Reading with expression and emotion can make a significant difference in your child’s ability to comprehend and recall information during book reading time. Since many preschoolers are not literate yet, they rely heavily on listening to stories being read to them. I think as parents, most of us naturally use our voices with varying pitch, pauses, and loudness to emphasize certain concepts and feelings of characters in the story. However, being aware of it and knowing that you are doing something good for your child while doing it is another thing!
I recently read a very interesting article by Willam A. Mira and Paul J. Schwanenflugel titled The Impact of Reading Expressiveness on the Listening Comprehension of Storybooks by Prekindergarten Children. It was published in 2013 and sought to determine the impact of how prosody in the readers voice affects a 4 and 5 year old’s ability to understand and recall information about the story.
What is prosody? According to Mira and Schwanenflugel (2013), “prosody is a term that refers to the suprasegmental acoustic features of speech”. It is what differentiates a parent who is reading a book with expression and feeling versus someone who is just reading the story with no expression and a monotone voice. You might be thinking, “Why is prosody important and how can this affect my child?”. Well, it is important because it can help your child learn important messages and ideas from the story you are reading in addition to giving your child insight into the emotions of the characters and the plot of the story.
Have you ever thought about how you vary your pitch when reading according to the emotions of the characters in the story? According to Mira and Schwanenflugel (2013), generally expressive readers raise their pitch when the character in the story is happy, and when the character is sad, a reader tends to lower their pitch.
In this study, the researchers recorded both an expressive reading and non expressive reading of two popular children’s books. The children listened to the expressive or non-expressive recordings (without the reader present) and then were asked “wh” questions regarding the story. What they found was that children were able to answer “wh” questions more accurately and consistently when they listened to the expressive reading. These results are significant because it shows how important prosody is when reading to your children. The article also suggests that prosody plays a role in learning new vocabulary and concepts.
The next time you read to your child play close attention about how your voice fluctuates with the story. Great books to practice with prosody are Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie series and Exclamation Mark .
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Mira, W. A., and P. J. Schwanenflugel. “The Impact of Reading Expressiveness on the Listening Comprehension of Storybooks by Prekindergarten Children.” Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools 44.2 (2013): 183-94. Print.