by Melissa Perry
Family Reading Partnership
Everyone loves a good story. Infant, child or adult, we all enjoy tales that entertain us, teach us about the world, and connect us with others. This is why so many children- including big kids- crave read-aloud and “just one more book!”
Although read aloud is widely considered one of the most important things parents can do to influence the future success of their children in both life and school, it’s startling to learn that only one in three children ages 6-8 (34%) are read aloud to at home 5-7 days a week. By age 9, that number is halved to just one in six children (17%) and drops even more dramatically after age 11. (Scholastic’s ‘Kids and Family Reading Report’)
This loss of read-aloud robs children of the numerous benefits and pleasures that come with time spent reading with a family member. There is no reason to stop reading aloud to children, no matter what their age. In fact, there is much to support continuing read-aloud long after your child has learned to read on his or her own.
Read-aloud builds relationships.
When reading with your child you explore many topics together. As you both share your thoughts and opinions about these topics, you have an opportunity to model respectful listening and your child has the opportunity to practice this skill. When you have differing points of view, as may often be the case, discussions about why you each feel the way you do allow you to develop a deeper understanding of each other, strengthening your bond and associating the sense of closeness with read-aloud.
As children enter their teen years, parents may find read-aloud particularly helpful in lieu of lecturing when the need to discuss tough topics arises. Telling your child you don’t want them participating in certain risky activities or befriending a particular person may not be well received and instead seen by your child as you not trusting them. But by reading a book together about a kid that finds himself tangled up with the wrong crowd, your child will be able to experience the situation and possible consequences that you are guiding him or her away from. When reading together, you have the opportunity to talk about these situations and discuss what a character could have done differently or about what your child would have done in that situation, leading your child to a clearer understanding of why you cautioned against those activities or friends. Being able to have honest, open dialogue with one another is an important aspect of a strong relationship.
Read-aloud supports learning and school success.
A child’s listening level, the level at which he or she comprehends what he or she is hearing, is far more advanced than what he or she can comprehend while reading. Most children reading at a fourth grade level will be able to understand read-aloud from a sixth or seventh grade level book. Hearing read-aloud of a higher-level will increase the number of complex vocabulary words the child hears. Research shows that children with larger vocabularies perform better in school than those less familiar with words. Since most instruction in school is relayed orally, a child with a larger vocabulary will have an advantage because he or she will be able to comprehend more of what the teacher is saying.
Read-aloud models fluency, which is especially beneficial for struggling readers. Read-aloud demonstrates how we read language; noting exclamations and questions with voice inflections, pausing at appropriate times in a story, at commas and periods, and showing that even a seasoned reader sometimes stumbles over an unfamiliar or difficult to pronounce word and how one can work though it.
Read-aloud creates community.
In addition to teaching children the art of truly listening and the skills to share their point of view while respecting the opinions of those that think differently, read-aloud develops awareness of others outside our frequented circles. By offering a view of the world that may not otherwise be experienced, children are able to gain empathy for and understanding of the lives others lead. With broadened horizons, a child is better able to determine what they value, and accept others regardless of their differences, making our communities a better place for us all.
Read-aloud encourages a lifetime of reading.
Simply put, reading begets reading. A child that is read to will be a child that develops a love of reading. With warm memories of snuggling up with a parent and a book, or of a teacher taking time out of the day to devote to reading aloud from a chapter book, a child will develop a love of reading that will bring a lifetime of great joy, as the books they explore offer incredible experiences from worlds near and far.
Melissa Perry is the program coordinator of the Family Reading Partnership. Please send comments or your family’s favorite children’s book titles to Melissa@familyreading.org or call (607) 277-8602. Family Reading Partnership is a community coalition that has joined forces to promote family reading across the community by placing books into the hands, homes, and hearts of children and families.