Reading is a staple in our household. I am an avid reader, my eight-year-old daughter always has her nose in a book, and you can catch my six-year-old daughter on any given day reading aloud to her captive audience of stuffed animals. We read a book or two before bed every night, no exceptions. We are grateful and fortunate to be able to afford books so that a brown cardboard box on our doorstep is a familiar sight when we arrive home.
We know we have students in our kindergarten classrooms who don’t have such literacy-rich lives. They come to us with little to no experience with stories. Rather than lament the deficits in their literacy backgrounds, we aim to provide a literacy-rich environment for them here at school. The classroom teacher I have been coaching is also a parent, so we decided to take some of our tenets as book-loving parents and apply them to her kindergarten classroom. Here’s what it looks like:
No Book Shaming
I made a vow to myself early on in my days as a parent that I would not book shame my daughters. I would not openly judge their book preferences, no matter how much I personally disliked some of their choices. I would keep my opinions of their Barbie or Princess Whoever books to myself. I wanted my girls to fall in love with reading, and I didn’t much care if that happened under the pages of Corduroy or SpongeBob.
We brought this same vow into our kindergarten reading time. When a student asks us to read a Barbie or SpongeBob or Princess Whoever book, we read it. We don’t suggest a higher-quality text or gently steer students toward a “more suitable alternative.” We are open to their preferences. No book shaming in kindergarten.
Never Miss a Story
Books before bed is the norm in our house. The last thing we do every night before we tuck in is read a story. We are never too tired or too busy or too crabby to read before bed. Even when we go on vacation, we pack a couple of books in our suitcase for the hotel room. Books before bed—always, no matter what.
This translates into the classroom through another vow we made. We never skip read-aloud. Even when there is an assembly or a fire drill or a half day of school, we make time for a story. It’s just too important to skip. Never a day without a story. We’ll skip math before we skip a story. (Don’t tell our math coach we said that.)
If you are a parent who has read to your child, you can probably recite a few books from memory. Goodnight Moon, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, and I Love You, Stinky Face are a few from our collection that are burned into our memory, we’ve read them so many times. Kids love to hear the same story again and again. They love the predictability and patterns.
We brought this into the kindergarten classroom by doing repeated readings of stories every week. The book we read on Monday, we returned to on Wednesday and again two weeks later. We do this with intentionality. The students never groan when we pull out a familiar story. Instead, they cheer. Sure enough, after the third reading, they’re “reading” the story right along with us.
When I read to my daughters, we huddle close. We pile into one bed or sit on the floor side by side. My youngest daughter prefers my lap.
We try to mimic this in the kindergarten classroom as much as we can. We sit close to the kids and encourage them to move in. Reading together is a community affair, and we want our physical arrangement to be as welcoming and warm as possible.
Finally, when I read to my own daughters, I always let them lead the way. I never stop to ask them questions (it isn’t a quiz) or check their comprehension. I just read and enjoy the book right along with them. Usually, I giggle at the funny parts.
I bring this same tenet into the kindergarten classroom. Although there certainly may be a time and a place for questions and comprehension checks, there should also be a sacred read-aloud time that is set aside just for the love of a good story. Just because.
We have a choice when kindergartners come to us without a rich history of stories and books. We can shake our heads and sigh, wishing they had had different experiences. Or, we can provide those experiences for them.