Experienced readers know that words make a world within a story come alive.

However, for early readers, sometimes they need the world around them to help the words on the page come alive.

The Family Literacy Centre at the Canada Games Centre has just the ticket: Reader’s Theatre, an interactive tool for learning to read.

Reader’s Theatre is a method where stories become scripts that the learners read out loud, as if on stage. There are no costumes and no blocking, so readers don’t move around on stage.

Scripts are not memorized as with conventional plays. In fact, it’s key to the method that they aren’t memorized.

Rather, the stories are read and re-read as learners try out different voices and ways of saying something.

The first time through, readers work on simply deciphering the words. With subsequent readings, they add meaning and expression to the sentences. This repetition builds fluency, comprehension and confidence.

While Reader’s Theatre is often used for school aged readers, the literacy centre does the activity with toddlers and preschoolers.

“The parent typically has the child choose the book and choose their character,” explains, Katy Mead, manager of the centre. “Just whisper their line to them while you point to it on the page and they can repeat it back.”

By following along, children are learning important literacy skills.

“They’re learning how to read from left to right, and how those words become real dialogue,” she says. “Any activity that includes fun and laughter will give them a positive association with the activity. When you do it with books, you install a trust in that child that reading can be as fun as they want to make it.”

The performance aspect of Reader’s Theatre reinforces the real world applicability of written words for early readers.

Mead explains that children tend to learn better if they hear and read something in different ways. Ask a tired parent how easy it is to go into autopilot when reading a familiar book, rather than to change up the voices and intonation each time.

Reader’s Theatre is interactive by its nature, and requires different voices and styles of expression.

They also use props and costumes with the toddlers.  

“Having tactile props helps children learn written words because it’s multisensory learning, not just visual,” Mead says.

The Family Literacy Centre staff often use the books of American author Mo Willems, whose several early reader series have made him the Dr. Seuss of a new generation. His funny early reader books consist only of dialogue with short phrases and repetition, animated with energetic drawings.

One series features an elephant and a pig, which are conveniently among the most common costumes and puppets found in a typical toddler tickle trunk.

Any comic book or graphic novel type of book works well for Reader’s Theatre. Furthermore, any children’s book with a lot of dialogue, such as the Frog and Toad stories, can be easily adapted into a script in one’s own home. An experienced reader can read the narration while the learner reads the dialogue.

The Family Literacy Centre is located in the Canada Games Centre. It is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.