It was hat day at Buffalo Elementary. A little girl wearing purple polka-dotted panda ears greeted me at the door of Mrs. Crum’s third grade class. The boys had on baseball caps and cowboy hats and various camouflage toppers. Every dapper bonnet turned my way as I entered, curious. They’d never seen me before.
I was there for read aloud.
I pulled my bag of books in with me, a little nervous. It’s been years since I’ve read to a classroom of grade-schoolers. I didn’t know if I’d chosen the right books, if they liked stories, if they would be disrespectful or inattentive. I didn’t know if they would even care.
But there I was. Keeping a promise. Because, anxious as I was, I remembered. I remembered how the love of books changed my life. I remembered how difficult it is, in this mountain culture I grew up in, to break through the invisible lines of poverty and learn a different way. I remembered how books showed me a world outside of all I knew and gave me permission to dream.
That’s why I got involved with Read Aloud West Virginia. This nonprofit organization’s mission is to “change the literacy climate in West Virginia.” When I went through the volunteer training, the executive director Mary Kay Bond said, “Seventy-three percent of our children are not reading proficiently by the fourth grade (according to a study by Kids Count). We know that fourth grade is a benchmark; from pre-K to fourth grade kids are learning to read. But from fourth grade on they are reading to learn.”
She went on to cite studies that indicate that children who aren’t proficient readers by the fourth grade are more likely to drop out of school, more likely to engage in at risk behaviors such as substance abuse and antisocial acts. They have an increased risk of teen pregnancy and are more likely to end up in prison.
Reading skills are important.
And one thing we know is that the foundation for reading skills is laid from birth. The Study of Meaningful Differences found huge differences in the number of words children were exposed to—depending on their socioeconomic status. Children in families below the poverty level were exposed to 13 million words by age four, as opposed to those from families of professionals who were exposed to 45 million words.
Vocabulary is a huge component in the development of reading skills. Read Aloud West Virginia has programs from birth that encourage parents to read to their children. Classroom volunteers who read to the same kids on a regular basis are only a small part of what they do.
But it was the part that called my name.
I read to two classes that day and we had a blast. I had forgotten how much I loved read aloud time. I had forgotten how lovely it is to be engulfed in a sea of rapt young faces caught up in story.
I can’t wait to go back.
Just in case you’re wondering, here are the titles I read to the third grade class. These were wonderful books to stimulate discussion. They were simple, stand-alone books, rather than chapter books. I might try some chapter books when I know the kids a little better. But these books were great tools to get to know the kids better.
Grandmother Winter by Phyllis Root, Illustrated by Beth Krommes. It was snowing outside the window as I read and this was the perfect book to start with. We talked about imagery, metaphor, and soaked in the beautiful artwork. They loved this one.
The Secret Science Project that Almost Ate the Whole School by Judy Sierra, Illustrated by Stephen Gammell. Oh, my goodness we laughed so hard. The pictures are wonderful in this book and there is an ick factor that the kids loved. It was a great rhymy read.
Our Yard is Full of Birds by Anne Rockwell, Illustrated by Lizzie Rockwell. This book stimulated a lot of discussion about hobbies (because I am a birdwatcher) and the kids loved sharing. We talked about our state bird and identified several others. It was cool.
Would you believe half an hour sifted through my fingers after reading only three books? It was because we had such great conversation. I didn’t get to half the books I brought with me. Next I read to a first grade class and that was super fun.
Here are the books I read to the first grade class:
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. This one never gets old. I used to read it to my boys every winter. The kids were enthralled. We talked about winter in the city as opposed to their country home. And when Peter put the snowball in his pocket? I could have cried for how cute they were.
Phil the Ventriloquist by Robert Kraus. This was a new one for me but I loved it’s silliness. And the kids learned a new word to tell their parents.
Ish by Peter H. Reynolds. I bought this book for my Jeffrey when he was small. This story that encourages creativity is a special one for me. I hope it gave those earnest faces permission to express themselves freely.
The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak. This one was the all around winner and the kids requested I bring it again next time. They cackled so loud that their teacher and her aide stopped what they were doing and started watching us. It was show-stopping fun.
Have you read aloud to a child lately? If not, you are missing out on some of the purest fun ever. I highly recommend this as an antidote to the winter doldrums. And, oh, yeah, we have a winner to announce! The winner of Fight Back with Joy by Margaret Feinberg, as well as the other book bundle books is … (drum roll please):
Kit Tosello! Congratulations, Kit. I’ll be in touch.
Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us: