The other day I read a post by Daniel Willingham about the importance of teaching kids to make inferences when they read. Making inferences is something I'm quite experienced at myself (to a fault, and to the tune of many a ruined surprise ending of book or movie). It so happened that a family read aloud session later that day suggested that my daughter is doing just fine in developing this critical reading skill.
I was reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to my husband and daughter, all of us snuggled together in her bed. We finished Chapter 10, and I pointed out that the title of the next chapter was The Firebolt. My daughter sat up and clapped her hands and said: "Oh! I wonder who is going to give Harry the Firebolt." My husband said something like: "How do you know that's what the title means?" and she scoffed. "Daddy! Of course that's what it means." And she proceeded to think about who would be most likely to give Harry a Firebolt.
Here she was drawing an inference from two incidents earlier in the book. The first was when Harry saw and fell in love with the new Firebolt brooms, but decided that he could not justify buying one. The second was when Harry's trusty Nimbus 2000 was destroyed in a conflict. Putting these two things together with a chapter titled The Firebolt, my daughter had no doubt whatsoever. And, of course, she was correct (though her guesses about who might have delivered the Firebolt were understandably incorrect).
I thought: "Yes, that's my girl."
Thinking about this more, I do think that we as adults can draw a couple of inferences from this incident. The first is that if you read frequently to a child, and you model making inferences yourself along the way, your child may very well pick up this skill naturally, through observation.
The second is just a reminder that the benefits of reading aloud to your children are considerable. We only read a few pages a day of Harry Potter (usually in the mornings, to avoid any scary dreams). This means that my daughter has to hold details in her head over an extended period. But we stop frequently and talk about the book, and we talk about the book at other times too. She's learning about drawing inferences. She's learning about plot and characterization. She is certainly expanding her vocabulary. And the beauty of it all is that we are having an amazing time.
One more tiny incident from the same night. As my daughter requested (demanded?) a family reading session of Harry Potter, I mildly pointed out: "Some families don't read together, you know." She stopped in her tracks and shouted: "WHAT!!!??? WHAT???!!" The mere idea was shocking. It was kind of funny. But as I look at the many benefits that my daughter has accrued from being read to, and the enjoyment that my husband and I have had from the process, I wish I could whisper in the ears of those families to encourage them give it a try.