I have considered myself to be a reader for most of my life.
There have been periods of time that I didn’t go anywhere without a book, as well as periods of time that I couldn’t pick up a book because I knew it would be too much of a distraction (aka all of college).
I have ventured from fiction to nonfiction, thriller to fantasy, memoir to self-help. I even enjoy reading the occasional cookbook (Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat anyone?).
When my husband and I decided that we wanted to start our family, I knew right away that I wanted reading to be a big part of our children’s lives. Prior to pregnancy, I would scour garage sales for my favorite children’s books. Once we found out we were pregnant, I would find myself carefully browsing the children’s book sections of stores I frequented—always coming home with a book or two.
When my kids were born, we made books a part of our daily activities. We used touch and feel books for play time, high contrast books for tummy time, and we read aloud stories during snuggle sessions.
I knew that I wanted our kids to grow up to be readers and I knew that meant starting at the beginning. So I did what any normal person does: I researched it. And I started with a book. Well, three books, but you get the point.
And I learned a few things about how and why reading aloud is so important.
1. If you want your child to be a reader, you have to read to them!
The love for literature will never grow if a child never has the opportunity in the beginning. If you as a parent or caregiver to a child begin reading to them from infancy, the chances that they will have a love for books as an adult are much higher.
Not only does reading help prevent several reading problems that arise around the time of school (when children are often first tested in the areas of reading and reading comprehension), but you are actually helping your child acquire the skill of listening to a story. Believe it or not, that is a skill that must be learned.
2. Reading aloud rapidly develops speaking skills.
One of the most interesting pieces of information I learned while studying the importance of reading aloud was this, taken from Reading Magic by Mem Fox: “By the age of one, children will have…learned all the sounds that make up the native languages they are going to speak.”
Children cannot learn to speak unless they are spoken to, and the more you speak to and with your children, the better their language skills will be. Reading aloud from infancy creates opportunities for your child to hear spoken language, and continuing to read aloud, even into adolescence, only increases your child’s abilities in language development.
3. Screen time does not develop language skills the same way a book can.
This is mostly due to the fact that the TV cannot talk back. The talking back part of conversation is where most of language comprehension takes place.
Dr. Sue Hill, a professor, author, and researcher in the field of early language and literacy says that bonding and literacy development happen even when we read—and talk about—ordinary things with our children…[saying] any print will do as long as that child has a chance to talk back.
4. Being read to develops a child’s ability to read.
Problems with reading are always easier to prevent than they are to fix, and prevention is going to happen long before the child starts school and is formally tested. If a child is never read to, they won’t expect printed text to make sense, which can, in turn, make learning to read very difficult.
When children are read aloud to, they learn to anticipate what comes next. They often are able to anticipate the next word or phrase, understand the cadence of the text, or even understand a word they have never heard based on context clues.
So, you might be thinking, “Great! NowI know the importance of reading aloud, but what do I do about it? How can I implement all of this into our already busy lives?”
I’m glad you asked!
1. Pick the right book!
This trick is easier than it sounds! If you are bored with a story, chances are, so is your child. A good book will appeal to every reader, regardless of their age.
That being said, there is a possibility of picking a book outside of your reader’s comprehension. Make sure they are ready for a longer or more difficult book. If you choose too much above their level, they may get bored or overwhelmed with reading and we don’t want that to happen!
Another way to make this happen is to have lots of books to choose from. Just like adults, kids can often get bored of reading the same stories over and over again. Try having a few bins of books that you can switch out, as well as multiple books available in multiple rooms in the home. This makes grabbing a favorite book easier!
2. Read aloud well!
Again, this is not supposed to be difficult. Pay attention to the context clues so you can keep your readers engaged. If a story uses a phrase like “and he whispered”, try whispering the next line. Change your tone, inflection, volume, and even pace of the words you read. Make sure you pause to build suspense and draw your readers in.
3. Read whenever possible.
Read to your kids whenever possible and as often as possible. A good rule to follow is three books a day, for at least ten minutes a day.
4. Make it a part of your bed time routine.
As Mem Fox states in her book Reading Magic, “according to Margaret Mead, the noted anthropologist, children not only appreciate the safety of a predictable life, they actually need regular routines to feel secure in the world. So while read-aloud sessions can happen at any time, they must happen at bedtime.”
5. Use reading as a cool down technique.
One thing that I hope my kids associate with reading is safety and security. Books will never betray them and they will always be there to be counted on. When my kids are having a hard day or hard moment, I tend to grab the closest kid and the closest book and start reading.
From there we are transported into whatever story I may be reading and it allows for a quick reset on the mood.
6. Don’t let reading be a gendered activity.
Oftentimes, the majority of people in a child’s life doing most of the reading aloud are women. Most teachers are female, most stay-at-home parents are female, and most childcare providers are also female.
If boys only see females reading to them, they are more likely to see this activity as a primarily female activity. To counterbalance this, we need to make sure that the men in the lives of children are also participating in the reading aloud activities.
If you would like more information on reading aloud, I highly suggest the books Reading Magic by Mem Fox, The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie, and The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. Your local library is also a great place to start with a ton of free resources to get you started.