Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why you need to tailor your pace when you read aloud

I used to drive a red 1996 VW Golf. I loved that car. What I loved most about that car was the manual transmission. Having the control to rev the engine in 3rd gear or downshift around corners was so much more fun than driving an automatic with its almost unnoticeable shifting.

Nowadays I drive an automatic, but I still find the need to control and fine tune my speed. My reading speed, that is. This concept of up- and downshifting is especially useful when reading aloud.

Kids will give clues when they need a change of speed.
Have you ever started reading a German book to your child only to be interrupted 50 times with "Ich verstehe nicht" (I don't understand), (I don't like this book) "Ich mag dieses Buch nicht," or (I'm hungry) "Ich habe Hunger." What your child is really saying to you is that you need to change your pace. The way you're reading the book isn't fitting his needs at that time.

Fit the reading to the child.
Just as you consider the child when you're selecting a book, you need to consider the child when you're setting the pace. Don't just read on "automatic." Get ready to shift. If you've got an antsy toddler on your lap, you will read differently than if you have a spellbound youngster who is glued to the page. Of course - you already knew that. But are you adjusting as needed during the reading?

If you follow these simple guidelines, you will find your reading sessions more enjoyable and more productive and have your kids asking for more.

Wiggle worms need to be actively involved.
If your listener is young and not likely to sit still for long, you're likely already choosing bright and colorful books to keep his attention. In addition, help keep him engaged by using different voices for the characters, asking him to find things in the picture or just turn to the next page for a change of scenery. He will reward you with more interest in the book and the reading session.

If he starts to fidget, the language may be too difficult for him.
In this case, you may choose to stop and explain a word or a concept or you may point to something in the picture that will help your child understand what's being said.

Simplify when needed.
There are no "read-aloud" police! Feel free to substitute simpler words, paraphrase, or skip entire sentences if the book is too challenging for your child. You can always read more at the next session. It's better to allow your child to enjoy a story and have a feeling of closure than to be frustrated and not want to listen in German the next time.

When you see the child's attention starting to drift, ask them a question to bring their attention back to the book. Ask them to find something in the picture or ask them about a character in the story. Ask them what they think will happen next.

Kids can listen and play at the same time.
Some kids may enjoy building with Legos or coloring while listening to stories. Some kids may be able to be moving all around the room and still pay attention to the story. Don't assume that they're not listening if they aren't sitting still. You may find they remember more and listen longer when they are engaged with an additional activity during storytime.

Stop before they tire out.
It is critical to stop reading before a child is over-extended or unhappy. You may find a few shorter reading sessions per day are more enjoyable than 1 long time. If you're reading a longer book and your listener is still engaged, you may choose to stop at a particularly exciting part to build suspense and keep her excited for the next time you sit down together.

You can use these techniques with kids of any age to make reading in German more enjoyable.

So next time you're reading to your kids, remember to pay attention to the "terrain" and speed up or downshift as needed. The ride will be so much more fun for you and your passengers!


Tina said...

Hi Sarah,
I have been reading your blog in hopes of finding a resource to teach reading and writing in German. We moved to Canada from Germany two years ago. My 9yo had 6 months of schooling in a German school and learned to read and write at a grade 1 level. He has lost most of what he learned because we homeschool in English and dad really wanted to become fluent in English (he's German and I am Canadian). Now my almost 7yo dd wants to learn how to read and write too. They want to read the books Oma sends them for birthdays and Christmas and write to some of their old friends. I must admit that we hardly speak any German anymore, but are working on our house rules for when we speak German to the kids and each other. We listen to German cassettes on car rides and occassionally at home. I am at a loss at what German materials I can use for school. They aren't total beginners because they can speak and understand, but their reading and writing is way behind. Do you have any suggestions??? We have books, cassettes, CD's and DVD's but no school books in German. Or should I just use what I have and make it up as we go along?

Sarah Mueller said...

Hi Tina,

Thanks for your message! This is a great challenge, isn't it? If your daughter wants to learn, that's fantastic! Her motivation will be key to a productive learning experience for her.

I do have a few books that might be helpful to you but as you've probably guessed, you won't just be able to open up a book and go. I am working on a series of articles about learning to read and write in German (to be published in a few weeks). Let me also forward you a few ideas and let's see if we can find something that will work for your kids.

Viele Gruesse!