I personally have a strong passion for books and reading. I have loved reading for as long as I can remember and have a bit of a weakness when it comes to purchasing books. For some women it’s shoes or purses. For me it’s books! I have book shelves full of books I’ve read, piles of books I plan to read (eventually), and who knows how many books I’ve sold, donated, or given away over the years.
Three years ago, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I was inundated and overwhelmed with information about anything and everything – from the best way to swaddle to the struggles of growing children. But one thing that really stood out, and has stuck with me since, is the importance of reading aloud to our children.
I really wanted to pass along to my daughter my love of reading and everything I read or heard about reading aloud to my child said I should start before she was even born, while I was still pregnant.
If you’re anything like me, you might think that sounds a little silly. I mean, at that stage what’s the difference between reading a book aloud and just talking to your baby?
I didn’t actually start reading aloud to my daughter on a regular basis until she was about six months old. And for that entire six month period I had moments of guilt. I had already missed the opportunity to read aloud to my daughter before she was born – what if I damaged her for life and she grew up to, gulp, hate reading?! Now I had let the first six months of her life go by without establishing a healthy habit of reading to her every day – had I scarred her for life?
Well, no. In fact, my daughter LOVES reading and today reading is a key part of our bedtime routine and we have to limit the number of books we read, otherwise we’d be reading every book in the house each night!
It is my goal to nurture the seeds we’ve sown and to help my daughter to continue to love reading, that is why I plan to read aloud to her for as long as I can. Even after she’s learned to read herself.
Which brings me to the importance of reading aloud to your child(ren).
I’ve recently been introduced to a fantastic book called, The Read-Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease. Some of you may already be familiar with this book. If you aren’t, pick up a copy today, you won’t regret it! In the Handbook, Trelease explains the importance of reading aloud and gives tips on the best methods of doing so. He also addresses common obstacles in getting kids to enjoy reading. While there is a wealth of knowledge out there on this subject, for this post I chose to focus on Jim Trelease and his Handbook because he is really good at breaking things down and making it easy to understand. Below are the things that really stood out to me and the things I plan to do myself moving forward.
What are the benefits of reading aloud?
The broader benefits are pretty straightforward and not really very surprising:
- It helps children associate reading with something that is enjoyable
- It builds up a child’s attention span
- Reading aloud enlarges vocabulary
“There’s a kind of ‘word reservoir’ in a child’s brain and one of the jobs of a parent is to pour so many words into it that it overflows into speech and then reading and writing.”
Okay, I get it, reading aloud is important. But what’s really the big deal?
School aged children were asked if they wanted to read outside of school:
- 100% of the kindergarteners said they did indeed want to read outside of school.
- 54% of the 4th graders wanted to read outside of school.
- 30% of the 8th graders wanted to read outside of school.
- Only 19% of the seniors wanted to read outside of school.
Between kindergarten and fourth grade, when the biggest drop in interest level occurs, kids start learning to read on their own and we as parents and teachers stop reading aloud to them. Reading becomes something they are expected to do, on their own, usually for a class assignment or homework.
While the statistics show the crucial years for children is before fourth grade, it is NEVER too late to start reading aloud to your children. And if you already read aloud to them, keep doing it until they move out of the house! It is a great way to be a role model for your child because it shows them that it’s okay to find pleasure in reading.
Ultimately, setting the stage for you child by reading aloud to them not only instills in them a love of reading, but can also help them do better in school and earn higher test scores.
What is the best way to go about reading aloud to my child and how much time should I spend reading aloud?
One of the best ways to go about reading aloud to your child is to make it part of the bedtime routine. This can also help calm and relax your child before lying down. My husband and I have been reading to my daughter every night before bed since she was 6 months old. In the beginning we read very short, colorful books to match her attention span. Sometimes we even skipped the story on the page and just talked about the images, getting her used to the idea of SITTING with a book and the overall mechanics of turning pages and reading/looking from left to right.
Incorporating reading at bedtime is easier said than done sometimes! Here are some tips for bedtime reading:
- If you aren’t currently reading at bedtime but want to, start small. Don’t expect your child to be willing to sit there for 30 minutes if they aren’t used to it. Start with one book, or 5 minutes, and gradually build up to a longer reading session.
- If your child is old enough, let her choose the book(s) she wants to read each night. And try to be excited even when she picks one you’d rather burn than read again!
- Go with the flow. If your child would rather sit on the floor than on your lap in the rocking chair, let her.
- If you find your child is getting distracted or not paying attention, try to grab her attention back by changing the inflection in your voice, or doing each character’s voice differently.
- If your child asks 100 questions before you even complete the first sentence, pause from the story try to answer her questions. If they are questions that will ultimately be answered in the story, say something like, “that’s a really good question! I don’t know the answer, but maybe if we read the story we’ll find out.”
If you have a younger teen, find something you both will enjoy (e.g., Harry Potter, Twilight, Divergent). If you have an older teen who is about to leave for college, share with her one of your favorite books you’ve read 100 times and read it aloud together.
There really is no set amount of time you should dedicate to reading aloud, but a good rule of thumb is 30 minutes each day. That doesn’t mean you have to be sitting down quietly together, reading book, after book for 30 minutes straight. If you can get in fifteen minutes before bedtime, that’s only 15 more minutes you need to find during the day. Daytime reading can include:
- Reading an excerpt from the newspaper
- Read a recipe card before making dinner
- Reading signs you see while out and about
- Reading assembly directions
- Reading the menu at a restaurant
What you read aloud isn’t as important as the act of reading aloud!
This all sounds great, is there also any benefit to me as the parent, to reading aloud?
Reading aloud to your child, at any age, can also benefit you as a parent in many ways:
- It gives you one-on-one time with your child
- It can create an emotional bond between you and your child
- It gives you an opportunity to go back and read books you loved as a child or missed out on reading for one reason or another
In the beginning, I scoffed at the idea of reading aloud to my growing baby bump. But looking back now, I think it would have helped us get into the routine of reading every day before we were completely overwhelmed with stepping into the ring of parenthood. So, if you’re pregnant, give it a shot! If you’re pregnancy days are long gone and you have children that are older, it’s never too late to start reading aloud to them!
**For more information about The Read-Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease, and other reading tips, visit Trelease’s website. (I was not given anything in return for focusing my post on The Read-Aloud Handbook, I truly just love the book and am very passionate about instilling our children with a love for reading!)