“Every time we read to a child, we’re sending a ‘pleasure’ message to the child’s brain”, Jim Trelease (Bestselling Author of ‘The Read-Aloud Handbook’)
So, why wait, bond over a book and read aloud to your little ones! Trust me, there’s nothing more entertaining than children’s books. Pictures, dramatic illustrations, rhymes, and rhythms make you wishing for more, and if you have little bundles of joy around you to read out to, then it’s the joy of joys!
Coming straight to the topic, let’s look into some of the reasons why reading aloud to children is so important.
We all know that a child is able to respond to the auditory stimuli around them even before they take birth. Early language development in children happens by listening, and children learn a lot by listening and talking.
Psychologists suggest that reading to children plays a vital role in developing the initial and essential neural pathways in a child’s brain. Reading aloud to children helps them in oral language development, teaches them new words and paves the way for easy and effortless parent-child interaction. Besides that, very recent studies have suggested that reading aloud also helps in the reinforcement of new words and phrases, fosters word consciousness, provides mental nourishment and helps build a strong literacy ground for them.
Children are developing readers and learners of different books. Just visualise this – a child wrapped up warmly in her parent’s lap, being read her favourite stories and rhymes with conscious care and undivided focus, feeling reassured with the comforting voice of her parent. Does it not give positive and feel-good vibes?
This learning and development of a child happening beneath the wings of her parents with conscious care blooms the child naturally, helps them grasp things quickly and retain things for long. The brain makes connections with the outside world easily, and the child feels reassured with the comforting voice and presence of her parent/s.
Reading aloud books and stories to children provides a smooth and supportive scaffolding from the contrasting reality of their environment and helps them form a stronger social-emotional connection and rewiring of the existing neural networks. Reading aloud to children also helps them learn new concepts easily, improve their focus and attention span, introduce the child to a rich vocabulary, develop better grammatical understanding and foster effective literacy.
Now, let us take a deep dive into some of the key reasons as to why and how reading aloud to children is helpful:
- Reading aloud to young children helps fill the word gap and build a foundation for success –
Words matter! As Geoff Barton says, ‘Words lie at the heart of our quest to address social mobility.’
We can share a wealth of words by reading out books to our children and help bridge the word gap to a large extent. A recent study ((Logan, Justice et al, 2019 [A]) highlighted that children entering kindergarten who were never read any books by their parents or caretakers till the age of 5 years had an approx. “word gap of one million” compared to those who were read one picture book every day by their parents or caretakers at home. According to that study, parents who read a picture book every day to their children enter kindergarten hearing 1.4 million additional words than the children who are never read to by their parents.
Please note: The purpose of the above data is to help you predict reading skills in school and the later literacy success of a child who is read daily by her/his parents. The above data doesn’t mean that children who have heard a million words by the age of 5 years begin to read or write the new words. It only means that a child is more word conscious and that these words would eventually transfer onto their writing and reading as they move up the academic ladder.
Reading aloud to children daily along with the parent-child discussions and imaginative plays [B] helps shorten the word gap in children early enough, thus enabling them to communicate with confidence, having good oral language and extensive vocabulary, which eventually leads to academic success.
- Develop global competencies and attributes-
Technology has made the world flat/small, and global competency skill is an important 21st-century skill to keep in mind to make our children future-ready. The probability of children (in their teens or even in tweens or earlier) collaborating and working together with children from different parts of the world on a common project or idea is high. So, children who develop an interconnected worldview and have global mindedness in their early years thrive; work well with mission oriented-feelings and a collaborative problem-solving mindset. And what better resource to help them navigate through different cultures and social conventions than children’s books, child-friendly magazines and journals there can be. And who better than parents there can be to teach them that.
Do listen to the views of the renowned researcher and a passionate advocate of children’s literacy Dr Keisha Siriboe’s TEDx Talk on this.
- Reading aloud enhances children’s imaginative and creative abilities–
Reading aloud to children introduces them to a world that differs from theirs and exposes them to myriads of situations and experiences. This new world acts as a stimulant and unlocks the child’s imagination and creativity, opening the door of enquiry and possibilities.
- Reading aloud books develops emotional faculties and benefits behaviors-
An author’s work always contains a range of emotions. When we read aloud to our children, we give voice to the words and expressions with the rise and fall in our voice. As we read, the child is able to relate with the characters and context in the book easily and becomes sensitive to such emotional variations. Children also learn to use words to describe their feelings in the process. They are able to express their needs and uncomfortable feelings in a better way. When children are able to express their needs and big emotions, they feel more regulated and better in charge of their emotions. So, reading aloud benefits behaviors.
- Reading aloud helps children cope up with stress and anxieties-
“Every time we read to a child, we’re sending a ‘pleasure’ message to the child’s brain”, says Jim Trelease. Despite the book containing intriguing images and artwork, one-to-one narration and reading time with parents makes the whole reading and learning experience a positive and a nurturing activity for children.
“Reading aloud to children is the magic bullet for creating a lifelong reader”, says Jim Trelease*. Reading aloud helps in creating a positive view of books and reading in a child’s mind. This bonding moment over reading helps children return to reading later in life if they get busy with work or childrearing responsibilities because ‘reading’ reminds them of happy times with parents, and there’s nothing better than reading. So, reading aloud to children today helps them later in life also.
- Read aloud to build Vocabulary and better Grammar understanding-
When parents read aloud to children, children pick up new words and expressions, right syntax, pragmatics and semantics, the correct pronunciation of words, understand grammar better. While you explain the meaning of words, they understand the context through the sentences and also memorize complex words. Regular reading helps children build their vocabulary, have a better grip on their speech and expression, resulting in them becoming fluent, confident readers and speakers.
- Setting social contexts, imparting cultural knowledge, instilling values-
Reading aloud to children opens to them whole new worlds of enquiry, exposes them to an array of real-life situations, diverse cultures, abundant characters and expressions. Children are able to think, identify and imagine situations while listening to their parents. They also grasp their own lessons and morals during the narration process and store them in memory. So, by reading aloud the right kind of children’s picture books and stories to our children we can create awareness of real-life situations that can be averted. This form of education is known as Preventive Education, which is very important for children.
The benefits of reading aloud to children are infinite. To sum up, in a few points, here I go… Reading aloud helps children in:
- Improving their focus in reading and their attention span,
- Enhancing their brain functioning in supporting literacy,
- Fostering word consciousness,
- Promoting active listening skills
- Channelling the behaviors like aggression and hyperactivity
- Formation of stronger social-emotional connections with peers,
- Setting social contexts and imparting cultural knowledge,
- Imagining more richly, promoting creativity
- Boosting their confidence,
- Learning how to use comprehension strategies
- Widening perspectives,
- Strengthening the bond between parents and child,
- Establishing a successful reading habit, and
- Gaining the lifelong love of reading
The good news for parents is that the parenting wisdom ‘Read Aloud to children every day’ is easy to follow. Reading aloud to your child requires only book/s and parent’s willingness to spend a little quality time with little one/s every day.
There is more good news:
Reading aloud to a child doesn’t need to happen in a particular language. And there’s no point in reading to a child in the language a parent is not comfortable in. Also, do not worry about non-native English accent and fluency because the works of many authors are available online as audio recordings done by the speech-over artists, which can help along the way.
Consider reading aloud to your little one as soon as she/he is able to sit up in your lap and all the way to their tweens and teens. Only the reading aloud strategies and ways for different age group children can vary. One can even read to children a line, an excerpt, a paragraph or two when they are grown up adults doing very well in their careers. Maybe it would not be the bedtime stories for a young adult; it could be anything you have read on the internet, a classic novel, a self-help book, or op-ed pieces in the press. It can absolutely be anything we can read aloud in our voice to nourish and nurture the reading habit, the bond and the connection.
And when our children start sharing what they are reading with us, the parents, then we know we have done our job well and helped them become the readers and thinkers, says Matthew Raggett (The Doon Schools’ 10th Headmaster). He also cautions us to be careful not to make reading a source of conflict. I highly recommend parents reading the book ‘How Your Child Can Win in Life’ by Matthew Raggett, at least the first three chapters of the book.
As parents and caregivers, we must make choices to ensure the time spent with our children is of a high-quality one over quantity. As simple as, taking out time for face-to-face interaction-based reading time can nurture the young mind multi-fold and help parent-child make fond memories.
Savour the moments and make memories by reading aloud to your little ones, and thank you so much for reading the blog! Happy Parenting, and see you on the next blog topic, “How to Effectively Read Aloud to A Child? (Tips for Parents)”!
References: [A] Logan JAR, Justice LM, Yumuş M, Chaparro-Moreno LJ. When Children Are Not Read to at Home: The Million Word Gap. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2019 Jun;40(5):383-386. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000657. PMID: 30908424.
[B] Alan L. Mendelsohn, Carolyn Brockmeyer Cates, Adriana Weisleder, Samantha Berkule Johnson, Anne M. Seery, Caitlin F. Canfield, Harris S. Huberman and Benard P. Dreyer Pediatrics May 2018, 141 (5) e20173393; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2017-3393
* Quoted from Jim Trelease’s handbook (The Read-Aloud Handbook)