When my children were growing up, I must have read Dr. Seuss’s “Hop on Pop” and “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” about a million times. In fact, even to this day, I could probably almost quote those books word for word. Every night, we read these books and many others before they headed off to sleep. Why? Because not only did I want them to love reading as much as I did, I knew that reading is an essential thing they needed to learn they were to succeed in school and life. Mostly, though, I read to them because I loved it. I enjoyed spending that one-on-one time with them, and I loved hearing them animate the characters. To this day, whenever I hear certain parts of those books, I can hear their tiny voices filled with excitement.
While every parent naturally wants his or her children to be able to learn to read on their own, many do not realize the significance and benefits that reading aloud has. The actual building block for becoming an accomplished reader really does start in the home with a parent or caregiver reading to them aloud. In 1983, the U.S. Department of Education created a commission on reading to explore the reason why there seemed to be a decline. In the 1985 report, “Becoming a Nation of Readers,“they came up with this finding: “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”
They also concluded that “[reading aloud] is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.” Thirty years later, they still continue to emphasize the importance that reading aloud has.
This almost seems like a too simple of a solution. How can reading aloud be so important and make such a difference? Jim Trelease, author of the “Read Aloud Handbook,” explains the benefits by illustrating the connection that “words are the primary building blocks for learning and there are only two efficient ways to get words into our brains: either through the eye or through the ear.”
If you think about it that way, it makes complete sense that reading aloud to them would be a benefit to children and help them learn to read. The majority of children will not be able to read on their own until around age 4-5, and even then, the books they read will be easy readers with repetitive words. When we read aloud to our children even from the time they are an infant, those words we read to them create memories in their brains. When they begin to read on their own, those word memories will come back to help them in the form of word recognition. Researchers also say that another benefit of reading aloud is that it helps to stimulate children’s imaginations and helps them to develop language, vocabulary, and listening skills, which are all very important skills to have when attending school and in life.
The benefits of reading aloud to children are more than just academic, however. With all the noise and distractions that technology brings, reading a book with your child can bring a quiet closeness that cannot be duplicated with a computer screen. It’s a time when you can bond with your child as you both root for heroes, scowl at villains, and laugh at silly characters. When you read together, you can share an adventure with your child. You can discover new people, explore new places, and learn about interesting and exciting things, all from the comfort of a chair or bed. It’s a gift you can give your child that only gets stronger as time goes by. It’s where memories are made.
The best part about knowing all these things is that it is never too late to start. Even if your children are reading on their own, reading together can still benefit your child. There’s really no end to where the fun and joy of reading will benefit a child. If you are unsure of where to start, or what to do, the “Reading Is Fundamental” website lists several tips to help you succeed at this all important task. Here are just a few that I found to be helpful:
– Read slowly and with expression. Try using different voices for different characters.
– Follow the words with your finger as you read. Your child will see that words are read from the left to the right of the page.
– Point to the pictures, and say the names of objects and colors.
– Have your child help turn the pages.
– Ask your child to describe pictures, repeat phrases used in the story, and predict what will happen next.
– Take time to answer her questions.
– Read a variety of books. Continue reading old favorites, but don’t be afraid to try new stories.
For more ideas on how to read to your child, you can visit rif.org, which lists ideas for reading to young and old alike.
Lastly, as you are in this reading journey together with your child, remember to have fun. Never make reading a punishment. The more kids have fun reading, the more they will want to continue to read. With your help, they can find joy in reading and grow into adults who will enjoy it as well. Remember, knowledge is power, and books are full of knowledge. What better gift can you give your child than that?