Op-ed: More read alouds inspire children to write and tell their own story

This article is a contribution by Dina Elabd to Qatar Foundation blog.  It is available in Arabic. You can find this article here

Children’s author and critic Dina Elabd – who is currently posting Read Alouds on Qatar Foundation International’s YouTube channel – speaks about how reading together can set children on the path to being lifelong learners.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world how much we crave and consume content. Before we quarantined in isolation with family, people consumed content everywhere they went. This includes new foods in restaurants, new sites in countries, new concepts in school, new people in gatherings, and something that bridges all of these – new stories to tell.

Now at home, families struggle to find new things to do every day, particularly families with young children. Reading fun storybooks together is one of the best ways to connect with your children. Stories play a vital role in a child’s growth, from emotional to cognitive to linguistic development. The best piece of research I’ve read that summarizes the benefits of reading was by my Cambridge professor, Dr. Maria Nikolajeva, who wrote in 2014, “[R]eading fiction is not only beneficial but indispensable for our cognitive and emotional development. In plain words, reading makes us better human beings”. This research is proven again and again from studies conducted across the world.

When parents read aloud to their young children, or attend read alouds virtually online, this effortlessly attracts children into the world of stories within books. These read alouds build in children the interest and confidence to become readers themselves, and hence lifelong learners.

As a children’s author, I am often invited to schools to read and discuss my books with students. Many of my appointments were recently canceled due to the pandemic, but I was happy to learn about Qatar Foundation international providing support to Arabic language learners worldwide through virtual read alouds. I selected and read four English and four Arabic titles from some of my favorite books that deal with Arab culture.

Even while selecting books, I asked myself the questions all parents entertaining children ask themselves. Will children like this story? Does the story introduce a new or funny idea? Does the story flow, or is it too boring or poorly written? Is the language smooth and understandable for the child’s level? Will children have questions and be interested in discussing parts of the book?

Virtual read alouds are now provided across social media, with authors, celebrities, and storytellers reading for free. The knowledge that an author (the writer of this book) is reading to you can be very exciting to children and teach them not only the story but the concept of how to tell a story too.

This is the extra edge that read alouds provide, as opposed to animated cartoons or shows. Read alouds are a highly personal storytelling experience between people, whether that is a parent and child, or an author or reader and child separated by a screen. The child can observe the changes in tone, pace, and emotional expression of the reader, and connect this with what is being read.

In picture books, this is also linked with art, which, alongside the text, tells half the story. Read alouds don’t mean the child is not participating, as is the case with most television shows. Read alouds allow the child to pause, ask questions, read a page again, see additional or contradictory information to the text in the pictures, and wonder every time a page is flipped, what is going to happen next.

Ultimately, real alouds guide a child from listening to and understanding a story, to reading a story themselves, to finally telling their own story. These skills are the basis of what makes a successful adult, confident in both understanding and communicating stories from others and their own perspectives to the world.

I hope parents find such resources to help them hear stories in ways different than traditional television, and that this inspires thought and discussion within their families. And

who knows – maybe even stories of your own!

Elabd has read four English and four Arabic books to children during the pandemic, through virtual read alouds offered by Qatar Foundation International.

Dina Elabd is an Egyptian-American children’s author and critic, and the founder of Arabic Book A Month, a dedicated Arabic children’s book subscription service for families worldwide.

For over 10 years, she has worked in children’s book publishing, presented at conferences, and contributed to the production of over 40 books and magazines. Dina has completed a Masters of Education at the University of Cambridge specializing in Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature.

In 2017 and 2019, Dina led over one million dollar projects with Room to Read in Jordan, publishing over 33 books and printing over 600,000 copies for free distribution to underprivileged and refugee children.

Dina has published four children’s books in English and Arabic. Her titles include Melouq (2016), The Lion that Dressed as a Sheep, The Magic Palm (2017), and Mila, The Beautiful Cat ميلا” القطة الجميلة” (Asala Publishing, 2018). She regularly reads and gives workshops at schools, and enjoys her interactions with students. You can learn more about her at www.dinaelabd.com