As a parent, I have many pleasant memories of reading aloud to my children, whether they are of cuddling up with one of my toddlers and a favourite board book, or reading through a great children’s classic for the first time with an older elementary child. And although I don’t remember my family as having much of a literary culture growing up, I do remember my father reading The Call of the Wild and White Fang to my brother and me.
But aside from acknowledging that reading aloud and storytelling have been a universal practice of parents throughout history, what are its benefits? Are there any compelling reasons to engage in more than the customary 5 minute bedtime story with preschoolers? And why would anyone bother to read to a child who is capable of reading to themselves?
Because reading aloud to your children is arguably the single greatest thing you can do for your children.
The difference it will make, both now and in the future, is of great significance! It is so important, that one researcher claims that it is an unfair advantage: “The evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t—the difference in their life chances—is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t.”
So why is reading aloud so important?
Strong Familial Bonds
Recent studies have found that reading with your child is correlated to having a strong relationship as adults. In fact, the more frequently a child was read to (occasionally, weekly, daily), the more strong that relationship is later in life. Those warm and fuzzy moments are not inconsequential!
Linguistic and Cognitive Development
Reading aloud to our children plays an important role in vocabulary development, trains their attention spans and listening abilities, and exposes them to quality language patterns. Their vocabularies are expanded by words not used in their usual family and social experiences. As in other areas, “more is caught than taught” and exposure to correct spoken language and complex language patterns will go a long way. It is also worth noting, that there is a difference between a child’s reading comprehension and listening comprehension. A child can understand higher level content and more advanced ideas by listening to them than he can by simply reading them. This is especially true for those children who have had a slower start to reading — why limit a child’s education simply because of their reading level?
Establishing Life Patterns & Role Models
Reading aloud to our children establishes a pattern for reading throughout life by associating reading with pleasure. Your child loves spending time with you, and will associate these good feelings with books and reading throughout life. When children view reading merely as a chore or requirement, they don’t grow up loving books. And the stats on how many adults have read a book in the last year are a clear warning to all of us! We are a role model for reading when we spend time reading books to our children, and when they see us reading for our own pleasure!
Dr Seuss was right, “the more you read, the more you know, the more you know, the more places you’ll go”! There are lifelong benefits to raising a reader. Adults who report being read to often as children are more likely to love reading as adults. Children who are read to regularly are more likely to report high incomes and academic success in adulthood. Now, I’m not banking on my children growing up to become doctors and lawyers, but I do want to do everything I can to enable them to succeed in their life goals, whatever they are.
Cultivation of Appetites
This is a benefit that is near and dear to my heart. As Aristotle said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” And educating the hearts of my children is of the utmost importance to me! By reading aloud to my children, I am cultivating their appetites for quality. Regardless of what they may chose to read to themselves (at their young ages mind you, I do check their choices!) I get to chose what I read to them. And mama’s not choosing Dora the Explorer! When I’m choosing books to read aloud with my children, I’m looking to put it through the Philippians 4:8 filter: Is it true? Is it lovely? Is it praiseworthy? By reading aloud our children, we are able to cultivate their appetites for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty!
For all of the above mentioned reasons, I believe it is just as important (and maybe even more so!) for us to continue reading to our children long past the age at which they acquire the ability to read independently. I want to continue to feed the minds and hearts of my children, bond with them, and contribute to their future success as they grow and mature!