For teachers around the world, one of the unexpected lessons of the COVID-19 lockdown has been that school children stuck at home in virtual learning love hearing books read aloud. With no physical classrooms for the last nine weeks of the school year, children missed close interaction with classmates and teachers. Whether it was hearing books read to them or reading books together via video link, young students felt the bonds of belonging and the magic of spoken literature.
This learning lesson is playing out now during the summer holidays and possibly the next school year.
This summer, for example, West Virginia plans to distribute 200,000 books to children entering first and second grade while offering online reading of the books. Many authors have relaxed copyright permissions allowing teachers to read their books online. Libraries have created YouTube channels for book readings. And many popular children’s book authors have posted read-alouds online.
The importance of these innovations cannot be overstated. In the United States, the latest survey shows that the average reading scores of fourth and eighth graders have fallen since 2017. Children’s literacy is unlikely to suffer during the so-called “COVID-19 slide” in education. In Florida, the governor announced an additional $64 million in spending on teaching reading skills with the goal of having 90% of students be proficient readers by 2024.
Reading is often seen as a solitary exercise. But for children, reading books aloud is an intimate social experience. Its effect on subsequent success is now widely recognized. The percentage of parents who read aloud during a child’s first three months has increased by nearly 50% since 2014, according to Scholastic’s latest report on reading for children and families.
The books are “imaginative rehearsals for living,” said novelist George Santayana. They are also a great equalizer in a diverse society. Reading books helps prepare a child for mental freedom from ignorance, fear and falsehood. With their thirst for listening to books during the pandemic, students have taught educators a valuable lesson.