By Allison Wedell Schumacher
When my daughter was just learning to talk, she thought a book was called a “to read.” She would toddle toward us, board book firmly clutched in one tiny hand, saying, “To weeed? To weeed?” Who could resist? So I would sit down with her and read the book in question for what felt like the millionth time. But inevitably, the rest of my to-do list was doing battle for dominance in my brain, so I would sometimes speed through, summarizing here, skipping a page there, hoping she wouldn’t notice.
They always notice.
In my better mom moments, though, I engaged with my daughter in interactive reading in hopes of helping her develop critical thinking and social-emotional skills. In my last blog, I talked with an expert in this field who told me why this is so important (and how she discovered that fact firsthand). This time, I’ll go through excerpts from the book Zach Hangs In There— a story about a boy trying to achieve his goals— by William Mulcahy (illustrations by Darren McKee) and make suggestions for how you can engage in interactive reading with your curious kiddo.
Cover. Look at the cover with your child. Read all the words on the cover and identify all the pictures as best you can. Ask your child what she thinks the book might be about. Try to remember your child’s answer for the end.
Page 1. Take some time to look at the illustration before reading the text. Who is the main character? Where is he? What is he doing? He has a thought bubble coming from his head: What’s in it? Read the text to find out whether you’re right.
Page 2. We meet another character. Her name is Sonya, and the text says she’s Zach’s best friend. Can you find her in the picture? Look at the text: It’s all black except for the word again, which is red. Why do you think that is?
Page 3. In the text, Sonya asks, “Why do you care so much, anyway?” Before going on to the next paragraph, ponder that question with your child. Why does Zach care so much? Read the rest of the text, then ask your child if he has ever had anything he cared that much about achieving and why.
Page 6. Sonya asks Zach what his plan is for getting across the trapeze rings. Ask your child if she knows what a plan is (it might help to read page 7). Has she ever used one to solve a problem? Did it help?
Page 14. When Zach makes a new plan and decides to go for it, Sonya unwittingly provides him with the perfect positive self-talk: “You can to it, Zach. Don’t give up!” Why might positive self-talk work? What other examples of positive self-talk can you think of?
I’ll leave it to you to find out whether Zach makes it or not (hint: the book has a happy ending), but you can ask your child questions like this on other pages and in any book you read together, no matter how many times you read it. In these examples alone, you have helped your child learn about literary and text conventions, how illustration supports the text, and observation skills, problem-solving, and positive self-talk. You have also helped your child understand how a book can relate to his own life—a very important learning skill.
Do you have to do this with your child every time you read a book together? Of course not. Sometimes reading is just reading. But if you take a few moments to read interactively with kids, they can learn about the world while you learn about them.
Allison Wedell Schumacher is a freelance writer, editor, and mom whose diverse work focuses on child abuse prevention, bullying prevention, social-emotional learning, fitness, and theater/acting. She is the author of Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard (Simon & Schuster, 2004), and her work has been featured here and at babycenter.com, MomsRising.org, and Committee for Children. You can find her on LinkedIn.
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