The Read Aloud Project
Why parents should Read Aloud to their children
“A parent would stand in line for days and pay hundreds of dollars if there were a pill that could do everything for a child that reading aloud does. It expands their interest in books, vocabulary, comprehension, grammar, and attention span. Simply put, it’s a free ‘oral vaccine’ for literacy.”
Are you looking for a way to help increase your child’s vocabulary?
To instill moral values and lessons?
To improve your conversations with them?
Then look no further than the wonders of reading aloud to your children. As the quote states above, this simple act practically works like a magic pill — a super multivitamin — in the lives of your kids.
Reading aloud imparts many tangible benefits (we’ll dig into them below) to your children’s minds and character, but the more intangible rewards are equally important: it’s just plain enjoyable to see the delight on a child’s face when they encounter a good book, and oral reading sessions can really bring the family together — for many children, one of their warmest, most comforting memories is of their father’s voice narrating a tale as they lay snug in their beds.
Let’s get into the specific benefits of this wonderfully magic activity, and then provide some specific tips to make it better and more enjoyable for your kids.
There are many benefits to reading out loud to your kids; while some of those listed below apply to children reading on their own as well, listening to a story also imparts unique advantages.
Helps children grasp big picture aspects of narrative. Especially early on, it takes a lot of mental power just to form the words and sentences, let alone comprehending them and being able to follow plot lines and big themes. Thus, when read aloud to, kids are more able to appreciate stories and lessons and big picture ideas. And, these benefits carry over all the way through middle school, and even beyond.
Increases vocabulary and an understanding of sophisticated language patterns. When you read aloud to a kid, you build up their storehouse of words and grammatically correct phrases and sentences. This increased vocabulary helps them out in conversation, in their writing, and in their general communication skills
“The best way to help children grow to be good communicators [is] to read aloud to them as much as possible.”
Instills moral lessons and heroic values. If you’re a parent, you know that your kids often listen to outside sources better than they listen to you. They’re better behaved for teachers and grandparents, and often more readily heed their advice. It’s just how it goes. The same thing can happen when you read books to your kids. Rather than you imparting life lessons, the stories and characters in those stories get to do so. And oh how powerful it is! The examples of heroes in our stories can inspire and motivate in a unique way. C.S. Lewis writes,
“Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let [children] at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”
Facilitates important conversations. A good book can foster a conversation that may not have happened otherwise. It isn’t easy to randomly bring up the topics of courage and bravery, and their importance in life, but if you’ve read The Wizard of Oz to and with your kids, it’s a natural discussion to have.
Improves test scores. While test scores aren’t the be-all and end-all of a child’s intelligence or the final predictor of their success in life, it should be obvious that higher test scores are better than lower test scores. If you could easily do something to improve your child’s test scores, wouldn’t you do it? Rather than pay for expensive tutors or private schooling, just read to them.
Builds empathy. It’s been shown that reading builds empathy (especially fiction), and that benefit extends to kids as well. You likely know from your own experience that reading someone’s memoir from war-torn Africa is far more impactful than hearing a story about it on the news. It connects you to the situation much more viscerally, and you’re more likely to do something about it afterwards (in the form of telling other people, making donations, getting involved in the cause, etc.). If you want your kids to care about the world around them, and be inspired to make it a better place, read to them.
Instills a lifelong love of reading. The benefits of reading as an adult are too numerous to list here, and you probably know what they are anyway. Books delight, inform, inspire, and challenge — they serve as life-long mentors and companions. Most adults who have a love affair with reading got started very young, often in their own home (or community) libraries. Decades ago, before TV or even radio, entertainment often consisted of the family (and even groups of adult friends) sitting around and reading a book out loud to each other. Reading to your kids from a young age and continuing through even the teenage years is the best way to help them understand the power and beauty of the written word.
It’s a fun way to spend quality time with your kids. Beyond all the above tangible benefits of reading to your kids, it’s just a really fun way to spend time with them. In a world of digital devices and toys that are filled with buttons and parent-annoying-noises, reading to your kids is a (relatively) calm, grounding activity that can be enjoyed by parent and child alike (which are few and far between). Whether it’s picture books with your toddler (find ones with fun stories and great artwork, and you’ll enjoy it too, though perhaps less so after you’ve read it 100+ times!), or short novels with your older child, reading is an activity that will inspire and delight both of you.
Perhaps the most magical thing about reading aloud to your kids, is that it not only accrues all the benefits above, but that it helps foster a child’s interest in reading on his or her own. As a parent you act as a kind ambassador for books, and all the bedtime stories you share over the years help carry a lifelong love of them to your child’s heart and for you :)