Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Laurie Bagan, an experienced preschool teacher, who shares her enthusiasm for reading with her class. She is also the mother of three, a new grandmother and, I am happy to say, my friend. Welcome, Laurie!
How long have you been a preschool teacher? What is the age of the children in your class?
I’ve been teaching for 10 years, and I love working with the youngest class—the three-year-olds.
Do the kids look forward to story time?
It’s their favorite time of the day!
How long can you hold their attention? Do you ever read more than one book in a read-aloud session?
Fifteen minutes is probably the optimal length of time. They always ask for a second book, so I’m happy to comply, if there’s enough time.
Which are the ones they ask to hear again? Why do you think that is?
Young children really respond to books that have a good sprinkling of humor. Also, I look for books that contain rhyming verse, a rhythmic pattern or a repetitive refrain. Repetition of a phrase allows the children to participate in the “reading” either by furnishing an answer to a question that is repeated throughout the book, finishing a phrase for me or joining in on a refrain. For example, today I read the book, Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum; even the title is fun! The rhyming verse, funny story, clever use of language, and the predictability of the repetition all combine to make this book strongly appealing to my kids; they delighted in repeating the chant,”bubble gum, bubble gum, oozy-gooey bubble gum.”
Have there been times when their responses surprised you…when you expected them to like a book and they didn’t?
Absolutely. You can’t always predict what will capture their imagination. In fact, one class might love a book, while the following year’s class will not be engaged by it at all.
What are some of the older books or classics that the children enjoy?
Madeline, Rainbow Fish and Caps for Sale are still popular. The Kissing Hand is perfect for addressing separation issues, and I put a stamp on their hands as is depicted in the story. It Looked Like Spilt Milk is a wonderful read-aloud that definitely encourages the children to participate successfully in the “reading” and helps develop creative thinking. To celebrate “Tu B’Shevat,” which marks the beginning of the “New Year for Trees,” I read The Giving Tree.
Isn’t The Giving Tree too difficult for preschoolers?
No…I can modify books as I read them aloud by leaving out words or a line or even a page, as long as the story remains intact and of value.
Do you have any other favorites?
Ah…so many! Knuffle Bunny, The Wide-Mouthed Frog, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Leonardo the Terrible Monster, all the Eric Carle books, and I really like the Dinosaur series (How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food?, et al.), and Snowmen at Night.
Do you have any tips for holding the attention of such young children?
Sometimes I use props to enhance the reading, for example, a frog puppet for The Wide-Mouthed Frog, 3 dinosaur figures in my lap for any of the “How Do Dinosaurs…?” titles, a snowman stuffed animal for Snowmen at Night; I especially enjoy working with puppets.
Any other thoughts?
How you read is as important as what you read. Reading with expression can highlight all the engaging elements in a good book and bring it to life for the children. Use dramatic pauses, vary your vocal tone and pitch, try different voices for each character, be aware of eye contact and think about facial expression, as well. Bringing energy and animation to the reading will significantly improve the experience.
Thanks, Laurie, and one last question…What is the first book you read to your baby granddaughter?
Goodnight Moon—a particular favorite of her mom’s.
While your grandchildren might be fortunate enough to have loving parents and dedicated teachers in their lives to read to them, make sure you take advantage of the opportunities to do so, as well. Reading aloud imparts lasting benefits to both the reader and the young listener.
Do you have a special book you’re looking forward to reading to your grandchild (or other child in your life) one day? What is your grandchild’s favorite book so far? Let me know in the comments.