Parents, I’d like to talk to you about the five-second rule.
Nope, I’m not talking about the rule that says the dropped cookie that’s been on the floor less than five seconds is still safe to eat.? (By the way, “Myth Busters” debunked that one, as did researchers at Clemson University.)
I am talking about the idea that parents should offer “five seconds of silence” at strategic times when reading with their kids.
Consider this scenario. You’re reading a book to little Johnny and point to a picture of a cow, asking, “What is this?? Is this a cow? And what does the cow say? Can you say mooooo?”
The problem here is you posed a question and before your child could blink, you asked three more (and answered two).
The instinct is right. It’s great to ask questions that help kids creatively explore a book. We may ask them to identify an image, anticipate a rhyme, or guess what will happen next.?Literacy specialists tell us these are all useful prompts for helping young readers — IF we give them time to think before responding.
Yet too often, we fill the silence with more questions, hints and comments. We may even turn (or swipe) the page before our child has responded to our question.
I get that some of our haste is because we’re tired, busy parents and, at times, we just want to wrap up story time and be done. But what I’m suggesting is a five-second pause here and there, not an extra half-hour of reading time.
The value of the five-second rule became clear to me years ago when I taught in a university setting. Most days the students seemed engaged, but there were times when my questions were met with silence. Students squirmed when this happened. I too quickly filled the silence with a reworded question, a topic shift, or even a response to my own query.
A colleague suggested that when students clammed up, I should remain silent until I couldn’t take it — then wait five seconds more. She admitted “those last five seconds will feel like forever,” but she swore I would be pleasantly surprised.?She was right on both counts. Students invariably broke the silence and had something to say.
Our young readers need that window of time to respond, too.?So yes, read with your kids and ask them creative questions. But if they respond with silence, try honoring that with five seconds of your own. It may be time well spent.