Fluency, flow, & fun: Why it's good for children to practice reading out loud

You know the benefits of reading out loud to your children, but did you know it's equally important to encourage your young readers to read out loud as well? Reading specialists agree that oral reading improves fluency and comprehension by helping children become more comfortable with the rhythm of language. It also helps with word recognition; after all, the first thing we say to children who stumble across a word they don't recognize is, "Sound it out!"

So how do you encourage children to practice reading out loud?

Start small. Your child may be intimidated to read a whole sentence or paragraph to you in the beginning. Give them something smaller to start from, like a grocery list. Have your child help you with the shopping by reading the items out to you. It's a chance to practice reading on a small scale while reinforcing the idea that the purpose of written texts is to communicate information.

Ask your child to read to you. While you're cooking dinner, loading the dishwasher, or driving them to school, invite your child to share one of his or her favorite picture books with you. Try to stick to titles that are on or slightly below their reading level; this keeps the focus on practicing oral fluency rather than improving their reading scores. Repeated practice with familiar texts is just the thing to build up confidence for tackling longer passages in the future.

Follow along with an audiobook. One way children learn to read expressively is by hearing others do so. Try listening to audiobooks together, but give your child a print copy of the book to follow along with. Take breaks to talk about how the narrator reads: How expressive is the narrator? Is each character uniquely portrayed? If you find a fun passage, read it out loud together trying to mimic the way the narrator did it.

Encourage your child to read to younger family members. Younger siblings or cousins are great for your elementary-aged children to practice on. The younger the audience, the less likely they are to judge your older child's mistakes and insecurities. In fact, toddlers are often an appreciative audience and can be quick to offer praise if it means more time with older brother or sister!

Check out PAWS for Reading. Several branch locations of the Tulsa City-County Library offer PAWS for Reading, a program that brings in certified therapy dogs for children to read to. All of our canine volunteers are excellent listeners, fuzzy, and adorable, and create a relaxed, judgment-free zone where struggling reader can practice. Children aged 5 to 12 can participate, but registration is required. Check the monthly event guide for dates and locations.

Remember, parents, reading doesn't exist in a vacuum: it's a facet of language, a means of communicating. While most of the act of reading does take place in our heads, its ultimate purpose is to express ideas. By encouraging your child to read out loud, you're helping them make that connection.

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