Is there any greater expression of love than sitting and reading with a child?” Joy Cowley.
Reading aloud to children is one of the best ways to cement a love of words and reading. In my opinion, this reading activity is phased out too quickly in our homes and classrooms. Once children start reading independently, there is a tendency to withdraw involvement and support and let them continue their reading journeys alone. However, reading aloud and independent reading are complementary activities. Continuing to read to an independent reader does not impair independent reading. On the contrary, it helps stretch readers in different ways and immerses them in a world with reading role models.
2017 research from Murdoch University in Australia found that three-fifths of Year 4 and Year 6 respondents were not being read to at home. Further research showed that more the half of children aged 6-8 whose parents had stopped reading to them wanted it to continue.
Reading aloud is hugely beneficial to all readers, whether they are struggling or capable. It exposes them to rich language that is more complicated and sophisticated than everyday conversational language. Reading aloud to children above their reading level stretches their vocabulary and language development. Children who hear more sophisticated words, and hear them in context, have a big advantage over children who don’t have these opportunities.
With the stress and work of reading for themselves eliminated, children can follow more complicated plots and truly hook themselves into the narrative, imagery, purpose, and themes of books.
Reading aloud increases a child’s attention span and develops listening skills. A child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to their listening level until they are 14 or 15.
Books shared with children and a trusted adult can be used to navigate tough topics. Complicated and serious themes in books can provide avenues to discuss the complexities and the realities of growing up, either directly or indirectly.
Children can develop their tastes as readers through being read to. Exposing children to texts they may not choose on their own can open worlds they may not experience otherwise. Being read to provides exposure to a variety of reading material, helping children understand what doesn’t interest them as much as what does. Knowing what is out there to choose from leads to more informed choices and meaningful engagement in independent reading.
There are social and emotional benefits to reading to children too. While their confidence and competence as readers builds, children are consistently being exposed to respected role models in their lives who are reading. Spending time reading with your children is enjoyable: they feel good and it feels good to read with them. The shared experience between parents and their children not only provides intimacy, security and connection, it reinforces positive attitudes to reading.
Reading aloud is the perfect promotion for reading. Let’s help connect our children to a love of reading through immersing them in a world of reading and sharing that experience with them.
Charlotte Molloy is a primary school teacher, mother of three and schools’ specialist bookseller at the University Book Shop, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Charlotte’s previous article on Corpus is Developing the lifelong reader.