The lockdown’s lesson in reading books aloud

Children stuck at home in virtual learning craved the oral readings of books online with teachers, providing a key lesson in the need to increase literacy.

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Evony Lloyd of Hagerstown, Md., reads to her 3-year-old daughter during the 21-Day Read Aloud Challenge, March 2. The challenge encourages parents to read to their children for 15 minutes every day for 21 days.

For teachers around the world, one of the unexpected lessons of the COVID-19 lockdown has been that schoolchildren stuck at home in virtual learning love to hear books read aloud. With no physical classrooms for the last nine or so weeks of the school year, kids missed the close interaction with classmates and teachers. Whether in hearing books read to them or in reading books together over a video link, younger students felt the bonds of belonging and the magic of spoken literature.

That lesson in learning is now playing out during the summer break and perhaps the next school year.

This summer, for example, West Virginia plans to distribute 200,000 books to children entering first and second grade while also providing an online reading of the books. Numerous authors have relaxed copyright permissions for teachers to read their books online. Libraries have created YouTube channels for book readings. And many popular authors of children’s books have posted read-alouds online.

The importance of these innovations cannot be overstated. In the United States, the latest survey shows the average reading scores for fourth and eighth graders have dropped since 2017. Children’s literacy should not suffer during what is called the “COVID-19 slide” in education. In Florida, the governor has announced an additional $64 million in spending for teaching reading skills with the goal of having 90% of students be proficient readers by 2024.

Reading is often viewed as a solitary exercise. But for children, the reading of books aloud is an intimate social experience. Its effect on later success is now widely recognized. The percentage of parents reading aloud during a child’s first three months is up nearly 50% since 2014, according to Scholastic’s latest Kids & Family Reading Report.

Books are “imaginative rehearsals for living,” stated novelist George Santayana. They are also a great equalizer in a diverse society. Book reading helps prepare a child for mental liberation from ignorance, fear, and falsehood. With their hunger to listen to books during the pandemic, students have taught educators a valuable lesson.

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