, to name a few. Young children are soaking up new vocabulary at this age, and you can help them build their repertoire by reading aloud.
·Try checking their comprehension. Most 3-to 5-year-olds aren’t reading on their own yet, but they are developing listening comprehension skills that will help them “read to learn” later in life. Here are a couple of questions you could ask post-reading. If the kids are having trouble answering, try flipping back to a particular page to prompt them.
o What kind of cake did Max want to make for his grandma?
o What kind of cake did Ruby make for Grandma?
o How did Ruby try to keep Max from knocking things off the table?
o Does anything in this story remind you of something from your own life?
·Have fun! It sounds corny, but like I said above, story time helps build a love of learning that will hopefully last a lifetime. It’s supposed to be fun, for them and for you.