Why Reading Aloud to Your Child Is Important: 5 Things Parents Need to Know

When I was a kid growing up in the 1970's, my mom and dad never read aloud to my siblings and me. While that sounds rather heartbreaking today, back then it wasn't unusual, sad, or cause for alarm. At that time, we didn't have the research that shows how valuable reading aloud to a child is. That evidence didn't come until 1985 with the landmark report, Becoming a Nation of Readers. In that report, it states simply and clearly that reading aloud is “the single most important activity building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading.”

The world has changed mightily in the 30+ years since Becoming a Nation of Readers got published and revolutionized the way we teach reading. Today, teachers and administrators are under enormous pressure to push academic rigor, get students to score high on standardized tests, and develop lessons based on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). The simple but important act of reading aloud to children got minimized as we looked to speed up learning in preschools and kindergartens. Yes, our youngsters now read at younger ages but will this lead them to become life-long readers, who turn to books for both information and enjoyment? After all, shouldn't that be the ultimate goal?

More and more parents of young children don't like what they see in preschools and kindergartens today and are opting out of the madness. They don't like the lack of play, socialization, downtime, and creativity. They see too many teacher-directed lessons, too many activities that aren't developmentally appropriate (reading groups, paper-pencil tasks, sitting still at Circle Time) and too much pressure on their little ones to do things they're not yet ready to do.

Whether you're homeschooling your child or supplementing her classroom experience, you always want to make reading a pleasurable experience above all else. While I'm a huge proponent of phonics instruction (please see my posts on Zoo-phonics), I urge parents to first and foremost promote positive feelings in their child about reading. Here's 5 reasons why reading aloud to your child is so important:

1. Parents build the connection between books and feelings of love, warmth, and security more effectively than teachers do. As a former pre-k and kindergarten teacher, I read a lot of books to my students over the decades and it was one of my favorite things to do. But, there's no way I could make those warm, loving bonds that parents can so easily by cuddling with their kids in bed, putting them on their laps, or sitting together under a shady tree. With 20 students, I couldn't make those magical connections between characters in the story and the lives of my students like moms and dads can with one child. Parents are the ones who have the most influence on whether or not their children become life-long readers.

2. Children spend about 900 hours in school each year and 7,800 hours outside of school. Now more than ever schools face intense pressure to get results, mostly in the form of higher test scores. A child's affective realm gets pushed aside to focus on the cognitive. That's why it's crucial that parents read aloud to their children at home, making it a relaxing and pleasant experience. Too often at school reading gets associated with stress. When taking exams, students must read passages and then answer questions about them. That's why it's important for children at home to enjoy reading for reading's sake.

In addition to reading aloud to their kids, parents should read themselves. Children should see their moms and dads reading for both pleasure (novels, magazines) and for information (manuals, cookbooks, newspapers, work material). Children should see their parents read throughout the day, not just as they drift off to sleep.

3. Reading loud to children builds their vocabularies and a large vocabulary predicts future success. We all get in the rut of using the same words when we speak. That's why reading aloud to our children is so miraculous. It opens us up to a whole new world of words. It introduces our kids to an expanded vocabulary. Studies show the best indicator of future success coming into kindergarten is vocabulary. So parents who read aloud to their children from birth give them an enormous head-start.

4. Writing success stems from reading success. It's been well established that good readers become good writers. Those who've read a lot of books know how to develop a story, create characters and dialog, use descriptive words, and write clearly and succinctly. Good readers enjoy writing, doing it for both pleasure and work. Parents who read aloud to their children are killing two birds with one stone – making their youngsters better readers and writers at the same time.

5. Reading aloud to your child establishes a platform for discussing difficult issues. Too many parents make the mistake of no longer reading aloud to their kids once they can read by themselves. While children do need time to read alone, they also need moms and dads to read aloud to them, especially books that are above their reading level. A youngster's listening vocabulary is far superior to her reading vocabulary. She's ready to hear more challenging books before she's ready to read them by herself. 

Reading chapter books to older kids is a marvelous way to open a dialog about difficult topics. Books offer a springboard for conversations about dating, teen suicide, bullying, and being gay. When you read aloud to your child, you'll get amazed at the conversations you'll have!

This book, now in its 7th edition, is the bible for reading aloud to your child. First published in 1982, this classic book is ideal for moms and dads who want to instill in their kids a passion for books. Learn techniques for making reading time fun, relaxing, and informative. Learn how to make your kids life-long readers. A must have for your home library!

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