What is Interactive Reading and Why is it Important?

When I was a kid, we had one choice if you wanted a story. You read it – out of a book.  Since I was lucky, I had a mom who read to us alot as kids and used all different voices to make it more interesting.  When reading The Chronicles of Narnia, she whispered when the kids were hiding in the closet and growled when Aslan faced the witch.  She gave accents to to characters that needed them, pitched voices higher or lower, gruff or squeaky. The wolf sounding nothing like Mr. and Mrs Beaver and she wove the details of the story so eloquently that I could picture everything in my mind.

I learned to read as a dyslexic kiddo because I was motivated to do what I watched my mother do!  I used to think I must have been a brilliant kid to have been able to read well at age 6, considering I’m probably severe on the dyslexia spectrum. Now I realize what Mom did was Interactive Reading.  Here are some of the benefits of Interactive Reading;

Interactive Reading is when you read to your child but spend the time it takes to describe unfamiliar vocabulary and phrases like “her eyes smarted” or “sashayed down the street”. It’s when you talk about difficult concepts like bravery or peace and summarize what just happened by asking questions and getting opinions from the audience, “How would you feel if that were you?”, What could happen next?” “Why do you think he did that?”.  Here are a few of the benefits we see when read interactively.

1. A stronger relationship with you  – When Mom collected all of us at the end of the day to continue the book adventure, we were looking forward to our time together. When I continued the tradition with my own family I noticed a few things.  “Book Time” could last one chapter or three, depending on how hard they wheedled and, if things had gotten exciting. We all laughed and snuggled in the safe cocoon of family time, and that time was important even if I had been forced to discipline earlier in the day or if a set of siblings had been fighting.  No one wanted to miss out on the camaraderie and even a decade later, all four of them talk about the books we read and them we enjoyed together.

2. Help them deal with social struggles  We get the chance to share the world of the story with our listeners.  It allows us to compare our world to the book world and to follow along as someone else faces problems and makes decisions. We can see things like bullying and shyness through the eyes of a character and it allows us the opportunity to talk about how they handled it and how WE might also handle that situation.  It gives our listeners the opportunity to think ahead to when they might be faced with something similar.

3. Enhanced concentration and discipline  As we lengthen our reading time during Interactive Reading, it’s shown to improve our concentration and self discipline for other activities like studying and staying focused in class.  Sitting still as we imagine in our head what we are listening to was proven in a study done by Emory University, they found that brain connectivity increased in areas of the brain that deal with emotion and movement.  We actually start to feel the emotions and the sensations of the characters!  Pretty incredible, right?

4. Acclimation to new experiences One of the times we moved when our kids were little, our realtor gave them a book about moving.  It gave us a starting point to discuss the different steps of packing, traveling hours to our new home and exploring our neighborhood.  There seem to be a mountain of books on first experiences, doctors and dentist visits, trips to zoos or prairies, new schools or sports teams.  They provide a point of reference for our learners and a roadmap of what the experience might be like that we can share if we’re reading together.

5. Early academic success  Vocab building and good expression support academic success.  When a student looks at a new word or phrase in a book, they may have to guess at what it means.  If however, we can explain it as we read, they learn within the context of the story which gives a perfect example of what we are describing.  Another thing dyslexic learners struggle with is “good phrasing” as they read.  They may read in a monotone, ignoring punctuation and and expression.  When we provide good examples of that – they learn how it SHOULD sound and can imitate what they hear

6. Basic Speech Skills Knowing new words and then using them, are a sequence of steps in learning. Think about toddlers – first they listen to our words – then they start speaking.  It takes awhile to learn all the rules about how our language fits together.  I remember one of my kids declaring, “I willn’t go to bed!”  As they hear us read a book – we push their understanding of both the printed AND spoken word.  Zack, our youngest, is a fanatic about words and phrases.  He used every word he heard as soon has he knew it’s meaning and it would become a part of his vocabulary instantly.  As a four year old, he drove them crazy. Instead of saying “No,” it was, “I sadly must decline.” 

7. Reading can boost intelligence In a report citing multiple studies, researchers concluded that reading works in multiple ways to strengthen our intelligence.  It’s not just the “book smarts” that we improve on but also our analytical skills.  When we read with our children – we get to show by example that lifelong model of learning that will give them incredible benefits going forward.

So go for it – make a new family tradition and READ together!

Just my two cents,

Lori – Reading Resources

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